Time on task can be tough to monitor in the classroom! I love it when inspiration comes to me in the moment of need. It seems like some of my best ideas originate this way. My most recent revelation came a few days ago, after three weeks of students doing research for a social studies project.
Student time on task can suffer during longer projects
I noticed, as we all probably do, that student time-on-task was dwindling as the research and writing continued to lengthen (some might say “loom”). I began to question the effectiveness of the time we had spent on this project verses time spent on something more teacher-directed. It was at this moment of frustration with the lack of progress that an idea popped into my mind.
A colleague had developed a reflection form as a final assessment for the research project, but what I really needed was a daily time-on-task diagram. Thus arose the plan. We devised a circle divided into four-15 minute chunks (to represent an entire research period). I copied it off, and minutes before students arrived in the classroom, I had it on desks.
Students need to reflect on their time on task
Before we began research that day, I told the class that I’d like them to reflect on their time spent during the process. I mentioned that I had noticed some of them weren’t focused on the task, and I described what I meant. They smiled in recognition of their unproductive behavior.
Next, I set my timer for the first 15 minute chunk. I let them know that research time would begin when I hit the start button, and that when the timer goes off in 15 minutes, they would shade in the portion of the time they’d actually spent on task. I also let them know that I’d be coming around to students who may need a reminder, and I’d place an “x” on a portion of their circle graph to note the time off task.
Now, I’ve always used a timer throughout the day; it’s another simple strategy I use for just about everything, and kids really buy into the concept of being timed. However, the addition of a chart right in front of them on which they would show their effort and focus really boosted the effectiveness of that Dollar Store timer.
Holy Cow! It worked! I have never seen such a productive, self-directed 15 minutes. When that timer went off, I stopped everything and had students reflect on their time-on-task. Each of the students shaded in the 15-minute portion of the circle to represent his or her effort.
Encourage students to write their work goal for their time on task
And then I had another epiphany: for the next 15 minutes, I would have students write their goal inside the portion of the circle they would be shading when the timer goes off. I told them that my goal for them would be to write a quality topic sentence and to see if the concrete details in their notes fit with their topic. They proceeded to write this goal on their circle chart and then a personal goal specific to their project. Again, it worked!
This continued for the entire hour: the timer going off every 15 minutes, me stopping the class for a quick reflection, them writing their goal for the next 15 minutes. WHY HAD I NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE??!
In the past, I’ve had goals written for students as the work time progresses, but breaking down the work time into smaller chunks made it so much more doable for the kiddos. When our hour was up, I collected their Time-On-Task graphs. I told them I’d be grading the graphs with an effort score for the day. I did this same procedure three times during the week, each time with the same results!
I am thrilled with my new discovery, and I’d love to share it with you. Here’s a link to the freebie I created in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.