by Harry and Rosemary Wong
The First Five Minutes Are Critical
Justin was one of those students all teachers dream of having. He was a superior student and a student body officer; but he was always late for third period class. Homeroom period was between second and third periods and he would use this time in the office to take care of his student body duties.
One day I said, "Justin, why are you always late to class?" And he said, "Because, Mr. Wong, nothing happens during the first five to ten minutes in this class!"
Justin teaches us all an important lesson. Many teachers believe that their first responsibility in the classroom is to take the roll, return papers to students absent from class, answer questions, and do any and all other tasks that are essential at the beginning of a class period.
Justin knew that class did not really start until ten minutes after the tardy bell, so why bother coming on time. In this case it is not the student who is late for class, it is the teacher who is late starting the class!
The most essential thing for a teacher to do is to structure an assignment the second the students walk into the room.
For many teachers much of the management of a classroom is by default. Students will wander around the room and chat because the teacher has not structured anything for the students to do.
When a teacher abdicates structuring a classroom,
structure is left to the student.
The Fastest Growing School District
Clark County Schools in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the fastest growing school district in America, hiring some 1500 to 1800 new teachers each year. Yet, their annual attrition rate (turnover of teachers) is about 6 to 8 percent. To help their new teachers succeed, they publish a monthly newsletter for their elementary and secondary teachers. The secondary newsletter is the New Teacher Times, published by the Systems Design and Staff Development Department. Karyn Wright is the Director of Teacher Training and Staff Development Department.
The following items appeared in the September 1999 issue of New Teacher Times. Note the consistency of the teachers' comments and their recommendations for learning to take place as soon as the students enter the classroom.
Be prepared and be yourself!
"It has been said, 'A well-planned lesson eliminates 90% of discipline problems.' As a successful teacher for the past 20 years, I am inclined to agree with this statement. There should be no free time planned in your daily lesson. It is better to have too much planned for the class period instead of too little. Ask your department chairperson about daily openers for your subject area(s). Daily openers such as Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) in reading, or Daily Oral Language (DOL) in English will help your students begin their daily task as soon as they enter your classroom. If a reading strategist is available in your building, he or she can provide overhead transparencies of Terra Nova Test samples to be used as daily openers.
Set the mood the first five minutes
"Be yourself. Although most teachers have excellent role models, we can only be ourselves! Acting like someone else, no matter how wonderful that person is, will be perceived as fake by your students. Your love for students will be enough to overcome any honest mistakes (we never stop making mistakes) that you may make as a teacher."
Mattie White, Sawyer Middle School
"The first few minutes are crucial. Students must know what they are expected to do as soon as the tardy bell rings. Do not allow 'FREE Time' while you take roll. My students have learned during the first week to be in their seats ready to work when the bell rings. I assign a monitor to turn on the overhead where the D.O.L.D. (Daily Oral Language Drill) is for students to do while I take roll. A monitor goes to the basket for each class to distribute work to be done or that has been graded. Students returning from an absence use this time to write down work missed (from the Agenda Mate). All students must write down the date, objective, and homework assignment in their daily agenda books. Once a week I check agendas for completion."
The minute the bell rings
Patricia Revzin, Woodbury Middle School
"As students file in, I remind them of the materials they will need that day, to have pencils sharpened, and to have paper out. The minute the bell rings, I turn on the overhead projector to reveal a warm-up problem. The problem is either a review of a recent lesson or of important information I don't want them to forget, such as basic math skills. As students are working the problem, I take roll and walk around the room to check students' progress and answer quick questions. When students have finished the warm-up, we either go through it as a class or it is treated as a quiz and is collected to be graded."
A jumping off point
Eric Johnson, Math Teacher
"The first five minutes of class are devoted to either a preview or review activity. The format of the activity varies. Students might be asked to write a reaction to a quote or newspaper article, copy a timeline, brainstorm emotions felt in response to a piece of music, or take a quiz on the previous night's reading assignment. Whatever the opening activity, its primary purpose is to engage students the minute they walk through the door and to provide me an opportunity to handle attendance and other housekeeping duties. The opening activity also provides a jumping off point for the day's lesson."
It's obvious from the excerpts above that structuring the opening of class is critical for student involvement the rest of the school day. It's like the opening of a movie-it needs to capture your attention and keep you in your seat. If there is no opening of class activity, the students will be out of their seats waiting for the class to begin.
Heidi Olive, Desert Pines High School
For Secondary Teachers Too
Structuring a class to start on time is an activity for all students, including secondary students.
Most all of the procedures mentioned in our book, The First Days of School, are needed by secondary students, too. Heading a paper, sharpening a pencil, asking for permission to speak or leave a seat, and responding to a fire drill are all procedures that are universal from kindergarten to grade 12. Yet, some of the reviews of our book on Amazon.com contend that the book is for elementary teachers only. Effective teachers will take a concept from our book, this column, or any other source and adapt it to any grade level to create an effective classroom.
LaMoine L. Motz wrote the following as a review in Amazon.com:
"As a secondary science teacher, science coordinator, director of a professional development center for teachers, and college instructor for secondary science teacher interns, this book is for ALL teachers, including secondary teachers. For the past six years I have used this book with over 100 secondary science students/teacher interns, along with hundreds of teachers of science.
"Classroom management applies to all teachers, and this inspirational and motivational resource provides both the beginning and seasoned teacher with numerous, practical ideas, strategies and techniques that will make teaching fun, satisfying and successful."
Administrators Want Structure, Too
When there is structure in the classrooms of a school, the administrator becomes an effective instructional leader.
Keith Kramer the principal of Cross High School in South Carolina wrote of problems where sheriffs roamed the school's hallways in an attempt to keep students in the classroom.
The sheriffs are long gone now according to Keith and a culture has been well established. Learning is taking place every minute of each instructional period. The students, staff, teachers, parents, and community have become proud of their school once again.
How did he do it? Each year on the first two days of school, the staff establishes school-wide procedures. These procedures, in turn, create a school culture for the students. Many of the techniques he uses are from The First Days of School and The Effective Teacher video series.
Jack Raines the principal from Rappahannock High School in Virginia establishes the same type of school-wide procedures with his students. He proudly says that by fourth period on the very first day of school the students knew the assignments were on the board and got to work. It only took the staff a half day to establish the structure for their school.
More impressive though is the fact that referrals have dramatically decreased. In the same time period the previous year his office handled 130 referrals. The year that school-wide procedures were implemented saw that number reduced to only 2 referrals!
As the assistant principal, Mike Tupper, says, "Because of the drastic decrease in referrals, I can now focus on the instructional process rather than on discipline chores. I am able to get out into the classroom more and become an instructional leader. I can focus on teachers, helping them become better teachers."
And Vicky Eastham, teacher at Rappahannock High School says, "I am able to help my students because they all know what to do."
(Please refer to our September column to read about how two schools met together as a staff to structure a culture with school-wide procedures. To access any of our past columns, click on "Gazette Back Issues" in the left margin of this column.)
YOU Can Make a Difference
People who achieve mastery in whatever they do are constant, lifelong learners. If you dare to choose teaching as your profession, then you must never cease to learn. We have shared with you some techniques that individual teachers use in their classrooms to structure the learning environment. And, we have shared with you stories of administrators who structure the entire school.
Begin a class or period with specific directions or structure. Do this by providing an activity for the students to do each day while you take care of your administrative duties. If you already have your class structured so that students immediately come in, sit down, and get to work, try getting your grade level, department, or entire school to do it, too.
Imagine the lessons to be taught if the first five minutes of every school day were put to learning. You would gain about 2 ˝ days of instructional time over the course of the school year. Most all of us just savored one hour in our personal lives with the switching to daylight savings time. Just think of the possibilities with the new-found days in your teaching year.
Make every second count with your students!
Past Gazette Articles by Harry & Rosemary Wong:
If you spot a link that appears to be out-of-date, please alert us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
- A Grateful Goodbye After 15 Years (Jun 2015)
- Love, Marriage, and Babies, Oh My! (May 2015)
- Retention Rate Is 100 Percent (Apr 2015)
- Teacher Effectiveness and Human Capital (Mar 2015)
- Training Teachers to Be Effective (Feb 2015)
- Making Deals Is Ineffective (Dec 2014 / Jan 2015)
- Retrieving and Carrying Electronic Devices (Nov 2014)
- Sharing to Succeed (Oct 2014)
- How a University Prepares Its Students (Sep 2014)
- Effective Teaching (Aug 2014)
- Your Future Is in Your Hands (June/July 2014)
- The Classroom Management Book (May 2014)
- When Students Succeed; Teachers Succeed (April 2014)
- Teaching New Teachers How to Succeed (March 2014)
- Execute and Praise (February 2014)
- Shaping a Solid Foundation (Dec 2013 / Jan 2014)
- The Most Misunderstood Word (November 2013)
- How to Start Class Every Day (October 2013)
- Prevention: The Key to Solving Discipline Problems (September 2013)
- Planning, Planning, Planning (August 2013)
- Are You THE One? (June / July 2013)
- Practical Examples That Work (May 2013)
- A Disability Is Not a Handicap (Apr 2013)
- Totally Inexcusable (Mar 2013)
- Be Proud of Public Education (Feb 2013)
- Structure Will Motivate Students (Dec 2012 / Jan2013)
- Orchestrating the Classroom (Nov 2012)
- The Lasting Impact of Instructional Coaching (Oct 2012)
- Learning, Laughing, and Leaving a Legacy (Sep 2012)
- Twenty-two, First Year, and Legit (Aug 2012)
- A Master Teacher of Teachers (June/July 2012)
- Where Going to School Means Success (May 2012)
- A Nationally Celebrated High School (Apr 2012)
- The Highest Rated School in New York City, Part 2 (Mar 2012)
- The Highest Rated School in New York City, Part 1 (Feb 2012)
- The Importance of Culture (Dec 2011 / Jan 2012)
- You Can Teach Classroom Management (Nov 2011)
- Seamless, Transparent, and Consistent (Oct 2011)
- Coaching Teachers to Be Effective Instructors (Sep 2011)
- How a Principal Creates a Culture of Consistency (Aug 2011)
- Graduation Begins in Your Classroom (June/July 2011)
- The Inspiration of a Mother (May 2011)
- How to Be an Effective Leader (Apr 2011)
- Learning Objectives: The Heart of Every Lesson (Mar 2011)
- Even Shakespeare Had Structure (Feb 2011)
- Effectiveness Defined: It's Not a Mystery (Dec 2010 / Jan 2011)
- Surviving Without a Principal (Nov 2010)
- Achieving Greatness: Locke Elementary School, Part 2 (Oct 2010)
- Teaching Greatness: Locke Elementary School, Part 1 (Sep 2010)
- Effective from the Start (Aug 2010)
- Ten Year Summary of Articles, 2000 to 2010 (June/July 2010)
- The Success of a Culture of Consistency (May 2010)
- Training Teachers to Be Effective (Apr 2010)
- Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn (Mar 2010)
- Turning Teaching Dreams into Reality (Feb 2010)
- Dreams and Wishes Can Come True (Dec 2009 / Jan 2010)
- Success in a State Controlled School (Nov 2009)
- Inner City Is Not An Excuse (Oct 2009)
- Exceeding All Expectations (Sep 2009)
- Teachers Are the Difference (Aug 2009)
- Nine Year Summary of Articles, 2000 to 2009 (Jun/Jul 2009)
- Teachers Are the Greatest Assets (May 2009)
- The Tools for Success (Apr 2009)
- Assessing for Student Learning (Mar 2009)
- To Be an Effective Teacher Simply Copy and Paste (Feb 2009)
- The Sounds of Students Learning and Performing (Dec 2008)
- A School That Achieves Greatness (Nov 2008)
- Boaz City Schools: Professional Learning Teams (Oct 2008)
- It Was Something Close to a Miracle (Sep 2008)
- A Computer Teacher Shows the Way (Aug 2008)
- Eight Year Summary of Articles, 2000 to 2008 (Jun/Jul 2008)
- An Amazing Kindergarten Teacher (May 2008)
- Schools That Beat the Academic Odds (Apr 2008)
- Academic Coaching Produces More Effective Teachers (Mar 2008)
- Coaches Are More Effective than Mentors (Feb 2008)
- Wrapping the Year with Rap! (Dec 2007/Jan 2008)
- The Floating Teacher (Nov 2007)
- Taking the Bite Out of Assessment—Using Scoring Guides (Oct 2007)
- Ten Timely Tools for Success on the First Days of School (Sep 2007)
- First Day of School Script - in Spanish, Too! (Aug 2007)
- Seven Year Summary of Articles, 2000 to 2007 (Jun 2007)
- Effective Teachers End the Year Successfully (May 2007)
- Training Gen Y Teachers for Maximum Effectiveness (Apr 2007)
- Classroom Management Applies to All Teachers (Mar 2007)
- Students Want a Sense of Direction (Feb 2007)
- Rubrics in Two College Classes (Dec 2006/Jan 2007)
- How to Write a Rubric (Nov 2006)
- Assessing Student Progress with a Rubric (Oct 2006)
- A 92 Percent Homework Turn-in Rate (Sep 2006)
- Effective Teachers Are Proactive (Aug 2006)
- Five Year Summary of Articles (Jun 2006)
- Hitting the Bulls Eye as a Beginning Teacher (May 2006)
- They're Eager to Do the Assignments (Apr 2006)
- The Success of Special Ed Teachers (Mar 2006)
- What Teachers Have Accomplished (Feb 2006)
- Fifty Years Ago, The Legacy (Dec 2005/Jan 2006)
- The Emergency Teacher (Nov 2005)
- Classroom Management Is Not Discipline (Oct 2005)
- A Successful First Day Is No Secret (Sep 2005)
- The Most Important Factor (Aug 2005)
- Four Year Summary of Articles (Jul 2005)
- Improving Student Achievement Is Very Simple (Part 2) (Jun 2005)
- Improving Student Achievement Is Very Simple (Part 1) (May 2005)
- Never Cease to Learn (Apr 2005)
- His Classroom Is a Real Life Office (Mar 2005)
- The Power of Procedures (Feb 2005)
- The First Ten Days of School (Jan 2005)
- PowerPoint Procedures (Nov/Dec 2004)
- The Saints of Education (Oct 2004)
- How Procedures Saved a Teacher's Life (Sep 2004)
- How to Help Students with Their Assignments (Aug 2004)
- Three Year Summary of Articles (Jun/Jul 2004)
- His Students are All Certified (May 2004)
- What to Do When They Complain (Apr 2004)
- A Well-Oiled Learning Machine (Mar 2004)
- The Effective Teacher Adapts (Feb 2004)
- How to Start a Lesson Plan (Aug 2003)
- Applying for a Teaching Job in a Tight Market - Part 2 (Jun/Jul 2003)
- Applying for a Teaching Job in a Tight Market (May 2003)
- The Effective Substitute Teacher (Apr 2003)
- A First Day of School Script (Mar 2003)
- How to Retain New Teachers (Feb 2003)
- No Problem With Hurricane Lili (Dec 2002)
- A Class Size of 500 (Nov 2002)
- Effective Practices Apply to All Teachers (Oct 2002)
- Dispensing Materials in Fifteen Seconds (Sept 2002)
- How To Start School Successfully (Aug 2002)
- Teaching Procedures Is Teaching Expectations (June - July 2002)
- $50,000 to Replace Each Teacher (May 2002)
- Even Superintendents Do It (Apr 2002)
- Impossible, No Job Openings? (Mar 2002)
- A Stress Free Teacher (Feb 2002)
- A Most Effective School (Jan 2002)
- Van Gogh in Nine Hours (Dec 2001)
- The Effective Teacher Thinks (Nov 2001)
- How a Good University Can Help You (Sep 2001)
- How to Motivate Your Students (May 2001)
- How to Recognize Where You Want to Be (Apr 2001)
- What Successful New Teachers Are Taught (Mar 2001)
- A Journey of the Heart (Feb 2001)
- The Miracle of Teachers (Jan 2001)
- It's Not the Students. It's the Teacher. (Dec 2000)
- The First Five Minutes Are Critical (Nov 2000)
- How to Start a Class Effectively (Oct 2000)
- The Problem Is Not Discipline (Sep 2000)
- There Is Only One First Day of School (Aug 2000)
- Applying for Your First Job (Jul 2000)
- Your First Day (Jun 2000)
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