Tricks and Tips for Increasing Time On Task

Keeping students on task can be a bit of a challenge for even the most talented teacher. Kids are naturally playful, but there are things we can do to establish solid expectations for the focused learning. In this post, I share a few tips that I've found helpful for increasing time on task.

Keeping students on task can be a bit of a challenge for even the most talented teacher. Kids are naturally playful, but there are things we can do to establish solid expectations for the focused learning. In this post, I share a few tips that I’ve found helpful for increasing time on task.

A Well Planned Schedule Ensures Time on Task

In my opinion, a well planned schedule should be a priority for ensuring time is allotted to instruction appropriately. In many schools, the principal creates the schedules, and in others, perhaps a leadership committee is formed.  Regardless of who makes the schedule, priority needs to be given to ensure that the core content is taught when students are most receptive for learning.  Additionally, it’s important to work the schedule to provide the least amount of transitions as each transition costs valuable time.  

As a reading specialist, the biggest challenge with scheduling for me is trying to serve my students at a time that doesn’t disrupt the flow of what’s happening in the regular classroom. Personally, I preferred co-teaching in the upper elementary grades. Students don’t want to be singled out, and by teaming up, we were able to keep a better flow to the reading block. I was able to focus on those needing extra support including students with IEPs while the classroom teacher taught guided reading groups. There are times when pulling students out for intervention is preferred though. Some students are easily distracted, need intensive services, and sometimes there just isn’t enough space.  No matter how your schedule is set up, it’s important to carve out blocks that enable you to complete the tasks you intend for the time period.

Your Room Configuration Matters

It may seem somewhat trivial, but room layouts makes a difference.  When areas of the room are clearly defined, it improves crowd control, material organization and distribution. It also creates spaces for stretching and relaxation.  Students who are allowed flexibility to move without disrupting others are more focused and cause fewer negative disruptions.  If we carefully consider where and how we will utilizes our spaces, we can build in time for movement.  I love my 3-drawer rolling cart which holds my guided reading materials, and I keep all the essentials right next to my reading table.  The beauty is that the top works as my dry erase chart holder and anchor chart display when needed too.

Having Materials Organized Increases Time on Task

Just like room configuration, having materials prepared and organized improves flow from lesson to lesson or group to group.  In past years when I worked with six grade levels, I color coded materials to keep things organized.  I used tubs labeled by grade level and assigned each grade level a different color of two pocket folders.  I put all consumable materials I needed for my lessons in the tubs, and students kept work in progress in their folders.  We use composition books a lot, so when materials are collected, I just tuck the composition books into the folders along with the child’s book and work in progress.  This year, I have two grade levels for two hours each, so there are fewer transitions.  Still, the color coding system works very well.

Behavior Management Systems for Focused Learning

One of the biggest challenges for teachers is classroom management. With students who struggle, behavior challenges often come from frustration. Even as a seasoned veteran, there are times when I find I really need to think quickly. I always want to minimize the time lost with behavioral challenges.  One thing that I’ve kept in my mind is the saying “Pick your Battles!”  I tell my students often that we all have a job to do and need to get it done.  I try to motivate and encourage versus punish. 

Keeping students on task can be a bit of a challenge for even the most talented teacher. Kids are naturally playful, but there are things we can do to establish solid expectations for the focused learning. In this post, I share a few tips that I've found helpful for increasing time on task.

When kids are motivated by the activities happening in the classroom, feel successful with their work, and see the growth they are making, they understand the purpose and are more willing to remain positive.  When issues do crop up, I try very hard to keep the others engaged and privately deal with the issue.  Sometimes, I will table an issue until a time when I can address it if I know it will take more time to process.  Ultimately though, we all have times when we must act, and when it’s needed, we definitely need to respond with confidence and with minimal explanations.

Now, it’s your turn…
What works for you?  Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments or link up.  Let’s face it.  Even the best teachers enjoy improving their skills and learn from others.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. These are all great ideas Carla! Gosh, being organized with materials is so crucial. I have learned that with working with Kindergarten students this year. I am sure to have everything ready and available before I pick them up or the lesson just has to many interruptions and inappropriate behaviors. Everything just clicks along smoothly when we are prepared.
    Sebrina
    Burke's Special Kids

  2. My buddy, Nancy, gave me the color coding idea when I first started in Title 1, and it's been the best way to make things go smoothly. I just make sure everything is in the correct tub, pull them off the shelf and teach.

  3. It is so true that interesting activities and setting students up for success will help prevent discipline problems. When teachers aren't allowed the freedom to use creative, engaging strategies, or to differentiate lessons, negative behaviors rise.

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