How to Make the Best Use of Time in Your Literacy Classroom

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We Never Have Enough Time

When you are an educator, time is a precious resource. I have had a lot of conversations with teachers over the years about TIME. There just isn’t enough of it… EVER. As a classroom teacher, I felt it, too.

Lately these conversations with teachers seem to be the only conversations I’m having.

“If you could have more of something, what would you need?”

“TIME.”

“What is your biggest challenge?”

“TIME.”

“What is standing in the way of you being able to do what is best for kids?”

“TIME.”

As I have these conversations with teachers it is crystal clear that more and more is being added to your plates, but nothing seems to be taken off AND you just don’t have enough time.

Pulling the Weeds in Our Daily Schedules

Sometimes when we look into our classrooms and our schedules, we find something that just isn’t working for us. Something that is just not worth the TIME that it is getting. Sometimes that something is an activity, a routine, a program. When we can identify something that isn’t quite working, we find opportunities for change.

When I taught first grade I was always reflective about what was stealing my time. I was constantly revising my schedule and my routines to better suit me and more importantly my students. I was constantly looking for opportunities for change.

I liked to call this little reflection work I did, pulling the weeds.

What About Morning Work?

Let me tell you about a weed I pulled in my classroom that not only gave me more time but also set the tone for a happier classroom environment each and every day.

I pulled the Morning Work weed.

Before I ditched my morning work, I used to spend time choosing worksheets that would start our day. I spent time making copies. I spent time giving students directions when they entered the room. I spent time correcting morning work. I spent time putting morning work in mailboxes. I spent time worrying about the student who struggled to complete the morning work.

The truth is, I spent a lot of time wasting time on morning work.

Getting rid of morning work was one of the best things I did as a teacher. And if morning work or bell work isn’t working for you, I am giving you permission to pull that weed, too.

So if you don’t start your day with morning work or your class period with bell work, then what do you do instead?

The Alternative to Morning Work

The answer for me was Soft Starts. Soft Starts is a term used to describe time at the beginning of your day, your class period, or lesson where students choose a quiet activity or interest to pursue on their own, in pairs, or in small groups. Soft starts allow students to begin their day with choice, and ease students into the school day or lesson.

In my classroom we mostly used our soft start time to dig into high interest books, sharing them with a friend. We started our day enjoying books. Does it get much better than that?

Buy Back Some Time and Reduce Stress for You and Your Students

Soft starts freed me up to have conversations and make connections with students. Soft starts freed me up to work one on one with a student or pull a small group. Soft starts allowed me to take attendance and lunch count and all of the other morning tasks that were pulling at me. Soft starts gave me back time—more than you might expect.

What did they do for my students? Soft starts gave my students more time with eyes on print, more time to build relationships with books, more time to build relationships with peers, and more time to explore passions.

And maybe the most important thing that happened when I ditched the morning work was that my students never had to start another school day behind with unfinished work. And you know that kid that struggled in math, writing, and reading? They didn’t have to struggle with morning work, too.

There are so many ways you can begin your day with soft starts. You could try independent reading like we did, or you can test out some of the following suggestions…

  • Free write: writing in a writer’s notebook, making cards for family, or letters for friends.
  • Share good news: yup, just giving kids time to talk.
  • Watch an animal web cam and jot down wonderings and noticings.
  • Listen to a podcast.
  • Play with morning tubs at tables: exploring with math manipulatives, MagnaTiles, playing cards, puzzles, stencils, play dough. Don’t worry—play is learning!

I promise your students will hang up backpacks, make lunch choices, and turn in folders much faster if they are excited about how they start their day. There is nothing exciting about another worksheet.

I hope these tips empower you to find opportunities for change in your classroom. If you are feeling like there just isn’t enough time, I encourage you to look into your classroom and your daily schedule. Identify things that aren’t working for you and embrace a change.

And if you are brave enough to ditch that morning work, let us know how it’s going? We’d love to hear from you!

Want to know more about soft starts? You need to check out the book, The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels. This book is one of my absolute favorites and has an entire chapter devoted to soft starts.

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