December 10, 2012

A Typical Class

My school runs on A/B days with four 90 minute blocks each day. I love, love, love long blocks. I follow essentially the same routine in all my classes (this year- Fundamentals of Geometry, regular (CP) Geometry and Honors PreCalc).  Routines are really important in running class efficiently, so I want to share my approach and hope to hear about yours!

As students arrive they see:

For geometry I pull the word of the day from this list, for PreCalc I pull from SAT words. However, I have gotten feedback that students really aren't learning the words since they are totally unfamiliar (sad!) and we don't practice them. So I am going to switch to using their English vocab words and have a plan to eventually create a cross curricular list of key words for each grade level that we can all pull from to support each other.

As soon as the bell rings I get students' attention by saying "good morning, I need eyes up here and voices quiet." First I ask if anyone has heard of the word, then if they can define the word and finally I unveil the definition (it's hidden under that box).

Next up I remind students what their homework was and to have it out on their desk for me to check (homework is a mere 10% of their grade and I check for completion, half credit can be earned for late homework- the only thing I grade where lateness has an adverse effect). While I check homework students take a quiz (questions projected, answers and work - when applicable - written on quarter sheets of scrap paper).

For regular geometry and PreCalc this quiz is on the material we learned 2 classes ago and went over the homework for last class (1. learn, 2. review, 3. quiz). For fundamentals of geometry this is an "in quiz" on the material we will learn that day, it should alert students what they need to focus on to be successful that day. Quizzes are always 3 questions on one standard. I do the orange pen method with the regular quizzes (my co-teacher and I grade the in quizzes with the out quizzes later to check for progress). Students really want to know if they're right as soon as they're done, so now is the best time to give feedback. This also makes quizzes great for me to grade- I'm spending less time locating errors and more time noticing common issues and giving a grade that tells a student what level they are at (most know already, but some kids think a small mistake is a big deal or vice versa).

When everyone is done with their quiz we go over the homework. For PreCalc the homework involves mostly multi step problems so I project my worked out solutions (love my document projector) and they ask questions. For geometry the homework is a mix of short and multi step so we work out each problem together. I solicit responses with justifications and don't write anything on the board that didn't come from a student. The difference between the levels is mainly the amount of time it would take to do the same procedure in PreCalc. I started the year asking them to pick just a few problems to go over (I would make sure they were representative of all the problems) but students really wanted to know if all their answers were correct so I started projecting all the solutions. It works great though! They don't just copy my solutions but ask questions and are happy to work through a problem with justifications even though it's already worked out on the projector.

After the homework we move to some type of exploration, formalization or proof and practice. (That's the stuff I usually write about.)  During class I make sure everything is carefully organized- I have a filing system where I keep copies of things to hand out and students know procedures for finding tools and handing in assignments.  (I love that choosing appropriate tools is a practice standard which means it's up to them to decide what might be useful and get it.)

Students usually get a one minute warning to finish the problem they are working on before we transition to the end of class routine. Ten minutes before the end of the period I switch the slide to the "out quiz" in the fundamentals class.  This is the exact same slide as they saw earlier, I just changed the word "in" to "out." When everyone has finished (after about five minutes) I project the final slide: journal and homework.

In the other classes I project the final slide five minutes before the bell. Students are responsible for writing in their journal (and handing it in if it's a Friday), recording their homework and cleaning up their area before they leave.

Having these routines that I follow nearly every class means students know what to do with minimal prompting at the beginning and end of class. Students frequently remark "this class goes by fast!" which is a huge compliment. It means that students are busy (routines limit down time) and doing something that interests them. Having a routine also means I'm not scrambling at the beginning or end of class. It takes me one loop of the room to check homework using my fancy clipboard (up the first aisle and down the third means I can hit all four columns of desk pairs in one loop) so I have time to set up materials for the day or put in attendance. My first year teaching that bell at the end of class would always catch me off guard and I'd be yelling out the homework as they packed up. Now kids remind me it's journal time if I haven't switched the slide at the right time. However, class isn't exactly the same every day, there's a good hour in the middle that changes structure regularly. That's the part that I spend my time prepping and where the new learning happens. Class can't be all new learning all the time, students need to reflect, review and try out their new knowledge in an assessment, so I find this routine allows for a good balance of new and review.

I'd love to hear what structures you have found for your classroom. Especially if you have shorter periods, I know that doing everything I do in one day is impossible. When I had 45 minute classes each day of the week had a different routine so I would be sure to get to everything in a week.


  1. Thanks for this post - it encouraged me to do the same!

    I'm in the 45-minute club right now and it is always a constant battle against the clock - routines are crucial and something I'm always trying to perfect to save every little minute.

  2. I admit this is one thing I've been terribly curious about - not necessarily the routines, but the makeup of the periods elsewhere in the world, particularly after DITLife. All semestered public schools in our board are 75 minutes in length, and there are four periods per day... but one of those is a preparation period, so three classes. Always the same ones, every day. School start times and lunch times vary, some schools have 5 minutes between classes, others 10, but it's 75 minutes of teaching.

    As to routines, I tend to take the first ten minutes to deal with questions from the previous night's work, while the new lesson is up on the board for them to start thinking about. Very often there ARE no questions (because the smart people had no problems and no one else did the work) - we don't grade homework, that's "learning strategies". Tests and tasks, that's it for evaluation. So some days this is time to "compare answers", aka realize "you assigned work?"

    This leaves 65 minutes (in theory), so we start in. The homework tends to be on the board already, and if not, usually it gets put up partway in, as I'm reminded that some people have already solved the problem of the moment, checked their answer with me, and want something else to do. (In some classes, "something else" is assisting classmates, yay!) Whatever time is left at the end (which varies from 20 minutes to 2 minutes, depending on difficulty of topic and length of class discussion) is time to start homework, and ask me more individual questions.

    I'm damn impressed that you do a quiz every day. I do two per unit, one near the middle, one towards the end, they run about half an hour, plus ten minutes to take up, thus taking half a period. The other half is then either a teaser for the next day's work, an additional example of the previous day (usually in a new context or as an application), or just time to catch up on "you assigned work?". There's other days that break the pattern too, involving either computer lab or in class activities, but that's the gist of it.

  3. Thanks to both of you for playing along. I added your contributions to I don't quite do a quiz every day (the days right before and after a test are usually exempt) but I aim to quiz on every standard and 3 questions a day seems easier than multiple standards on one quiz.