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7 Time-Saving Strategies For Teachers That Put Students First

*this blog was originally published at

contributed by Dr. Stuart Kahl

It goes without saying that teachers are very busy.

So it’s not unusual to hear their concerns about the lack of adequate time to do everything teachers need to do: plan, individualize instruction, test, assign grades, collaborate, innovate, reflect and of course, teach. No one, not even teachers, can add more hours to a day. The key to finding more time each day may be to use strategies that make the most of your available time.

Formative Assessment

Interestingly, teachers have found that implementing the instructional process of formative assessment can actually maximize time for teaching and learning.

Remember these major steps of effective formative assessment.

  1. Clarify learning goals and criteria for success;
  2. Plan and implement instructional activities that include the gathering of evidence of learning;
  3. Analyze the evidence and provide rich, descriptive, actionable feedback;
  4. Adjust instructional/learning activities to address learning gaps;
  5. Involve students in self-evaluation;
  6. Activate students’ peers as resources for learning.

Research has shown convincingly that these practices can help teachers make the most of their instructional time and raise student achievement levels significantly, particularly for underachieving students.

See also: 20 Simple Assessment Strategies You Can Use Every Day

7 Time-Saving Strategies For Teachers That Put Students First

1. Gather Evidence of Ongoing Learning

Implementing the formative assessment process means shifting our thinking about how assessment is used in the classroom—from gathering evidence of student learning after instruction, to gathering that evidence while learning is occurring.

You can do this by building in opportunities for students to provide evidence of understanding through short, instructionally-embedded assessments that are focused on clear learning targets. These evidence-gathering opportunities help students understand what they currently know and can do.

Teachers can also adjust their instructional actions and provide descriptive feedback to students on what they need. Taking the time to ensure that students have learned what was taught allows the teacher to move forward with instruction—saving time typically spent having to reteach later.

2. Share the Responsibility for Learning

This deceptively simple statement has far-reaching impact, and points back to the above. How exactly you accomplish this would be a fantastic topic for a book. Project-based learning, place-based education, ‘living’ student portfolios of work, and student-led conferences are just a few examples of how this can happen.

Clarify Learning Goals & Criteria for Success

In the era of the new College and Career-Ready Standards, it is critical that teachers take time to clearly articulate learning expectations that support the content, skills, and processes inherent in the standards. Clarifying learning expectations not only helps teachers focus instructional time on what’s important, it helps engage students in learning and understanding the criteria for success.

The instructional process becomes more transparent when success criteria clearly articulate expected performances of understanding and skills. This allows teachers and students to use time more efficiently when interpreting evidence of learning as it unfolds.

Rethink the Roles of Teachers & Students

Students can pick up foundational knowledge and skills on their own, rather than through large group lectures or other teacher-led instruction. They can do this using online tools or other resources, either within or outside the classroom.

Some activities that have typically been considered homework—such as practicing skills introduced in class—can move into the classroom. This doesn’t mean that teachers should dispense with large-group instruction entirely. Variety is the spice of life. However, this approach allows teachers to spend more of their classroom time checking on student understanding in a variety of ways.

Involve Students in Small Group Work

Another way to share the responsibility of learning is to “activate students’ peers as resources” through small group work. The delivery of instructional content or facilitating learning through small groups can also be a way of having the students and peers check their understanding themselves against the success criteria. This allows teachers opportunities to spend their time assisting students who have the greatest need for support.

Don’t Grade Everything!

Most evidence of learning gathered for formative purposes should not be graded. This evidence is collected during the learning, before students have reached the level of attainment they will by the end of a unit. It would be unfair for their early work to be counted toward summative grades. Rather, the early work should be thought of as preparation for subsequent—and fewer—summative assessments (another time saver).

When everything is graded, students are motivated by the grades: “I got 80 percent right; I don’t care what I missed. Besides, I can get extra credit for some things I do.” Research has shown that over-grading inhibits learning. Of course, the first time students are asked to produce work that is not graded, they may not take the assignment seriously. But when they are reprogrammed to realize that what they’re practicing will show up later on the test that does count, they soon will develop motivation to learn, which formative assessment experts assert is critical.

The ungraded work yields the rich feedback that students use to reflect on their work and that students and teachers use to identify learning gaps and decide on next instructional steps.

Plan Time for Students to Reflect on Learning with feedback

Build time into lesson plans for students to review progress. When students have the opportunity to reflect on their learning and apply feedback to improve their work, they can see their progress and advance their learning.

By giving students major responsibility for their learning, using class time differently, and changing grading practices, teachers can gain time that might be put to better use. Teachers may not be able to change some practices on their own. Education leaders need to understand formative assessment and support teachers in implementing it effectively—to allow teachers to focus their time on their primary goal of helping students learn.

Dr. Stuart Kahl is founding principal of the nonprofit assessment organization Measured Progress.


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