When I first began teaching, I thought I would lose 15 pounds the first week. I figured I was getting enough exercise with all that moving around, so I put the gym off to the side and would only go when I could devote a full hour. Even if I had 30 minutes, I would just say “I’ll go when I can get a real workout” and again delay my gym date.
The result of my “all or nothing” attitude was actually an EXTRA 10 pounds by the end of the year. No joke. I am writing about this not to drum up support for my love of anything baked—especially chocolate chip cookies—or in hopes of finding someone to commiserate with, but because I have recently found that the “all or nothing” approach that was so detrimental to my exercise habits has recently snuck its way into my teaching as well.
At the end of each week, I review the lessons that were planned and those that were never completed. I recently discovered that the list of lessons completed was much shorter than that of those waiting to be learned. At first I just thought it was because we move at a much slower pace . . . but I feel like that perspective essentially blames the students for how far we get. My students go at the pace that I set, move to the schedule I have put together. The problem was not in their learning needs, but rather in the fact that I would only teach certain subjects if we had at least a full 40 minutes to dedicate to them.
Our class schedule is blocked off in increments of 40 minutes that start with Goals/Communication, Language Arts, Math, and then Science and Social Science if we have time. Considering that each subject involves a class lesson (15 min.) and then modified independent work (25 min.) that requires the use of switch access and modified mouse/keyboards to complete, we usually go over the 40 minutes so that everyone can get their work done.
By the time we get to Science and Social Science, I typically look at the clock, see that we only have 25 minutes until lunch, and feel that we don’t have enough time to learn something new, so we do reading groups or daily review instead. It occurred to me that if I don’t break my “blocking” mentality, I will never expose my students to all of the subjects and lessons they require and are entitled to.
So I looked for times when I could sneak in lessons without detracting from their main goals. For example, our school has “Words of Wisdom,” where every week we are given a different quote to reflect on and discuss. I started taking time in the morning to also include biographies on the quoted individuals and connect the ideas to our social studies.
Instead of having “Communication Time,” during which the students are given conversation topics so they can practice using their communication devices, I started putting science and math word problems up on the board for them to solve in pairs. This has actually helped my students’ comprehension by encouraging them to speak more and initiate conversation. Math is not necessarily their favorite subject, so this week I’m starting to use math riddles with pictures and have a competition to see which team gets it first.
For our restroom/getting settled time after recess, I started taking our huge science lessons and breaking them down into one-step building blocks that we would discuss and then complete a short activity on. For example, we are learning about cells right now, but the textbook throws so many concepts and new vocabulary at my students (whose science background is not necessarily consistent) that I am literally breaking the whole chapter down into 10-to-15 minutes lessons that can be built upon and completed whenever we get a small chunk of time. I am also doing this for our social studies.
I have found that these little chunks are great transition tools because I can conduct oral quizzes and see what my students remember, and they participate like it’s a little game. I’m sure I’ll come up with new ideas of how to fit more into our schedule, but this was a start.
This last week was the first time we really tried out this whole “sneaking in curriculum” thing. But by the end, my students had reached all curriculum areas and retained more information than in previous weeks. The flow of the class was also more relaxed because we weren’t just jumping from one block of information to the next. I think learning is easier to incorporate and feels more “natural” when it isn’t so regimented. Just like with exercise, I think showing my students that even a little bit goes a long way will help them maintain a healthy outlook toward learning overall.