Win Your Time Back! Five Simple Steps Make Every Classroom More Efficient

I love a good list – I put silly things on the list just so I can cross them off.  For example, instead of putting “laundry” on the list, I’ll put “Do 3 loads of laundry” and then a separate bullet will be “Fold laundry”.  I get to cross off TWO things that way!

While I might be a little neurotic about my lists, I do know that when I’m out and about working with educators, the one thing that they always talk about and don’t have enough of is TIME.  So, I’m intrigued with this idea of working more efficiently – – and how we can actually create time by doing so.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers who have their system DOWN PAT.  The kids have the system down pat.  And they don’t run around during their break like a chicken with their heads cut off and have a mental breakdown when the copy machine breaks down.  Why?  Because they are in control.

In control-ness means efficiency.  Or is efficiency in control-ness?

If you’re like so many time-strapped educators, I encourage you to stop the “I don’t have enough time” talk and figure out WHERE you can CREATE TIME!  Here are 5 spots to get started:

Step 1: Take 1 minute at the top of each day to get organized

Have a list on the board of everything that the kids need to have out on their desks in one minute.  One teacher I know draws a diagram of what she wants the desks to look like (composition book on the upper left corner, colored pencils on the bottom right, homework in the middle, science book under the homework) and then scans desks before she even starts teaching to make sure they have everything.  The one minute you spend getting organized means you save yourself the frustration and time in the long run!

Step 2: Use a timer
Figure out exactly where you’re losing time – is it transitions?  Is it morning/beginning of period routine?  Is it handing out papers?  Is it during partner work?  Then, challenge the students to beat their time.  Say to your students: “Folks, we’re losing 5 minutes an hour during transitions because we’re taking our precious time and talking with our friends too much.  Let’s see if we can make this transition under 30 seconds.  Go!”. Anything’s better if it’s a challenge!

Step 3: Pre-establish partners at the end of the day
There is always lost time and DRAMA around partners!  I don’t enter into that and I certainly don’t give the kids the opportunity to choose their partners because they’re going to switch them all of the time anyway.  So, at the end of the day I say, “Tomorrow guys and gals, we are going to switch partners.  I’m going to take 1 minute right now to tell you who your partner is so that you’re ready to roll tomorrow morning.  If you choose to be crabby about your partner, then you will stay with me during your recess/passing period because we don’t have time for that foolishness and we’re better than that!”  Then in the morning or next period, they are already SET!

Step 4: Have an exit strategy!
We do ourselves a disservice when we start the top of the day with the “this is everything I have to get through”  mentality.  No doubt there is a TON of “stuff” that we have to teach, but we have to prioritize the content so that we aren’t just getting through it while students watch.  Watching does not equal learning!                                                                                                                       

Here’s what I suggest: Go through your content for the next day and highlight in green what MUST be taught.  Highlight in yellow what SHOULD be taught and highlight in pink what can be dropped off if needed.  While we’ll be focused on teaching everything, we have to have an exit strategy if needed!

Step 5: Avoid giving directions until you have all eyes on you

The BEST classroom management skill that I can give anyone is “don’t give directions until you have all eyes on you!”.  Why?  Then you don’t have to go around and keep repeating yourself a zillion times to those students who didn’t listen in the beginning!  Try it!  It works like a CHARM!

Becoming more efficient is about taking CONTROL.  And I find that the most in-control educators are most satisfied…they don’t feel “done to” – they feel powerful!  And I hope the same for you!

If you’re interested in finding time-saving techniques and free tools – click on the “Free Resources” tab at www.jackson-consulting.com – – I’m waiting for you there!

During Reading Strategies and Before Reading Strategies That Will Boost Comprehension!


So there’s no trick or tip that will take you farther than preparing kids ahead of time to manage text – especially when they get into text that’s difficult or unknown.  Take a peek now in the video below at a couple of during reading strategies and before reading strategies that will help kids get into text and boost their comprehension!

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What do a Japanese Tea Ceremony and Explicit Instruction Have in Common?

What do a Japanese Tea Ceremony and Explicit Instruction Have in Common?

I had to travel to Japan to learn what tea and explicit instruction have in common. And it was worth it!

I visited the Muan Teahouse, a traditional teahouse and Japanese garden – absolutely gorgeous. I arrived a bit early, toured the grounds and then sat down near the pond and watched the Koi fish as I waited for my appointment. I had decided that I would enjoy a private tea ceremony so that I could concentrate and really "get into it"…little did I know what THAT would entail!

The Japanese woman in traditional dress, came and found me and walked me into the tea hut (which was hundreds of years old) and I took my shoes off and got settled. She told me that I was to sit back and relax as she went through the nineteen-step process (yes, it was really 19 steps!).

So, I sat back and was lulled into a stupor at her methodical movements and the steaming tea. I was even excited to try the sweet bean paste that accompanies the tea (which is unsweetened)! So, for about 15-20 minutes, I really enjoyed one of the oldest customs in Japanese culture…and then it happened.

The lady turns to me and says this: "Now it’s your turn."


She hands me a list of the nineteen-step directions (that are written in very poorly translated English) and nods to me like "go ahead". Well she didn’t tell me that I had to do the whole thing myself! I would have paid MUCH MORE ATTENTION if I had known that!

So, as she watched me, I lifted the steaming cup in the correct hand formation, turned it 45 degrees to admire the tea, took one small sip, etc.

Each and every time I did a step, I would look at her as if to say, "Am I doing this right…do I do this now?" And each time she would nod a very approving (or so I thought) nod.

I think I did ok. Just ok.

There were a few times that I swore she was laughing at me, but I don’t know for sure.  (Let me put it this way, if I were HER and was watching ME, I would be laughing uncontrollably!)

As I left the teahouse with my tail between my legs and simultaneously laughing at myself, I was reminded about how this experience was a lot like what happens in the classroom.

We teach something directly to our students, we model for them what it should look like and then hand it over to them to try and sometimes they flop – like they have never seen it before!

It makes me wonder if we make it abundantly clear to our students that yes, I will teach this directly to you. Yes, I will model it. BUT, it will be your turn very soon, so pay very close attention.

The rubber meets the road during explicit instruction when students finally have to practice what they’ve seen modeled by the teacher.

The tea ceremony looked relatively simple UNTIL it was my turn. I would have paid much closer attention had I thought that my turn was shortly coming.

Without clarity on the students’ role in the explicit teaching model (teach, model, practice, apply), we lose the power of explicit teaching.


Do our kids have to take the WHOLE ENTIRE test…it’s 43 pages long?!?!?!!????

Formative, summative, internal, external, diagnostic, high-stakes….ugh!  Ugh!  Ugh!

Tired of that testing talk?  I am!

Your trusty literacy consultant…tired of assessment talk?  I mean it’s like J.Lo being tired of lip gloss and young boyfriends!  (Ok, I debated putting that in because it’s SO corny…but I did…and I probably lost 1000 readers right there.  Moving on…!)

I was asked a question by no less than 5 teaching teams in the past 3 weeks: Do our kids have to take the WHOLE ENTIRE unit/theme test…it’s 43 pages long?!?!?!!????

That’s a really good question, but I think my answer might take us in a different direction than you might think.

When I asked the follow-up question: is your problem with the test one of students getting fatigued or teachers getting fatigued?  Several stopped…and laughed.  Kind of like the “you caught me” kind of laugh.  So, which is it?

I’ve developed a few questions and some ideas around what you need to be asking yourself as you plan your testing schedule for next year:

What portions of the test relate directly to the standards I am responsible for teaching? In other words, are there portions of the test that are truly inconsequential or are highly unrelated to the core content that week?  Then, you might want to consider taking that sub-test out.  For that week.  Let’s avoid broad or blanket deletion of sub-tests!

What sub-tests assess skills my students are a bit shaky on?  These are EXACTLY the tests that you want to give students!  You want to know what they don’t know, not just what they do know, especially if you’re going to actually USE the data to help your instruction the next day or week.

What sub-tests assess foundational literacy skills that are critical to maintain?  I find that students often know a skill…for a time.  Then they forget it.  Why?  We sometimes forget to continue monitoring it, because we assume “they had it and they always will”.  Um, SO not true! (Even for your most accomplished learners!)

So, I encourage you and your team to look at the sub-tests that assess the must-know and must-have-mastered skills and administer those sub-tests to keep a good handle on those skills that need to remain maintained.

Am I freaking out over the length of the test or the skill expectations of the test?  Sometimes the test seems so daunting…to the teacher.  I hear folks say, “Oh my gosh, Jason just cried during the test, it was so long!”  First of all, Jason cried during the test.  The whole class didn’t cry during the test.  And, are we sure that Jason doesn’t have other things going on in life that may be overwhelming him and the long test was just the tip of the iceberg? 

If the test IS too long, then CHUNK IT UP.  Give pieces of it casually at the end of the reading block for 3-4 days!  I find that teachers are sometimes resistant to doing that and I can’t figure out why! 

If you have a big unit/theme test that kids have been working toward for 4-6 weeks worth of instruction, then chunking the test shouldn’t get in the way of further teaching.  I mean, is that last bit of instruction going to make ALL the difference in the world after you’ve been teaching it for 4-6 weeks already?  Let’s get real – they should know it and if they do, they do.  And if they don’t, then your assessment will show that.

How can I facilitate the taking of the test so that it doesn’t interrupt my teaching unnecessarily?  Like I said, if the test is long, chunk it.  If the test is hard, give the kids a pep-talk and remind them “you know this”.  If the test is a challenge, GOOD!  (A tough test assures that those who ace it really know the material – and isn’t that what we really want to know anyway?)

What I want you to avoid?  Blaming the test for results that you’re not thrilled with. 

Here’s the deal: teachers with kids who perform well aren’t complaining or fretting about the length of the test.  Why?  They’re too busy teaching.





When you know a skill, you know a skill.  Period.

And with that, I’m stepping off of my high horse.  Come “follow” me for some chat (and an occasional high horsing around) on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/TheJillJackson

Stop That Wedding! The Engagement Was a Farce!

If you know me, you know that I’m a hopeful romantic, I love lovey-dovey stuff and romantic comedies and against-all-odds love stories.  (Note to reader: For the men or non-romantics reading this, you can open your eyes now…)

One of my most favorite movies is Father of the Bride – not because of its deep, romantic ties or the fact that it was filmed in my hometown (true!), but because it shows the great parts of getting ready to get married and also the not-so-great parts of it, too.

In the final analysis, the couple gets married and because they have made a good choice in who they’d marry and also worked through a lot of their family, job, money issues throughout their engagement, I think they probably had a good life together.  (And they seemed to be doing well when I last checked in with them in Father of the Bride II!)

When I think of that engagement time, I think of how important it is to work out the kinks and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what you want your life together to be – in fact, I read once that engagement is all about figuring out if you’re ready to marry each other and to make a formal commitment to finding out IF marriage is the next step.

These days, within 2.333 hours of announcing engagement, we’ve practically booked the venue, briefed the wedding party, chosen the favors, forwarded the honeymoon itinerary and chosen the monogram for the first born!

My thought is HOLD UP A MINUTE! 

The REAL story of engagement is often this: woman tells man where he has to show up, what he has to wear and briefs him regularly on that weird aunt’s name so that he doesn’t forget it.  The woman is fawned over by her friends and other ladies while the man basically gets a boot camp-style briefing of the activities for the week.  He is merely a FIGURE in the whole scheme.  He is an observer and occasional interloper!

I’ve often heard of guys rolling their eyes over all of the wedding fussiness  -they’re simply trying to ENDURE it and get to the happily ever after part.

Now, I’m not trying to act like ALL guys are like this or ALL gals are like this but do you admit it is more common than not?

What I think we ought to explore is the connection between these wedding shenanigans and our teaching.  Huh?

Hear me out…

We have gotten a little glad-handy with our use of engagement techniques (much like brides with their 57 pre-wedding activities) – we have fallen for the idea that if we are using an engagement technique that kids must be engaged – or at least more engaged than if we didn’t use the technique.

We do not have a shortage of engagement ideas, technique, tricks-of-the-trade or training opportunities, so why is it that kids are still ENDURING instruction and not ENGAGING IN IT?

Really good kids are sitting in classrooms much too often just listening to the teacher do the work – or watching other kids do the work.  It has to be terribly boring.  I can tell you for sure, it’s boring to watch!

Kids are acting like they’re the bystanding groom to the teacher’s bride antics – engagement techniques are sometimes used and sometimes not, but the engagement level is still low all around. 

I don’t have to point out that students are not going to master content, receive high levels of direct teaching and academic-based feedback in these classrooms, do I?

So, how do we turn standing-by, enduring kind of classrooms or lessons into full blown engaged ones?  I have a couple of ideas…they aren’t fancy, but they will work if you work ‘em:

Enduring to Engaging Idea #1: Make sure that the content that you want to have students engage in is worthy of engagement 

Not everything is worth teaching – some things are worth just telling kids.  What’s the difference?

When I’m teaching something new, I go through the whole teach/model/practice/feedback/apply format.  It’s during the practice/feedback/apply part that I should be planning for high-levels of active engagement from students.  However, I have seen many times that teachers are having students use techniques like “think pair share” or “partner teams” for times when the content is minor or inconsequential to the mastery of the subject area.

When something is inconsequential or just minor to the big content picture, we can just say, “Ladies and gents, this means ______” or “What that refers to is like when__________” and move on.

The techniques that we use to increase engagement should be used to enhance and improve the mastery of super important, really high impact skills!  I so often hear “I would love to do more engagement activities, but they’re so time consuming!” – well, they ARE time consuming especially when you’re using them for inconsequential information.

Enduring to Engaging Idea #2: Make sure that you’re obsessed with checking-in with students during high-engagement times

There are two really big points of engagement: to give kids lots of practice on important skills in order to build mastery and to give kids lots of opportunity to show what they know, what they don’t know and what they kind of know so that the teacher can provide lots of direction, correction and re-direction.  Without engagement, we have no idea what’s going on in the kids’ heads!

What is common (and I’m guilty of these sometimes, too) is that while students are think/pair/sharing, teachers are getting set up for the next part of the lesson, are getting stuck at one group re-doing the lesson, are proctoring learning rather than engaging with kids in it and generally missing all of the good thinking and talking and interaction around the important content!

When students are talking with one another, it’s the PERFECT TIME to get in there and hear what they’re saying and commenting, redirecting, making a note to clear something up with the whole class, asking them to extend responses,  redirect their conversation or work or generally set them straight on something they have mis-learned!

Engagement is not about the kids and kids alone.  It’s around the TEACHER engaging with the KIDS and the CONTENT. 

So what is the take-away from this, in my book?  That we refine our definition of engagement from that of “using engagement techniques during teaching” to “setting up meaningful opportunities for students to work with, talk about, write about, think about the most important information that they’re required to learn”.

You’ve got everything you need to do this now…where will you start?

Come on over to www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting to talk – I’m waiting just for YOU!