Quick-fire strategies: Eliminating Dead Time in the Classroom

Quick-fire strategies: Eliminating Dead Time in the Classroom

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Is 'Dead Time' secretly sabotaging your classroom? Get ready to conquer this hidden enemy and unleash your students' true potential!

Join us on this episode of School Behaviour Secrets as we dive into the mysteries of effective classroom management. Discover proven strategies to eliminate 'dead time,' reduce low-level behaviour, and create an environment where your students thrive.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

So if you're teaching a tricky class or you're seeing lots of low level behaviour in your classroom, one of the most impactful things you can do is carry out a quick audit of when dead time is creeping into your lessons. Are the children being kept waiting at certain points in the lesson? Is it always clear what they should be working on? And then think about what I can do to eliminate that dead time. 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan. And if you're kicking back and enjoying your summer holidays at the moment, good for you. Because it's the summer holidays where we live on releasing another quick fire episode this week where I give you one idea or strategy to help improve SEMH behaviour in your school, all condensed into an easy to listen to 10 minute episode. And this week, I want to look at dead time, we're going to explore what dead time is why it's so dangerous, why it's often the cause of lots of low level classroom behaviour, and how it can be corroding the behaviour of the students in your classroom. And of course, I'll also be sharing some solutions on how to counteract the dangers of dead time as well. So let's start with the obvious question. What do I actually mean by dead time? Dead time is anytime when your students either haven't been allocated to a specific task, they don't know what to do, or they're being kept hanging around waiting for something to happen. So that's so important. I'm going to say it again, it's any time when your students either haven't been allocated to a specific task, they don't know what to do, or they're waiting. Let me give you some examples. A group of secondary school students walk into a classroom and they sit at their chairs in the school, every lesson begins with an opening task to get the pupils focused on working straight away. So so far, so good. The teachers arrived on time. So that's also good. And now they're attempting to connect up their laptop to the whiteboard on the school network. But there's a problem with I.T, the laptops taking forever to boot up, and then it won't connect to the network properly. And it's taking forever for the PowerPoint slide to open with the task on it. So the kids are waiting and waiting and some begin to chat, the teacher continues to faff around with a laptop, and then nice Victorian expression here, the devil makes work for idle hands. So some students start standing up and walking around. And then they're throwing screwed up bits of paper across the room. And now the teachers got a load of low level behaviour to manage, which is the worst possible start to the lesson. 

Here's another example, a group of primary school children are going into the building for dinner. And they walk in as a line into the corridor that runs alongside the hall. But there's a long queue ahead of them to reach the serving counter. So they wait and they wait. And they wait. And they get bored. And here's that phrase again, the devil makes work for idle hands. So one of the kids starts dancing, and then they're all talking to each other louder and louder and louder. And then a couple of kids start running around. And before you know it, the corridor has been used like a playground, and someone gets tripped up and hurts themselves. 

And here's a third example, a teacher put some work up for the children to complete. And they blast through that work very, very quickly. That all got it right. And then there's no more work for them to complete. So the teacher tells them just to sit quietly and wait or read or something. But then they get bored by that very quickly because what they've been given is obviously a filler task. And then here comes that phrase again, the devil makes work for idle hands. And before you know it, kids are making their own entertainment, their phones are out there texting each other or using Snapchat or whatever they do nowadays, probably live streaming the inside of the classroom and before you know it, you've got loads of off task behaviour to deal with not in this case that there was really a meaningful task to complete anyway, dead time is really dangerous as a teacher in a classroom because as you can hear from these examples, it's essentially just wasted purposeless time. And it doesn't take long before kids because Human beings, they're not robots, they start making up their own entertainment, and then it gets silly. And then you get more and more quantities of low level behaviour to deal with, which is bad for them. And it's bad for you. And it's also worth bearing in mind that pupils with SEND, or social, emotional or mental health needs, in particular, can often find periods of dead time difficult to manage successfully. 

So, if you're teaching a tricky class, or you're seeing lots of low level behaviour in your classroom, one of the most impactful things you can do is carry out a quick audit of when dead time is creeping into your lessons. Are the children being kept waiting at certain points in the lesson? Is it always clear what they should be working on and is the task meaningful and purposeful? And then think about what I can do as the adult to eliminate that dead time?

 So here's some examples. To go back to the first example where the teacher was struggling to get his technology working. He was so almost there. I love the idea of having a task to focus the kids as they enter the room, it sends the message that the classroom is a work place, and the expectation is to focus and be productive straight away. But in this case, that goal was hamstrung by the tech. So we have to ask, are there ways that the focus task could be given out without relying on technology? Would it be quicker say just to write the focus task on the board using a traditional manual pen? Yes, that might result in 60 seconds of delay. But that's better than three to four minutes of fighting with a technology as the saying goes, Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In this case, 60 seconds of dead time is a significant improvement over several minutes of dead time. In the second example, where the kids were queuing up too long for lunch, and they're just left hanging around, essentially. There are a number of ways to eliminate this too. Could the cooks and the supervisors have walkie talkies, so they could message each other when the queue has died down and then they're letting them know that they're ready for the next class. So when the class is brought in, there's very little queue ahead of them. And then what you've done is almost eliminated waiting time altogether. And if not walkie talkies Are there are other ways of communicating? You could use the children as monitor say, to send those messages back and forth. Queuing is an interesting one, really, because when you see queueing, it indicates that there's a problem with a routine or system. So if you're in the classroom, and you've got a lot of children waiting to have their work marked or looked at that dead time, as well. So we need to think about finding systems or routines for the kids. So they can move on to the next piece or section of their work without having to wait for the teacher's attention before they can do so. And in the last example where the children literally run out of work, I don't want to say that happens to us all. Sometimes kids just fly through work, we expect it to take 40 minutes or so. So no judgement, I've been there. But the problem here was the children weren't then directed to a purposeful, meaningful task afterwards. So we have to ask ourselves, How can we avoid meaningless filler activities? When we're planning we have to think about what extension tasks might be needed to keep the children occupied and productive. Tasks that are relevant and help our pupils understand the material they're studying in greater depth. This then eliminates more dead time. 

And when you audit dead time in your classroom, where your lessons, it's fascinating how it reveals little issues about how routines in class are set up, or issues with how work and tasks are planned and presented. They're actually really simple to fix. But those simple fixes result in big changes in classroom behaviour. And that's what I've got to share with you today. If you haven't rated and reviewed us, what are you waiting for? Open up your podcast app and give us an honest rating and review. And that tells the algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other teachers, school leaders and parents who might find this information useful. It's another quick fire episode next time. I hope you have a brilliant week and I can't wait to see you on the next episode of School Behaviour Secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)