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School effectiveness researchers over the past three decades have ranked time—and time-related instructional variables—either number one or number two on a list of eight to ten factors that are important to student achievement (Scheerens & Bosker, 1997; Berliner, 1990; Good & Brophy, 2000; Greenwood, 1991; Tindal & Parker, 1987; Marzano, 2000).

A superficial look at that research may prompt one to say, “So what else is new? Obviously, if students spend more time on math and less time fooling around, they will learn more math.” But researchers are consistently in agreement that it’s not that simple. Within reasonable limits, the issue is not about adding more time but rather about how time is used (Aaronson, Zimmerman, & Carlos, 1999; Evans & Bechtel, 1996). Embedded in the research—and in the claims associated with it—is a delineation and hierarchical classification of various categories of time (see Figure 8.1). Starting with time in school, each of the

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Controlling how time is used well has a big impact on student learning.





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categories in Figure 8.1 includes and subsumes those below and inside its circle. The closer the category is to the core of the nested circles, the stronger the corre- lation is between time and student achievement. In this figure, time in school is the number of hours or days that a student should be, or is, in attendance. There are five categories of school time:

1. Allocated time is the amount of time in school formally scheduled for instruction (versus non-instructional activities such as lunch, recess, and changing classes).

Time in School

Allocated Time

Teacher Instructional Time

Student Engaged Time

Academic Learning Time

Interactive Instructional


(Time on Task)

(Time Scheduled for Academic Subjects)

(High Success Time)

(Time Teacher Instructs Students)

Teacher Instructional Time

Figure 8.1 Time Allocations in School



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2. Teacher instructional time is the amount of allocated time the teacher is actually engaged with students delivering instruction or actively monitoring learning experiences (versus doing management tasks such as taking attendance and setting up equipment).

3. Student engaged time, often referred to as time on task, is the number of minutes that students are observably paying attention to and fo- cusing on instructional material (versus waiting, daydreaming, fooling around, getting organized, and listening to announcements).

4. Academic learning time is the portion of time students spend engaged in relevant academic tasks and performing those tasks with a high rate of success. Relevant academic tasks and a high success rate distinguish it from, and make it a subset of, student engaged time. For clarity, we will call it high success time here.

5. Interactive instructional time is time spent directly with a student get- ting instruction (one-to-one, small group, or large group), as opposed to time spent alone doing seatwork or projects or working with a group that’s not interacting directly with an instructor.

These categorical distinctions are very useful as a framework for studying this area of performance and becoming ever more purposeful in maximizing its impact on achievement. Data show that teachers who study their time use make significant changes (Stallings, 1980) and get better student learning. Let’s look at each one in more detail.

1. Allocated Time

Allocated time, or time set aside for instruction, reveals something about the values of a district, a school, or a teacher. Time set aside for instruction and time set aside for instruction in specific subject areas are related but separate considerations in this category. An examination of each should yield data that reflect some consensus across a school about what is important and what the priorities are within those things that are important.

It is likely that the current standards movement will press schools to pay more attention to and reach more common agreements about aligning time alloca- tion with values and priorities and will result in providing some greater consis- tency or uniformity for students. Historically, however, while researchers have found little difference between time in school across schools, they have found some very big differences in allocated time for academic subjects, especially across elementary schools, and classes within a school where individual teach-

Teachers who study their time use make significant changes and get better student learning.



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ers tend to have more direct control over the daily and weekly class schedule. For example, Caldwell, Huitt, and Graeber (1982) found that:

Time actually allocated for fifth-grade math ranged from 18 minutes to 80 minutes; allocated fifth-grade reading time ranged from 51 minutes to 195 minutes. Allocated time may also vary enormously within a class; for example, in one study (Dishaw, 1977) one fifth-grade student spent 39 minutes each day on math while another student spent 75 minutes. These differences in actual allocated time suggest that some students may have two to four times as much opportunity to learn specific academic content as other students. (p. 474)

Is it fair that because of a particular teacher’s talents and inclinations, his or her class gets a great reading and writing program but practically nothing else? At the schoolwide level, it is imperative that we examine how time is apportioned throughout the day, the week, and the school year and ask questions like these:

p What percentage of time in school is allocated and protected for in- struction?

p How else is student time expended?

p Do the percentages match our priorities?

p How might we decrease the amount of allocated time not devoted to instruction?

p Over the years, what amount of a student’s time is spent learning what subjects?

p Is there some consistency and rationale to this expenditure of time? If not, then we are not really in control of the education we are delivering.

2. Instructional Time: A Matter of Efficiency

Instructional time—the percentage of allocated time a teacher is engaged with students delivering instruction and actively monitoring learning experi- ences—might be referred to as time on task for the teacher. Estimates of how much class time is devoted to instruction vary widely, from a low of 21% to a high of 69% (Conant, 1973; Marzano & Riley, 1984; Park, 1956; U.S. National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994). If we take the highest estimate of 69% as the upper boundary, we can conclude that of the 13,104 classroom hours theoretically available, only 9,042 hours are used for instruc-



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Research generally supports the positive impact of increasing the amount of instructional time.

tion. This comes to about 695.5 hours per year or about 3.9 hours per day (Marzano, 2003).

The research generally supports the positive impact of increasing the amount of instructional time. Walberg (1997) found a positive relationship between increased instructional time and learning in 97% of 130 studies (Marzano, 2003). One major study of 87 secondary classrooms (Stallings, 1980) found the average engaged rate of teacher to students to be 73%. Some teachers used 40 minutes of a 45-minute period to develop concepts; others used only 20 to 25 minutes (Good & Brophy, 2000). Teachers who had lower rates of interaction with students had classes with significantly smaller achievement gains (or no gain at all), especially for low-performing students. This is true even if students were on task most of the time. As Stallings (1980) explains, “The students are on-task, but the teacher is not teaching. In those classrooms where no gain was being made, the students were doing written assignments 28 percent of the time and reading silently 22 percent of the time, and teachers were doing classroom management tasks more than 27 percent of the time” (p. 14).

Maximizing instructional time requires organizing instructional activities and expediting non-instructional ones (preparing materials, taking attendance, managing transitions, dealing with discipline, and so forth) so there is a mini- mum of downtime and unsupervised learning time. Hence, how much of the allocated time we preserve for instruction is directly tied to classroom organi- zation and management skills.

There is also a need to look at instructional time from a schoolwide perspec- tive. Marzano (2003) proposes that “schools should make every effort to con- vey the message that class time is sacred time and should be interrupted for important events only, a message that is commonly conveyed in other coun- tries” (p. 31). He cites Stigler and Hiebert (1999) who found that instructional interruptions (such as PA announcements) were far more typical in American classrooms than in Japan and suggests that we take measures to eliminate these by decreasing or eliminating announcements during instructional time. Post- ing “Do Not Interrupt” signs on our doors and referring to specific parts of class as academic learning time helps students understand the need to put forth greater effort to attend during those times.

3. Student Engaged Time and Time on Task

Engaged time, a subset of allocated time, is the time that students appear to be paying attention to materials or presentations that have instructional goals. Although often used synonymously with the concept of time on task, Berliner (1990) distinguishes time on task as a subset—time a student is engaged in



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an appropriate learning task (for example, a student may be deeply engaged in mathematics work at a time that has been allocated for science). Early studies (Fisher et al., 1978) reported that, on average, students are engaged or attend- ing for only a portion of allocated time—about 75% of it. But the range of stu- dent engaged time was large—between 50% and 90%. Some studies (Stanley & Greenwood, 1983) have shown significant differences in academic engagement of high versus low socioeconomic status (SES) student groups. They write,

On a daily basis high SES students spent as much as 11 minutes (or 5 percent) more time per day engaged in writing, reading, and talking about academic matters than did their low SES counterparts. . . . At this daily rate, low SES students need to attend as much as one and a half months during summer vacation to obtain an equivalent amount of engaged time in one year. . . . Otherwise low SES students are at risk of academic delay. . . . because of their lower daily engagement rates. (p. 11)

While more recent reviews of the research can establish only a moderate cor- relation between engaged time on task and student achievement (Cotton, 1989), it is critical that we seize every opportunity to maximize engaged time for all students since it is the precursor to academic learning (high success) time. Re- cent studies of student engagement (Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Sher- noff, Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider, & Shernoff, 2003), in which large numbers of secondary students used wristwatch devices to record their activity and feel- ing states eight times daily, found that students spend a majority of class time in non-interactive activities such as listening to lectures and doing individual seatwork assignments. Interactive activities such as participating in discussions (9%) and group or lab work (6%) accounted for only a small percentage of the total time. Engagement, measured as a composite of interest, concentration, and enjoyment, was higher in group and individual work compared to lectures, ex- ams, or TV/video viewing. Students also reported being more engaged during “flow tasks”—those that students felt competent to complete and were high in challenge—compared to tasks that were low in challenge or that students felt were beyond their capabilities.

Differences in engagement rates were substantial. For example, 42% of students reported being attentive during low-challenge activities, whereas 73% report- ed paying attention during activities that were more challenging and required more skill (Emmer & Gerwels, 2006). Emmer and Gerwels cite other studies related to eliciting student interest. Mitchell (1993), studying secondary math classes, found that involvement in classroom materials was a strong predictor of student interest. Identifying two kinds of situational interest characteristics as “catch” and “hold” (elicitors and maintainers of interest), he found that group



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