Monday, October 14, 2013

Successful 50 Minute Classes: Guest Post from Maneuvering the Middle

Last week, I began a blog series Successful 50 Minute Classes at my blog Maneuvering the Middle. 

Now, I am by no means an expert, but I will say that after seven years of 50 minute classes, I have found some very successful tips and tricks that keep the class moving and maximizes the instructional time.  

In my previous posts, I discussed how supplies and transitions can really eat away those precious minutes.  Today, I am going to focus on ways to utilize class time in such a way that students who get behind do not dictate the pace of the class.  


All fabulous teachers want students to "get it".  We want everyone in the class to fully understand what we are teaching.  We can all relate to that feeling when the lesson went well, no one was confused, everyone was engaged...but more likely than not there are those few kiddos that typically struggle.  We are waiting on them, we have to redirect them, they are sometimes lost from the very beginning.  With only 50 minutes, it is easy to let those students slow down the class.  

Warm Ups/Bell Ringers
This time in class is very valuable and truly supports maximizing the 50 minutes.  Students get started right away.  Typically this time is used as a spiral review or something that would lead into that days lesson.

For students who typically struggle this class time could be used a bit differently.  Somethings I have done or seen done well include:
  • pulling a mini small group of students who struggled with the previous days content
  • pulling a mini small group of students who you anticipate might struggle 
For example, we are learning how to add fractions with unlike denominators.  This is a new concept and I anticipate that student A, B, and K are going to struggle based on their foundational skills.  While that class is working on the warm up, I might pull those students and quickly have them practice renaming fractions.  I would even share with them, that if they focus on renaming the fractions correctly the rest of the lesson will be much easier to grasp.
Photo Credit

By doing this, I am setting them up for success and giving them something to focus on.  This also gives me a bit of small group time with these students and everyone else is already in the habit of completing the warm up individually.

Seating Charts
Another simple idea that requires just a bit of prep work and no classroom time, is to focus your seating assignments for those students who struggle.  Many of us may already utilize the idea of pairing students - a high student with a lower performing student and so on.  So that when they work in pairs there is a bit of support for your struggler and higher performing students are able to deepen their understanding by reteaching or explaining.  If you have not yet tried this tip, I would highly recommend it!

In addition by moving a few students around, you can maximize your time and movement within the classroom.

The picture above depicts how I could set up my room.  Blue represents my high or medium-high students, green are medium/on level students, yellow medium-low, orange represents low performing. You will notice that students are paired as I mentioned below.  You can also see that by placing the orange and yellow students in one aisle space, I am able to move quickly down that aisle.  So, I am not running from desk to desk answering questions or clarifying their work.

This does not mean that I don't travel to the other side of the room.  

It simply means that I know which aisle I am going to travel down first.  

I do believe that these simple strategies help me to effectively and efficiently use 50 minutes to get the greatest bang for my buck!  I feel that my brain is less scattered and I clearly see that students are more successful and able to master our learning.

Thanks for tuning in...I will be finishing up the Successful 50 Minute Class series at Maneuvering the Middle later this week, so be sure to check out how time to stop side conversations and taking attendance can be avoided.

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  1. I have a different reaction to your seating chart. I understand the need to mix up your kids, and I think that putting those kids on the aisle does really help your movement. But as a parent of three kids who were "blues", I would also suggest that sometimes, those kids get tired of always being used to help out the kids who don't get it. Do you ever mix it up so that sometimes, the "yellows" sit with the "oranges" and they work together to teach each other? There's tremendous power in that, too.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I completely understand your thought process and do personally move students around as you mentioned. This was just a suggestion for maximizing 50 minutes when content is difficult or time is a crunch. There are other great strategies where enrichment activities/stations/centers which are fabulous for the classroom.

  2. I have been struggling with this concept this year. Love your blog post, it really has some great ideas that I am going to try. Love the seating chart!

    Measuring Up

  3. Need more blues. Do you have any extra?
    Seriously, the aisle seats is a great idea.

  4. I put my kiddos in groups of four. That way I try to put a high with 2 med and a low...or vary as needed ( 2 lows w/2 highs, etc). It's always worked well for me and since I move my kiddos around so much during the year...they get mixed up by different levels continuously.


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