Teaching and Time-Keeping

This post was inspired in part by Natalie Oshukany’s excellent blog post from last week (On Watching the Clock: Student-Centered Review Session) which begins: “Despite my best efforts, I ran straight into one of the major concerns our class discussed regarding implementing student-centered learning in the classroom: time.”

After leading two Mapping the Futures classes on student-centered pedagogy and one very student-centered midterm review in my undergrad art history class, ‘time’ has started to feel like the negative leitmotif of student-centered learning. Recurring worries include: If time equals content, as in many content-driven lecture classes, how much time can be given over or “lost” to student-driven activities? How can we plan activities that are flexible enough to be led by students, but constrained enough that they will actually have time to carry them out? How much time do I, as an adjunct, have/need to adequately prepare a successful student-driven activity? While many discussions of student-centered pedagogy hotly debate this first question, the second two are much more granular and tricky to address. The answers differ for each teacher, each group of students, each topic, even each hour of class time.

Timing is something I frequently think about when planning and teaching my 2 hour 45 minute undergraduate art history course: a) I balance teaching, dissertating, and running an art education program at a small contemporary art center. Although I would like to spend infinite hours on course prep, I have to stop myself from spending all of my own time redesigning every class. b) During such a long class period, I have to be conscious of shifting the pace and activity every 20-minutes or so as not to lose the focus of the class. As I have increasingly been incorporating student-centered activities into the class, timing, in both senses, has become even more of an issue. I have found myself spending much of my own time planning activities that seemed reasonable, but become massive when unleashed in the classroom.

As a result, I am making an effort to think much more consciously about time, which I have previously tended to treat as an organic, flexible element in my planning. I have taken a note from the planning process for the first session of the Student-Centered Pedagogy class, which I co-facilitated with Danica Savonick and Michelle Gabay. We fastidiously scheduled our lesson plan: 3 minutes to introduce one activity, 15 minutes of small group discussion for another, etc. We also tried to announce the time frame for each activity and give updates. Although we had to give loud reminders about stopping time and we did have to speed up at the end, everyone was responsive about shifting gears and the class, which was structured around a variety of large and small-group activities, had a fantastic spontaneous energy that belied our copious prep time and careful schedule.

In my art history class, I applied this scheduling process to a student-centered review activity in which my students worked in groups to create and present components of a midterm review guide. I calculated the amount of overall class time that I would be able to devote to this activity and then rigorously divided it: 10 minutes to explain the activity and form groups, 30 minutes to work, 35 minutes to give 5-minute presentations. I explicitly told my students how much time they would have and gave them updates. I also encouraged them to appoint one time manager per group so that they could keep themselves on track. Before breaking them into groups, I had them collectively generate a list of information that they should try to cover on their contributions to the review — that way we collectively produced a reasonable outline before they began gathering information. This helped to frame the activity as one that could be completed within the allotted timeframe. Although I felt a little bit like a reality cooking competition show host with a stopwatch in my hand, the results were very strong. My students had well-organized presentations and produced useful research guides (which were all scanned and shared on our course website.) I am going to continue this process in all of my planning– working backwards from my overall class schedule to carefully and thoughtfully budget time for different activities then going further to schedule each component of the activities. I’m still working out how to apply this to my own class prep time, but being more mindful of my students’ time in class is at the very least helping me to pay more attention to my own.