Once upon a time my reading block consisted of me talking for thirty minutes, students working on guided practice for 15 minutes and independent practice for another 15 minutes. Followed by an hour of guided reading groups. I thought I was doing a good job because I was keeping students engaged with me. I was afraid that if I let students go and practice too early then they wouldn’t know what they were supposed to do or gasp they might have questions.
I thought they had to be close to me all the time and I had to be overly available for their every need, which equalled hours of direct instruction and very little opportunities for them to actually practice. At that point in my career I had not yet read anything about students abilities to sit and get information. I just knew that I was giving a maximum amount of time to my reading block.
One Simple Tool
When I taught second grade I had read the book the Daily 5 and my lessons went down to 20 minutes. Definitely an improvement. My students also weaved in and out of guided reading groups and direct instruction so they got to move around my classroom a lot more, but still something was missing.Thinking back on this I think it was the fact that I watched the clock which was great but also distracting. Trying to be a clock watcher and give the lesson meant that I was always slightly distracted from my instruction and my students.
When I taught 5th grade I had the honor of being a collaborative teacher which meant I had to learn how to share instructional responsibilities and how not to be long winded. Enter the timer. I know that it’s not super techie or even a new idea, but this one thing helped make me a better teacher. The timer was imperative to ensuring that our parallel teaching structure worked for our students. We each took turns teaching a different objective for 15 minutes to one group of students and then switched and taught a different group of students.
At first it was hard to land my lesson in just 15 minutes but the more I practiced the better I got. The more concise and intentional my mini lessons got the better my students understood the concepts that I was trying to teach.
Prior to that part of the school year my mini lessons ran long and included cute activities that my students enjoyed but didn’t really add value to my lessons, so out they went.
Using a timer not only made my mini lessons more intentional and concise they also shifted my mindset around teaching. I no longer thought that all the learning was on me. It required students buy in and input as well. It was imperative that I watched for and incorporated formative assessments such as turn and talk in order to ensure that students were understanding the concepts taught. It helped me to enforce time boundaries in other content areas as well. Having these time boundaries also meant that I had to make sure that I cycled through the learning.
Using a timer also helped me and my students have a sense of urgency when it came to our time together. I had to be selective about what classroom management battles I wanted to fight and it also helped my students know that there really wasn’t a lot of time to mess around we had to all work together to transition quickly and get to the business of teaching.
There was no way that my mini lessons could be the only time that students were exposed to or practiced a concept. I had to use my formative assessment data to drive instruction, that then fed into my guided reading groups and strategy groups and read aloud instruction.Not being long winded in one component of my reading block helped me to make time for other components of my reading block, because my read aloud and mini lessons made up a small portion of my reading block that meant that I had time to implement guided reading groups.
Even after I was no longer sharing the instructional floor as a collaborative teacher I held on to this practice because it made me get clear about what I was teaching and made me think about concise ways to deliver instruction.
In this time of virtual teaching it can be really tempting to keep kids on your zoom for hours all in the name of helping students, but at what cost?
What best practices are you sacrificing in order to keep students on in your whole group lesson longer? Are you sacrificing guided reading, are students getting a chance to read independently or is all their time being absorbed into your whole group lesson?
Using a timer could help you not only better develop your mini lesson but it could also ensure that you are making room for all of the best practices we know students benefit from during a reading block.
Ways I used a timer:
-I used a timer during my instruction
-I used a timer during my transitions
-I used a timer during independent work
-I used a timer during small group time
Resources for timers:
Choose an area of your reading block that you want to implement this tool. Choose the type of timer that you would like to use. Enlist accountability to ensure you follow through. Try it and document your findings. Tweak as necessary.
**kitchen timer links are affiliate links**