“Make them work every minute of every lesson”

Those were the words of our headteacher in staff meeting this past week.

You can imagine my shock and disbelief that someone might suggest that children in any year group should be working every minute of every lesson. Crazy, right?!

Well, not entirely.

After leaving the meeting feeling bewildered at what had just been suggested, I went home and took some time to mull over the idea. Of course I mentioned this to my husband (who works in IT and software engineering, and has a hard time coming to grips with the daily qualms of teaching as it is) and told him how ridiculous I thought this was – to which he mostly agreed. I thought “How ludicrous – kids being forced to work every minute of every lesson!” To an extent, I still feel like this is asking too much of them (at least for my Year 3s anyway).

It’s been a few days now, and although I still feel as though expecting this level of attention and discipline from my students still feels a bit farfetched, I do see some benefits.

Putting it into practise

It was also mentioned that the benefits of making them work every minute of every lesson means the teacher doesn’t end up working harder than the students do.

I tested this out during my English lesson on Friday, where I had the students write persuasive letters to the headteacher, urging him to push for a more environmentally friendly school. Typically, I would take some suggestions from the children and scribe an example for my lower-achieving students to work from. This time, I decided to put it to them: I asked one half of the class to come up with suggestions for what we could do as a school to promote environmentalism, and the other half of the class to come up with reasons why this would be a good idea, and potential benefits that could come from changing our habits. The previous lesson, they had done some brainstorming related to this idea, so they had a good idea of what they could be writing, but I pitched this to them point-blank, and they were off.

I was amazed to see ALL of them taking this challenge on board, and generate some excellent sentences, drawing on our discussion of persuasion and exaggeration just a few minutes before. I asked them to then hold up their boards and show me what they wrote, and used these to create a short example, while asking different students to dictate what their partner had written. I had high levels of engagement from them, and realised the extent of their focus and discipline. Many of them were helping each other correct their sentences, and having the children read them out forced everyone else to listen to potential grammatical errors that might have been made.

The results

To say that I was pleased with the results was an understatement. I encouraged my students to use their sentences in their letters, and allowed them to take a few sentences from the model copy at the front. Of course, they also had many physical aids available to them, which many of them opted to use.

Here are a few examples of what they came up with:

I was especially impressed with their use of connectives, and the suggestions they had come up with themselves.
From a middle ability student, I was particularly impressed with the level of conviction regarding having a rubbish school!

For my class, this was a very successful lesson with a great outcome. Everyone was focussed on what they were doing, and ended up producing some fantastic letters.

My verdict

Admittedly, I am still on the fence regarding the sentiment of making students work “every minute of every lesson” – surely you can’t expect a Year 3 child to be focussed and disciplined enough to commit to 60 minutes (or more) of continuous work (in my opinion, anyway). Even if they do, there needs to be some sort of break or pause in the learning where they can switch off for a few minutes before recharging their batteries and diving back into the task at hand.

However, I definitely see the benefits of making them work harder so that us as teachers don’t have to. Friday’s lesson was enough proof for me that my students are capable of producing much more thorough and thoughtful contributions than I had previously given them credit for. Perhaps it was foolish of me to expect a “good” effort from them, when they have now proven to me that they are capable of giving me “excellent”.

What are your thoughts on the quote:

“Make them work every minute of every lesson” ?

Let me know below, I’d love to hear your perspectives 🙂


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