Ask any group of students what they wish they had more of and 99.9 percent of them will respond, “Time.” This is especially true at the community college level where students struggle to balance academics with work and family responsibilities. Time is the most sought after, yet elusive, part of a student’s life. In an effort to help students capture more time, I provide them with a series of reflective questions about how they spend their time. After this informal assessment, I encourage students to fill out a Time Audit Worksheet (provided by AVID), which accounts for every minute of their week, including time spent eating, relaxing, and sleeping. Ideally, students can use this visualization to determine a new weekly schedule that depicts a balance between academic, work, and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, I often encounter students whose Time Audit Worksheets are so overbooked that they do not have a minute to spare for homework or reflection outside of their regularly scheduled class time. These students literally have no time to devote to their academics. Instead of blaming the student for refusing to take time off work or faulting their advisor for recommending such a full class schedule, I choose to reevaluate the way my students and I spend time in the classroom. Below are some strategies that provide structure while still giving students the space and time to think critically.
At the National Council of Teachers of English Conference in 2012, I discovered the “Chart Chat,” which has become an indispensable addition to my teaching toolbox as a discussion primer, debrief reflection, and brainstorming technique. Part Socratic Seminar, part Gallery Walk, the Chart Chat brings movement into the classroom and provides even the most reluctant students with a space to create and share.
Before the Chart Chat begins, I give students two minutes to “empty the cup” by turning to a neighbor and sharing whatever is on their minds. This step is essential because the golden rule of the Chart Chat is silence. Participants in the Chart Chat are not allowed to speak until the end of the session; they may only write. The Chart Chat is divided into three rounds.
Round One takes 10-15 minutes—depending on the size of the class and the number and complexity of topics—and provides students with the opportunity to respond to prompts posted on chart paper placed around the room. Open-ended, reflective questions based on Levels Two and Three of Costa’s Levels of Inquiry work best. The instructor can create questions that preview an assignment, reflect on a reading, or help students prepare for a test. I have even had students submit questions for Chart Chat consideration. During Round One, students write their responses directly on the chart paper and may pose additional questions of their own. There is no talking, and side conversations are discouraged.
Round Two also takes 10-15 minutes and consists of students responding to the comments and questions posed by peers. Students may agree with and extend a peer’s point, respectfully disagree and explain why, or respond to a question posed by a peer in Round One. Again, this conversation takes place entirely in writing.
Round Three usually takes less than five minutes and encourages students to reflect on the written conversation with their peers and choose an insightful comment to share with the class when prompted. A verbal or written debrief at the end of the Chart Chat is necessary to answer any lingering questions about the topic or to connect the chat to an upcoming assignment or project.
Sample Debrief Questions
- What was the best point?
- What did you agree or disagree with?
- What questions were left unanswered?
- What did you contribute?
- What do you wish you had said or done?
- What is your overall evaluation of the discussion?
These questions can be revised to be content specific. For example, after a Chart Chat on the role of revision, I provided students with the following questions:
- What did you learn about revision from your participation in the Chart Chat?
- What point did you agree or disagree with and why?
- What aspect of revision was illuminated for you that you want to apply to your work in progress?
An entire class period can easily be spent participating in the Chart Chat. For those class periods when there is not a moment to spare, I rely on the 10-Minute Sprint. Coined by author Laurie Halse Anderson, the 10-Minute Sprint is a designated block of time in which students are encouraged to work independently on a given task. At the end of the time period, they must have something to show for the 10 minutes spent working. I set an online timer, and the pressure of the ticking clock spurs students into action.
For the “speed racers” in my group, I encourage them to go back and review, revise, or add to their response(s). Many students have been indoctrinated into the “get it done quick” culture and need reassurance that it’s okay to slow down. It doesn’t mean they are unintelligent. It won’t put them behind. Some students need guidance as they shift their participation model from hare to tortoise, and, paradoxically, strategies such as the 10-Minute Sprint provide them with encouragement to slow down and focus on one task. As a self-proclaimed multitasker, even I have to be reminded every now and then to focus on one task at a time for maximum retention and to produce a quality product. At the same time, some students need more time to think through a prompt and craft a response. I am wary of letting the students out front set the pace. Therefore, I try to have another independent activity on hand, or I partner the students who finish early with those who are still working to provide an additional opportunity for peer feedback and support.
One Minute/30 Second Wrap-Up
As the 10-Minute Sprint demonstrates, even a small block of time can provide students with the space needed to prepare for or reflect on a task. Therefore, I strive to offer my students verbal cues that an activity, discussion, or debrief is coming to a close. The call of “one minute wrap-up” or “30 second wrap-up” allows students to finish their sentence or thought before transitioning into a new activity. Since I create the lesson plan, assignment, or activity for the day, I know how they are related. However, students do not possess that knowledge and often need a minute to wrap-up one activity and prepare for the next. Without that minute of transition, students will dive head first into a new task and risk missing or misinterpreting some of the directions. Building one minute for wrap-up into my courses has actually saved time because students are prepared to receive instructions once, which limits the need for unnecessary repetition or clarification.
Guided Quick Writes/Debriefs/Discussion Forums as Exit Tickets
Issues of time become more pronounced when students work at various paces. So, I often end class with a guided quick write, debrief, or discussion forum as an exit ticket. These informal prompts either reflecting on something learned in class or looking forward to the next class period or assignment have a length or sentence requirement to encourage development, but are free from grammatical, mechanical, and spelling restraints. The point of these activities is to generate ideas, not teach writing skills. The emphasis on content over grammar frees students to worry about what they think rather than how they should say it. Assigning these prompts as an exit ticket allows students who do think and write more quickly to complete their task without feeling constrained by their more cautious peers, and the students who need more time to craft their responses do so without feeling pressured by those who work more quickly. Depending on the complexity of the prompt and the length requirement, I leave anywhere from 5-10 minutes at the end of a class period for students to complete and submit their quick write, debrief, or discussion forum.
As a “Guide on the Side,” instructors need to be willing to devote time in class to critical thinking and assignment completion. I hear and understand arguments about content coverage, but ultimately, students need time to process, practice, and apply material in order for transferability to occur. In my experience, scaffolding the gift of time into the classroom has decreased confusion, questions, and stress while increasing retention, comprehension, engagement, and participation.
Kristin Harkins, Instructor, English
For further information, contact the author at Nash Community College, 522 N. Old Carriage Road, Rocky Mount, NC 27804. Email: email@example.com