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The importance of time-disclosure in class

This week, Adam Voigt delights us with sports stories and well-reasoned tips on time-disclosure. If you tell students how long you’re going to talk, and stick to it, they might even listen to you…

Many years ago, in my days of slightly more significant athletic prowess, I was into a variety of different sports. When you’re young, anything that distracts you from your studies is appealing and I tried my hand at the usuals – from football, to cricket and through golf, tenpin bowling, darts (is that actually a sport?) and basketball. Being blessed with modest abilities but a 6’5” frame, it was at basketball where I found I had something to offer the team. This was until one fateful Friday evening, playing F Grade (I did say the ability was modest), I hauled down a rebound, and as I looked to pass off, an opponent running towards me fell over.

His shoulder rammed into the side of my left knee and a sharp clapping sound followed by an excruciating pain told me this wasn’t good. A confirmed diagnosis of a snapped anterior cruciate ligament meant I had no study excuse for the next 12 months. Bummer! During my rehabilitation, the doctor warned me once or twice to take care of my ‘good’ knee. As I started to walk again, it took the brunt as my limp eased pressure on the injured joint. This seemed odd to me, to watch out for the healthy knee, when the injured one clearly needed the treatment but more odd was his warning about ‘cinema syndrome’. I thought him just a little bit … weird.

I went to the cinema with my wife one evening about 6 months into the rehab to see Titanic. She has a habit of insisting upon this genre. I dutifully agreed and sat down armed with enough popcorn to cater a circus. As the movie went on, I noticed my ‘good’ knee getting tight, then achy and then downright sore. I also noticed, despite having already gone more than 100 minutes in the one chair with an exhausted wheelie bin sized popcorn container on the seat next to me, that this movie wasn’t even nearly finished yet. How long would I be trapped here?! I began to fidget, to stretch my legs awkwardly without kicking those around me, to check my watch, to become genuinely annoyed with Jack and Rose on the screen. “Get on with it! We know how this ends!”. It seemed to me that the Titanic took about 6 onscreen hours to actually sink and my knee was killing me! If only I knew how long this thing was in the first place!

How does this relate to education?

Read on; I’ll tell you. Teachers are adept at chunking and sequencing academic learning, yet we forget to chunk the time that students will be required to attend or to sustain effort.

In much the same way that we’ll fidget if we don’t know how long the movie will be – especially if we present with an existing and distracting condition – students will resist our instruction if they have no idea how long they’ll be required to hear us prattle on, or to sustain silence, or to work collaboratively.

I’ve become obsessed about declaring my intentions around time while in the classroom. This healthy obsession has come about only because it works so well, for a couple of reasons:

1) When we tell students that we’ll only be speaking for five minutes, they actually brace themselves and settle in for a period of time with which they are familiar, and more than capable of sustaining attention for. If I don’t, at approximately 3 minutes, most of the males (let’s be honest here) in the room are wondering when this will end. They have begun to stare at others, to stare out the window, to distract others or to at least mentally go to another place … with footballs.

2) It keeps me on track. When I declare time, I am less likely to fall into the trap of two of my most significant teacher vices. The first is speech-making: a lust for my own voice that can lead me to talk about a topic for ever … and ever … and seemingly ever. Secondly, I know my tendency as a highly distractible person too. The introduction of current and interesting topics by students during explicit instruction is something I find tough to resist. But if I have declared that this is only five minutes of instruction – then I’m likely to stick to the point.

Give a little thought to your own response to time. How comfortable are you with the late plane, the boring PD presenter, the drivel on late night television or sitting through your partner’s favourite activity that is clearly not your favourite pastime? Time matters to us all, and especially to your students, whose concentration spans have not yet developed to yours. Chunking time may just be the key to unlocking an exponential improvement in engagement of your students. Isn’t it at least time that we found out?

The Cheat Sheet

Don’t have time to soak in the whole article today? Here are the big points …

  1. Chunk time into the smallest possible pieces.
  2. Use time chunks to maximise engagement.
  3. Chunking time keeps you on track too.
  4. Not knowing an ‘end time’ breeds distraction.
  5. Remember to chunk time as deliberately as you would the academic program.

AITSL STANDARDS FOR TEACHERS … and you addressed them by reading!

The Big One

2.2 Content selection and organisation.

But also …

1.1 Physical, social & intellectual development & characteristics of students.

1.5 Differentiate teaching to meet the specific needs of students across the full range of abilities.

3.2 Plan, structure and sequence learning programs.

Adam Voigt

Adam Voigt is the Founder & Director of Real Schools. Built upon years of experience as a successful Principal, Real Schools helps schools to build and sustain strong, relational School Cultures. A speaker of local and international renown, Adam has delivered a TED Talk and is the schools/education expert for The Project”.

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