Sincerely, Stasia

Living and learning on a teacher's salary.

A Little Healthy Competition March 19, 2012

The weather has been absolutely beautiful and I’m not going to complain about the early arrival of spring here in Jersey, although it’s just a bit disconcerting. The warm weather has done a number on my students though – they have some serious spring fever. For a teacher that means students who are constantly staring out the window daydreaming when they should be working, extra chattiness at all times, and an overall abundance of excess energy.

As I’ve mentioned before, time management is huge for me. I teach three 80 minute classes per day and that time flies by. In a previous post I told you how I gained back almost 15 minutes of instructional time by using music to focus my students. After I saw how successful that was, I started looking at other routines in my classroom that could use some tightening.

Organizational skills are a big part of our whole school curriculum, so students are given agendas at the beginning of the year and I give them a weekly organization grade using their notebooks and agendas. I noticed that students were taking an excessive amount of time to write down their homework, rip it out of their workbooks/pass out their materials at their tables, and get everything put away. And when I say excessive, I’m talking between 5-10 minutes. Unacceptable.

Straight to the Point: Kids are competitive. It’s natural, and I use it to my advantage as much as possible. I started small, having table groups within each class compete against each other for behavior points, where the table with the most points at the end of the week chooses from the treasure chest. Typical teacher stuff.

Then I came up with The Homework Competition. Here, each block gets a box on the board. Every day I put tally marks up for missing, incomplete, or late homework. The block with the lowest number of tally marks at the end of each month gets homework passes (1 per student) and we reset the board for the new month. My classes ate up the idea of competing against each other and my homework percentages went way up. Simple!

This is where the next phase of my time management overhaul came in. I decided to up the ante with The Homework Competition. The best part? This one requires no reward whatsoever because the kids just love competing against themselves and my other classes. Couldn’t have been easier: I started timing my students to see how quickly they could get through our homework routine.

It goes something like this: I hand out the materials they need (practice sheets, workbooks, loose leaf paper, etc) and my kids put their hands up in the air. The only thing they’re allowed to have in front of them is a pencil – no agendas, binders, or folders. I get the timer on my iPhone ready and give it the old “ready, set, go – write it down, rip it out, put it away, pile it up,” then I watch my students scramble. Time doesn’t stop until all of their supplies are put away, their workbooks are piled neatly in the center of their tables, and their hands are folded to show me they’re ready to rock & roll.

Each class’s daily time and fastest time are kept on the board in their Homework Competition box. I knew I had come up with a winner the first time I heard my classroom explode with cheers and applause when a class found out they had beat another class’s time. They’re still held accountable for their organization – Their homework needs to be written exactly as I have it on the board (for reference purposes) and it must be written neatly, otherwise they lose points on the notebook and agenda check I have each Friday. They know the rule: It’s good to be quick; it’s best to be correct.

So how well does it work? Those 5-10 minutes it took in the beginning of the year have been cut down significantly, although it took a month or two to get to where we are now. As you can see in the picture, my classes’ fastest times are now between 39-59.7 seconds. In the past month, the slowest time we’ve seen was a minute and twenty seconds. When it comes to kids, a little competition can definitely go a long way.

Sincerely, Stasia


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