When it comes to classroom productivity, the ideal classroom is a happy one. It means students are creating solutions and projects that have meaning and purpose. They gladly take initiatives and assume responsible ownership of class time. Above all, it means students are loving their learning.
Achieving high levels of classroom productivity means making sure students are interested in and invested in tasks that develop higher-order thinking and problem-solving abilities. Not only are they involved in constructive pursuits and being given mindful assessments, but they are also learning independence and accountability and having a blast doing it. Now that's learning with a purpose.
The joy a teacher gets from knowing students look forward to coming to class is indescribable. It's one of those things you have to experience to understand. The good news is every teacher can have that feeling. These classroom productivity tips are applicable to many classroom environments. Hopefully, they help you with yours.
7 Pathways to Better Classroom Productivity
It's easy to confuse productivity with speed of output. That's not the essence of being productive. We can complete 100 trivial tasks in a day and say we were productive but is that really true? What do we have to show at the end of the day? What have we done besides waste time on unimportant matters? Can we say "I really accomplished something today" and mean it?
Productivity isn't about "getting stuff done." It's about getting stuff done with purpose.
You can always tell the level of interest students have. It can be used to help you measure productivity levels:
- Are students focused and engaged?
- Are they happy and attentive?
- Are they asking deep, meaningful questions?
- Are they excited about showing the results of their work?
- Are they talking about their work with peers and parents?
- Are they challenging themselves and each other to improve?
These are all traits of a productive classroom. Granted, there's no specific formula for higher productivity. You can, however, use critical observation to decide what approach you could use.
1. Build a Safe Space
Everyone deserves the chance to learn in a supportive environment. This applies to both intellectual and emotional classroom elements. Any classroom should make every student feel welcome. Maybe this means a time for peer-to-peer orientation. You can give students time to get to know each other and connect personally.
It could also mean creating a class mission statement of some kind. The focus of this would be things like:
- We always support each other in and out of class
- We always encourage each other and remain kind
- We are a judgement-free classroom where all are welcome
- We show we care by setting an example for the whole school
Begin learning adventures with the notion that learning is meant to be enjoyable. Part of this is creating a comfortable and supportive classroom. Anything that impacts a student positively in your classroom will help boost their productivity. Take some pointers from Brian Van Dyck, a middle school teacher in Santa Cruz.
2. Give Students a Say
Students are no different from anyone else. They like to know their opinions count for something. Letting students weigh in on how to use their class time can be valuable to fostering a productivity mindset. Don't worry, this approach doesn't mean they'll waste time without supervision. You can do this while still keeping the structured direction central to any classroom. Open with questions geared toward productivity with breathing room:
Open with questions geared toward productivity with breathing room:
- How do you feel your time would best be spent on today's work/assignment?
- What's the one part of (insert project here) that you feel you need to focus on?
- If you're ahead, how can you help someone else with today's work?
- What do you think should be done first, and last?
Obviously, you as the teacher have the final say. That said, some heartfelt answers from students can help you choose how best to spend the class time.
3. Focus on Guiding Questions
As the work begins or continues, keep them thinking. Our modern students love to be challenged. Keep them guessing and thinking by asking about their projects. Show an interest in what they're doing.
- Why did they choose to approach the project this way?
- What speaks to them about it?
- If they're stuck, how can they switch direction?
- Do they feel there is any way they can make it even better?
4. Always be Available
From time to time, students will struggle and this will happen on many different levels. When it does, they'll need support and encouragement. They'll get stuck, and that will give rise to technical questions, concerns, and doubts. They'll feel pressure to keep up with their classmates. They'll feel inadequacy, confusion, and frustration. They'll feel like what they've done has been a waste. They'll feel these things and a lot more.
Students are no different from anyone else. They like to know their opinions count for something.
Sometimes they'll look for every reason to quit when they know they should go on. It will feel to them like the world is ending. It can happen with schoolwork and personal matters. Eventually, it will likely find its way into the classroom environment. Fortunately, that's the heart of change.
With an open mind and the right words, you can turn that all around. Never be far away, because you're still the best guide students have in their school experiences.
5. Encourage Collaboration
This is a hallmark of the modern student. They are natural-born collaborators and love working in groups. The secret to successful collaboration is when students are drawing on their individual strengths. They then find ways to harmonize those strengths in a group setting. A group work aspect to any classroom almost always means good things in terms of classroom productivity.
6. Offer Good Distractions
Every teacher knows that too many distractions in class can be harmful. Distractions, however, can be beneficial depending on the type. If they're scheduled in the process, it's even better. In this sense, they become more like rejuvenators and focus-sharpeners.
Here are some examples of beneficial distractions in class:
- getting up to stretch, move around, and focus on nothing for a moment
- eye/stretch/exercise breaks if working on computers
- have students quickly check in with where they're at on projects
- story/joke breaks for some quick comic relief
- schedule an assignment-related Q+A with a surprise class visitor
Pro-Tip: Here are some more great "distraction" ideas from Dr. Lori Desautels.
7. Let Students Self and Peer-Assess
Self- and peer-assessment support comes from both students and teachers. Encouraging reflection and self-assessment add a powerful dimension to learning. It reduces a teacher's workload and lets students effectively demonstrate understanding. Students are honest in their assessment of their performance and that of their peers.
With this kind of assessment, students' insights and observations are valued. It helps them understand the process of their own learning. It also reinforces the importance of collaboration.
Reflective practice is something both students and teachers should engage in. It lets you consider your actions and reflect on decisions. It solidifies learning concepts. It also helps you consider and plan future processes and actions.