Time-Saving Pedagogy

Time – the Holy Grail of the teacher.  There was never enough of it, and now there’s arguably even less.  This blog was inspired by a conversation with a great colleague over half term about how to teach effectively efficiently.  Here are 12 time saving pedagogies:

1.  Retrieval Starters:
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Knowargues that “the most effective teachers... understood the importance of practice, and they began their lessons with a five-to-eight minute review of previously covered material.”

Use your starter to ask students:

  •  To retrieve key knowledge from last lesson
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last week
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last term
  • To retrieve key knowledge from last lesson and connect it to knowledge from last term

Thanks to Andy Tharby @Reflecting English for this idea.

2. More Teacher Talk
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

According to Rosenshine, “The more successful teachers did not overwhelm their students by presenting too much new material at once...  the more effective teachers spent more time presenting new material and guiding student practice than did the less effective teachers. In a study of mathematics instruction, for instance, the most effective mathematics teachers spent about 23 minutes of a 40-minute period in lecture, demonstration, questioning, and working examples. In contrast, the least effective teachers spent only 11 minutes presenting new material. The more effective teachers used this extra time to provide additional explanations, give many examples, check for student understanding, and provide sufficient instruction so that the students could learn to work independently without difficulty.”

Similarly, research on Chinese primary Maths classrooms here found that interactive teaching, based on teacher instruction and questioning, was used 72% of the time, compared to 24% of the time in England, with individual or group work in China being used only 28% of the time, compared to 47% of the time in England.

Finally, don't waste time marking substandard work.  Hattie and Timperley remind us that, “With inefficient learners it is better for a teacher to provide elaborations through instruction than to provide feedback on poorly understood concepts.” 

3. ABC Questioning
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Rosenshine states that, “Students need to practice new material... The most successful teachers in these studies spent more than half of the class time lecturing, demonstrating, and asking questions.  Questions allow a teacher to determine how well the material has been learned and whether there is a need for additional instruction. The most effective teachers also ask students to explain the process they used to answer the question, to explain how the answer was found. Less successful teachers ask fewer questions and almost no process questions.”

Alex Quigley has some great strategies here for questioning including the ABC Feedback model.  This could be expanded into:

CEDDDARS (I’m sure someone can think of a better acronym)

4. Say it again properly
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher suggests, “every time students give a verbal answer and before they are asked to write anything, ask them to re-form their initial responses into well-constructed sentences using the key words and phrases you’ve discussed.  Do it relentlessly, every time.
What does the graph tell us?
    First attempt:  It goes up.
   Second attempt:  The speed on impact increases as the mass of the trolley increases.” 

5. Challenge language
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Use your vocabulary to develop a growth mind-set:

  • Insist on the word ‘yet’
  • Use ‘what do you think?’ to deflect questions back to the student

There are some lovely re-phrasing ideas @Class Teaching.

6. Struggle Plenary
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Rather than spending time at the end of the lesson trying to assess what students have learned, ask them what they have struggled with that lesson? What was hard?  Why was it hard?  Then use this to plan your next lesson.  Not only will this make your next lesson more focused, but it also fosters the attitude that ‘struggle is good’.

Thanks to @Class Teaching for this idea.

7. Feedback Grid
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

Dylan Wiliam reminds us that feedback should involve more work for the student than the teacher.  Alex Quigley gives a warning here about “feedback [that] no longer becomes purposeful for the learning of students, but instead becomes a visible indicator for inspection teams.”

This strategy has saved my time with A Level History students.  Before I used it, I found myself re-writing the same targets for students time and again as they forgot what I’d written on their last essay and didn’t address my improvement strategies.

  • I write strategies for improvement on an essay
  • The student fills in the boxes below at the top of their next essay
  • I comment briefly on their progress with this improvement strategy.  It’s also useful to read how the student feels that they have addressed the improvement strategy

Thanks to Saffron Walden High School and Chew Valley High School for these other handy tips on smart but effective feedback.  See more ideas from Andy Tharby on Marking, Minimum Effort for Maximum Pleasure @Class Teaching

8. Live Marking
Time spent marking out of lesson: 0 minutes

Described by Sam Down @Class Teaching, “This, in my view, is one of the most effective forms of written feedback – time efficient and high impact.  So whilst the students are working, the teacher goes around the room...  Look at their work, write a question on their work to improve their work and then tell them to respond.  Come back 5 minutes later, to see if they have... I aim to do at least 7-8 students every lesson”

Rosenshine found that “students were more engaged when their teacher circulated around the room, and monitored... their work. The optimal time for these contacts was 30 seconds or less.”

9. Verbal Feedback
Time spent marking out of lesson: 0 minutes

Alex Quigley warns that, “With all of the focus being on written feedback, there is a danger that oral feedback becomes relegated as some inferior cousin in the teaching stakes. As teachers will tell you, it is the immediate oral feedback that can be the most useful mode of feedback, whereas the time-lag on written feedback can too often render it redundant. Teachers are driven to write reams of written feedback and are in danger of having little time or energy to concentrate upon the good feedback that really matters for improving learning.”

Get the students to write down your feedback so that:

  • They think about what you have said
  • They can tick off the feedback when they have implemented it

There is a fabulous round up of fast feedback techniques from Belmont Teach here

10. Book Space:
Time to prepare: 0 minutes

I love this idea from @Chris Chivers (Thinks) about leaving the left hand pages of a book for planning and ideas gathering.  It would also be a great place for students to record verbal feedback or undertake improvement tasks.

11. Variety for the sake of variety
Time saved: All that time spent on preparing ‘fun’ activities. 

Daniel Willingham points out that we remember what we think about.  Joe Kirby @Pragmatic Education says it best with his blog on the Cult of VarietyFun and variety are distracting from focusing our pupils on thinking about subject content so that they remember it. Teachers are spending huge amounts of time resourcing marketplaces and attitude cards when they’d be better off thinking up subject-specific tasks than fun, generic activities.”

The time saved can be spent on effective planning.  In Teach Like A Champion, Doug Lemov suggests that teachers stop day-to-day lesson planning and focus on unit planning.  Kev Bartle reinforces that “Ofsted does not specify how planning should be set out, the length of time it should take or the amount of detail it should contain. Inspectors are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.”  For a straightforward template that includes some of the ideas above see the S&C Lesson Plan @lovelearningideas

12. Inexpensive ways to improve learning
Time to prepare: Nothing to prepare, it’s about rearranging what you teach

Roediger and Pyc identify here the following techniques that have been found to improve learning:

  • Distributing the learning of facts and skills by spacing learning activities over time and interleaving different kinds of material within a lesson
  • Self-testing or taking practice tests
  • Explanatory questioning using elaborative explanation (generating an explanation for why a concept is true) and self-explanation (explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining the steps of a process)


It’s not a pedagogy, but if you’re in a stew about Ofsted I’d recommend reading Head Teacher Kev Bartle’s words of wisdom here: “[We] need... to welcome the Trojan Mice teachers bringing their own strategies to their own classrooms, refining them and sharing this with others in a supportive professional learning environment.”

If you’re struggling with workload it might also be worth reading @andywarner78’s blog on managing workload here.

Posted on November 23, 2014 .