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  • Writer's pictureAaron Daffern

Take CHARGE of the Classroom #9: Productivity

Updated: Dec 29, 2023

This is post #9 in a 20-post series designed to disrupt outdated behavior management models and help you create the classroom culture of your dreams. This post contains excerpts from my book Take CHARGE of the Classroom.

There are many activities or tasks that must be handled daily in order to keep the wheels turning in a classroom. While some of these must be completed by the teacher, it’s amazing how many of them can be automated by enlisting the help of students. This not only keeps things moving along because you’ve multiplied your effort, this also provides an opportunity for students to practice and gain responsibility.

Some. Lessons. Move. So. Slow. Orsofast!

Here’s the ugly truth that many teachers avoid at all costs. They create many behavior problems themselves because they do not properly pace the lesson. When lessons move too slowly, students start to act out from sheer boredom. They finish early or wait interminably between portions of teaching, finding nothing better to do than to cause havoc. Other lessons move at a breakneck pace, leaving educational debris in their dust and generally causing confusion and resentment.

So, what’s the Goldilocks solution? How can you find the happy medium and pace your lessons vigorously without losing anyone in the process? Here are a few ideas to get you going. Realize that these suggestions are general and must match your current teaching situation to be effective.

Make the learning goals clear and personal. I know that many of you already have one of my least favorite acronyms on your board because of school requirements – SWBAT. This ominous acronym stands for student will be able to and is usually followed by a skills or content objective, such as SWBAT multiply 2-digit numbers using partial products. While the acronym does save space, it can sometimes leave students in the dark. While you know what it means, and you probably told your students once or twice, most of them don’t connect it to themselves. It’s a statement on the board for you and your administrator, who is liable to walk in at any time. If written in this format, it’s not meant for students to reference. Why not make learning goals both clear and personal?

One simple way to do this is to change the point of view of the typical statement. When lesson objectives begin with SWBAT it points to some disinterested third party, a student somewhere who is interested in learning this rigmarole. Instead, use first person language to make it more personal. I can use partial products to multiply numbers. When students see themselves in the lesson objective, they’re more likely to know what it is they are supposed to do.

And for too many students, the objective is written but never truly made clear or elaborated on. A good habit to get into is to write the lesson objective in first person language and use it both to open the lesson and close it. For your opener, have a student read the objective aloud and then you can expand upon it to begin teaching. To close the lesson, have a different student read the objective aloud and ask for a thumbs up or thumbs down to show their agreement with the statement. This gives you a quick informal assessment on the effectiveness of the lesson and keeps everyone on the same page.

What can you do tomorrow?

Plan out learning. Think about an upcoming lesson and consider it's pacing and structure. Write a student-friendly objective on the board to guide students, opening and closing with it. If there are any administrative tasks involved with the lesson (e.g., passing out materials), plan to have a student or two take care of them for you.

Encourage student discussion. Plan a talking opportunity for students to process for every five to ten minutes of instruction.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Students’ learning time is maximized, as evidenced by:

· Clear and worthwhile options for early finishers;

· Management tasks being completed swiftly with the aid of students, when possible; and

· Stopping points built into the lesson to check for understanding.


When students fail to meet your expectation for transitioning smoothly and quickly, or for anything else for that matter, you don’t yell at them, lash out angrily, or demean them in any way. No, instead you calmly show them a better way. You practice it again and again until everyone does it right.

While the picture of a smooth transition might be clear in your mind, it might be murky for everyone else. If your instructions weren’t effective the first or second time, repeating them again a little louder and a little slower won’t do you any good. Show them what it looks like yourself or take a coaching approach.

If your students aren’t moving swiftly or efficiently enough between activities, or if they are taking those opportunities to misbehave, that simply means they need more practice. You don’t give up on your child learning to ride a bike after the fifth time she’s fallen. You pick her up gently, possibly adjust your support, and try again. Your students need the same type of structured practice without shaming if they are going to ever get better.

Quick and easy transitions that keep students focused on academic tasks is the penultimate, but not the final, level you can take your students to. If you want to push your students and embed learning into every moment of every day, the next step involves cognitive transitions. Building learning and review into every transition moment works to not only decrease behavior problems that much more, it also looks good for evaluative purposes because it’s so rare.

The opportunities to apply cognitive transitions are almost boundless. One caution, however, is that these cognitive transitions should be short and sweet. They are meant as a review or a focusing task, not a full-blown lesson. If the students are not familiar with the material or it involves a lot of steps, it might bog down the transition.

What can you do tomorrow?

Transition well. Evaluate your most useful transitions and dedicate extra time this week to practice them. Practice at least once a week for transitions that are already established.

Never stop teaching. Add a cognitive transition to an everyday movement such as lining up or coming to the carpet. Decide on the vocabulary or descriptor to be used and make sure students are familiar with it so the transition remains brief.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Students transition effectively between tasks, as evidenced by:

· Quick execution of the desired actions;

· Corrective feedback and practice opportunities being offered, as needed; and

· Learning opportunities embedded within.

To read more posts in this series, click here.

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