Don’t cut corners, take short cuts!

Primary School Students Raising Hands

Classroom calm.  Source: 

“Forget the lectures, this is what you really need to know about teaching”.

I still remember it clearly.  I was part of a group of trainee teachers, at the start of our PGCE course.  We spent half an hour in a DT classroom with a plain-speaking teacher who had been briefed to tell us about how to approach the basics of teaching.  I am afraid I forget his name.  Let’s call him Mr Practical.

Mr Practical said he had worked in industry for a few years then he switched to teaching and had been doing so for nine years.  He said something about nine years being a long time.  Well, I am writing this after spending almost double that length of time and some days I know how it feels!  Anyway, back to the session…

Mr Practical got out a pile of books and a variety of pieces of stationery.  Then he used these as props whilst he rattled through the practicalities of classroom management.  Vygotsky and Piaget could wait.  This is what us ‘new kids’ urgently needed, and Mr Practical knew it!

I am happy to admit that I still make elemental bloopers in my classroom teaching and I pick up hints all of the time.  But thinking back to that session, there are plenty of short cuts to effective teaching in a classroom scenario that I have taken with me.  Sometimes I have gone too far – I have cut corners.  The semantic difference is slight – but crucial.

Cutting corners either short-changes the students, or adds stress on you further down the line, or inconveniences someone else.  Or all three.  Short cuts are about effective practice, freeing you up to teach!

So, in a homage to Mr Practical, and as a way of ‘passing in on’, here are some ways of cutting corners which should be avoided, and some short cuts which you might like to try instead.

Cutting Corners

Short Cuts

Go for the ‘easy option’ of getting the answer from those with their hands-up. Have a (temporary?) ‘hands-down’ policy, or, more straightforwardly, just target a variety of students, so that by the end of the lesson, no-one has been missed out.
Assume all homework has been done.  Until you find out later in the day that it hasn’t.  The cheeky rascals! Open books at the homework page and tour the class to check before they hand it in.  You can ask questions whilst doing this!
Assume you’ll be able to find the right page in their books to mark. Get the students to hand their books in with the pages open at the relevant task, or with a ‘bookmark’ (this could be a flash card which they could update periodically with tricky terms).
Hand out gluesticks/scissors willy-nilly (you will come unstuck, ha ha). Get a ‘keeno’ to be the glue stick/scissor monitor.  Yes, even in Year 11.
Issue mini whiteboards, pens and wipes separately. Bag them up.  Or leave a whole set in a desk tidy for every lesson.
Not doing the register until mid-way through.  Screw convention and regimentation, I occasionally think – but you will have the school secretarial team on your back! Have a seating plan (apart from at A Level).  This will allow you to easily notice any absentees, and you can ask another student if the absentee is on their way or not.  Then you can freeze your display screen and do your blasted register.
Avoid ‘knowledge retrieval’ tests as they are too much hassle and require more copying. Give pupils scraps of old paper, make them verbal, multiple choice, and get them to peer mark.   Or at least make them A5 or A6 size and store them in an envelope in the back of their books.
Get pupils to move around the room every lesson in a bid to keep them active. Make this a treat.  Order and routine are important.  Rather than getting them to move to different stations, pass the sheets around instead – this provides mild entertainment, stimulation and a sense of expectation.
Assume that textbook exercises are doable and indeed logical. Attempt them at home or at least think them through first.  Keep your answer sheet; next time you will have a ‘short cut’ to the answers.
Don’t change your practice. Observe other lessons.  Talk to other teachers.  Get hints online.

More hints – which could be called ‘short cuts’ but which are really just good practice – can be found in this post about how to respond to your students’ desire for help without giving them the answer or stifling their curiosity.

I am, of course, open to suggestions for more – and of criticism (see the last row in the table)!