Individualized programs are at high risk here. If they are poorly managed, stu- dents, though active and involved, may get only a few minutes a day with the teacher, and that is not enough. Teachers in this situation either need to do more group work or manage individualization so students get more feedback and guidance. It is the attributes of interactive instruction that are important any way you can get them. It seems to us those attributes are clear explanations, prompt feedback, knowledge of results, and appropriate degree of guidance. Good computer-based learning systems can provide these features.
DIFFERENTIATING TIME TO LEARN
Benjamin Bloom’s work on mastery learning has added another important concept to the knowledge base about time to learn or time a student needs under optimal learning conditions to reach some criterion of learning (Ber- liner, 1990). The idea is that most students can learn anything if they have the prerequisite pieces of knowledge and skills in place and are given adequate time to learn it. Giving students adequate time to learn doesn’t mean giving them material and just waiting until they’ve gone over it long enough to ab- sorb it. It means task analysis of new learnings, careful ongoing assessment, and reteaching loops for students who need it—and for only those who do. The view of time from mastery learning puts teachers on the spot along with students. Mastery learning brings with it a requisite set of assumptions: that all
Most students can learn anything if they have the prerequisite pieces of knowledge and skills in place and are given adequate time.
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students are capable of achieving mastery of appropriate learning goals; that when learning isn’t taking place, something isn’t yet right about how it is be- ing presented to the student or the time given for the student to master it; that mastery is essential in order for the student to progress; and that modifications, adaptations, adjustments, and reteaching are all options available to support that happening. In other words, one doesn’t blame the students if learning isn’t taking place. Instead, there is a search for how to adjust, adapt, modify, and reteach until the student is on board and “getting it.”
Mastery learning is a form of individualizing instruction. But individualizing means more than self-paced here, more than marching through programmed material. It means clear and comprehensive sequences of instruction laid out in advance, broken down into pieces, and with options for how to deliver instruc- tion of those pieces to students. Above all, it means monitoring what students know and not giving up until they have met mastery criteria.
Finally, it means planning reteaching loops and simultaneous extension activi- ties for students who got it the first time around. Such a two-ringed circus pres- ents management and planning challenges that are a stretch for teachers who are unused to managing multiple events in a classroom. In other words, mas- tery learning requires differentiating learning experiences (one size doesn’t fit all) and is once again an example of how the areas of performance of teaching are interdependent and ever present. A sincere and focused effort to address and afford students time to learn requires an exploration of concepts addressed in the chapters on Momentum, Lesson Objectives, Differentiated Instruction, and Classroom Climate.
CONDUCTING TIME AUDITS
At the beginning of this chapter, we suggested that collecting concrete data about how time is spent in the classroom is likely to yield some interesting and useful insights, as well as surprises. All of which can serve as a produc- tive foundation for creative problem-solving around getting more currency for students to spend toward learning. Marzano (2003) refers to this as conducting time audits: gathering data that will reveal how much time in the day or a class period is devoted to actual instruction, how much time in class is generally taken up by non-instructional activities or management tasks, how much time individual students are focused and engaged, what they are doing or what is going on that distracts them, and so forth.
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We once studied the time use of students in five classrooms of a K–5 school using a technique adapted from Engel (1977). The class was scanned every five minutes, and a notation was made for each student on a class roster. The no- tation recorded what the student was doing and with what level of attention or involvement. From these data, a color-bar graph was constructed for each student, color coded to study activities showing student time use over a whole morning. Coded cross marks in black were overlaid on the color bar to indicate degrees of inattention or non-involvement. Putting all the bars together on one graph for the class gave the teachers an enormous amount of information on individual students and patterns across the class.
For example, one teacher was losing a great deal of time in classroom management: passing out papers, setting up in the morning, and getting ready for transitions. Another teacher had students with low levels of involvement due to social chatter at table groups—quiet and unobtrusive but nevertheless persistent and interfering with their work. Another teacher found her students were involved with individual tasks and projects, but sometimes received only five minutes of direct teacher instruction in the course of the day. All of these teachers made changes to increase their effectiveness after they saw their class data. The changes involved more attention to momentum, rearranging space, rescheduling their own instructional time, and clarifying their expectations for student behavior. The point is that the obvious was not so obvious to them until they directly faced objective data about their own students and their own classes. When they had the data, they were able to improve their effectiveness. Academic engaged time and student time spent in interactive instruction may sound obvious enough, but teachers who get the numbers on their own classes may well find some new priorities emerging.
Although there are structured formal models to use to conduct this type of audit (Marzano, Kendall, & Gaddy, 1999), teachers could do much of this as action research in their own classrooms independently or with the support of a colleague present in the room. There are many kinds of data one might gather: noting starting and ending times of activities, transitions, and length of time spent on direction giving, for example. Comparing data gathered to what you might have predicted or anticipated the data would look like can lead to fine- tuning time estimates, problem identification, and pinpointing the means for using time more effectively. Or a colleague could collect data for you about how individuals or groups of students are spending their time: How much are they engaged and on task? When they aren’t, what is going on? How much is interac- tive instructional time versus independent work? What kind of success are they having? The resulting data can be used to make adjustments and modifications that might increase student productivity and level of performance.
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Leinhardt, Zigmond, and Corley (1981) found that:
Teachers must be vigilant in their search for children who are losing out. While the average off-task rate was 15 percent, some students were off-task more than 30 percent of the time. While the average amount of teacher instruction (in reading) was 16 minutes a day, the range was from 1.4 minutes per day to 35 minutes per day (within the same class). While the average time spent in silent reading was 14 minutes per day, some students spent no time at all reading silently. Fortunately, teachers can dramatically change the experience and performance of those students who seem to be losing out without changing things for those who are not. (p. 358)
But first, the teacher must become aware of who the students are and how their time is being lost. Good time management comes from handling a number of other areas of performance well. When students are on task, productive, and experiencing success, it is more than good time management; it is successful education. Good use of student time is a criterion for good teaching, an out- come of all the things that go into good education. But there are some skills that are distinctly part of efficient time management itself.
PACING AND RHYTHM
Matching has been an important theme with each area of performance. We have advanced the notion that an area of performance contains a repertoire and that skillfulness comes in matching choices from it to individuals, groups, and curricula. So it is with pacing and scheduling. The same pace will not work equally well for all classes. Carolyn Evertson (1982) found that the way teachers paced activities varied greatly and corresponded to their success with high and low performing classes, but they made quite a difference in low-performing groups. Students in low-performing classes have a clear tendency to drop in and out of participation, especially during seatwork. Some students refuse to participate at all. Evertson (1982) provides descriptions and commentary on two junior high teachers’ classrooms to show how differences in pacing affect low-performing students.
Example 1: Teacher B and the disrupted classroom
[The teacher has just put the seatwork assignment on the board.] Marie says, “I don’t have a book.” The teacher says, “Look on those shelves,” pointing. Marie says, “Those aren’t ours.” The teacher says, “Some of
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them are.” Marie gets herself a book. Chico raises his hand and says, “I need help.” About five students start the assignment right away. [There are twelve students present.] The others are talking, have their hands raised, or are going to the teacher’s desk. The teacher says, “Come on up, Randy,” when she calls on him. When he gets there, “Larry, leave him alone.” Larry stands and visits by the teacher’s desk. Chico puts his hand up again. The teacher says, “Chico, what do you need?” He says, “Help.” The teacher says, “Okay, wait a second.” Larry sits down by the teacher’s desk and looks on as she tells him something. Chico calls out, “Miss, are you going to help me?” She says, “Yes, Chico, but come up here.” He says, “Aw, Miss, it’s too far.” The teacher ignores him, and he goes to the teacher’s desk. [At this point, five students are at the teacher’s desk.] (Evertson, 1982, p. 182)
This classroom description shows rather dramatically the difficulty students in a lower-performing class can have in getting started and participating successfully in an activity. At one point, five students were at the teacher’s desk, and most of them were waiting for help. The teacher eventually helped nine students at her desk during this seatwork activity. Having so many students in such close prox- imity to each other frequently created problems and led to misbehavior which the teacher was forced to respond to.