Every teacher wants to make the most of the time children spend sitting in their classroom. And by "making the most of" I mean that we want them to be learning.
But how streamlined are your lessons in reality? Here's a 10-point checklist to run through to see if your teaching really is maximising learning as much as it could be.
1. Reduce distractions
Consider what needs to be taught and how it will be delivered. Will flashy additions to the lesson really help children learn better, or will they distract them? Remember, there is no perfect Ofsted lesson; lessons can be enjoyable, but they don't all need to be showpieces.
2. Match activities to learning objectives
Entire activities can be a waste of time if they don't help the children to achieve what you want them to achieve. Tempting though it sometimes may be when you have a great idea, very rarely should you begin planning with an idea for an activity. Instead, force yourself to always begin by identifying the things you want the children to learn, then design or find a suitable activity to support that learning.
3. Intelligent sequencing
Lessons rarely stand in isolation of each other. Considering what has been taught previously and what the end goal is will help you to fine-tune what is included in any given lesson. If lessons are ordered logically it is less likely that fundamental gaps will become apparent later on in the sequence – time-wasting "back-tracking" can be avoided this way.
4. Lesson structure
No two lessons need look the same but all lessons should be organised so that the most is made of learning time. Having an activity ready for children as they arrive is something we all try to do as it means they can start working straight away. But how often do you manage it? You will need to decide whether teacher input is necessary or whether a task (perhaps linked to the previous day's work) is the best way to proceed. Sometimes you might want to begin with shared work; other times shared work might come towards the end so that children can edit their independent work.
5. Scaffolding and differentiation
It might be that some children need some direct instruction while other children explore a task independently or in groups. At points in the lesson consider whether or not a recap is necessary for all children, or just some. Structuring a lesson so that every child's learning time is maximised can be a minefield, but it is worth it.
Precious learning time is often lost when teachers are less prepared than they could be. Have all of your resources ready on tables, or ready to quickly pass out if you don't want them to have everything straight away. Make sure everything's photocopied, you have stationery to hand, interactive whiteboard screens are pre-made and websites already looked up. It sounds simple. But how many times have you spent five minutes hunting around for a resource, muttering "I know I left them somewhere around here..."?
7. Written instructions
They could be on the board, or printed out as part of an activity, but written instructions are crucial. If children can keep referring back to instructions then you won't have to keep explaining what the task is, saving precious minutes of learning time.
Routines go hand in hand with preparedness. Well-practised and consistent ways of passing round lesson materials and collecting work can really cut down on time-wasting in lessons. Other routines that can increase learning time involve how children enter and leave the classroom – if this can be done quickly and sensibly, learning can begin quicker and go on for longer.
9. In-lesson feedback
It sounds simple, but how often – and for how many children – do you really monitor the work being done? Much lesson time is wasted when a child who isn't checked on spends the whole time struggling and getting things wrong. Working your way around the class constantly means that these issues can be identified and addressed instantly. Similarly, a child can pass time in a lesson doing work that isn't challenging enough – more wasted learning time that could be picked up quickly by a prowling teacher on the lookout to give feedback.
10. Behaviour management
Poor behaviour, in some schools, is probably the number one cause of wasted learning time. If your school's policy is good, follow it, especially for more serious issues. Otherwise, the key to maximising learning time through behaviour management is using the least intrusive methods: non-verbal communication, saying a child's name to make them aware that you have clocked their behaviour and quickly reiterating expectations are all great for more low-level behaviour issues. Whatever your methods, work at them – much more time is available for learning when a class is well-behaved.
Aidan Severs is an assistant vice-principal at a primary school in the north of England. He blogs at ThatBoyCanTeach and tweets @thatboycanteach