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Rapid Classroom Transitions: How to Save 45 Hours a Year [episode 49]


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Overview of episode 49:

Today, we’re continuing our conversation from last week all about classroom transitions. Several studies have noted 3 characteristics of efficient transitions. Last week, we explored the first characteristic, which was having clear beginnings and endings. In today’s episode, we’re sharing tips on making sure your transitions unfold rapidly. 

We know that quick transitions are easier said than done and transitions often take longer than expected. In order to have more rapid classroom transitions, we have come up with 4 tips for efficiently managing transitions between activities. Preparing students for an upcoming transition and creating streamlined materials are just a few things that can contribute to rapid classroom transitions. And rapid transitions mean more instructional time throughout your school day, which is what we want!

While you may not directly plan for classroom transitions when lesson planning, they’re an important part of your school day. Making sure you’re prepared for your transitions will help in the overall efficiency of your day. Stay tuned for next week’s episode, where we talk about the third characteristic of transitions: minimizing the amount of downtime between activities.

Be sure to check out our Favorite Winter Read Aloud List on Amazon with books that go along with this week’s morning message!

Highlights from the episode:

[00:52] Today’s morning message: what is your favorite read-aloud for winter?

[3:24] Resource of the Week: Chunk Spelling System

[7:44] Breakdown of how much time is actually spent on transitions

[18:37] Recap of the 4 tips for keeping a transition running rapidly

[19:40] Today’s teacher-approved tip for using a visual nudge to keep kids on track.


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Read the transcript for episode 49, Rapid Classroom Transitions: How to Save 45 Hours a Year:

Hey there. Thanks for joining us today. Today’s episode is part two of our three part series all about classroom transitions.

We start our episodes with a morning message just like we used to do at morning meeting in our classrooms. This week’s morning message is what is your favorite read aloud for winter?

Emily, what do you read a lot in the winter? Well, the answer is we’re going to share it a minute from the members of our Facebook group include a lot of my standard favorites.

So I’m going to share a brand new one I just got for Christmas from Heidi. called Bright Winter Night. It’s about the forest animals coming together one night so they can all go see the beautiful Northern Lights. It’s absolutely charming and the illustrations are just so beautiful. How about you Heidi?

Well, you got me a wintry book too. Yes, I did. Sounds like a pattern. The one you got me is A Thing Called Snow. And again, it’s just beautifully illustrated and it tells the story of the forest animals teaching little fox and hare all about snow.

And I also have a huge spot for Kazuno Kohara’s book Here Comes Jack Frost. Oh, I love kind of classic. I have read that book to lots of different age groups and they have just all thoroughly enjoyed it. And that for chapter books Jigsaw Jones: The Case of This Snowboarding Superstar always feels appropriate to the winter season.

And then the First Secrets of Dream Bugs feels wintry to me. It doesn’t have anything to do with winter. But I would always read it to my class in January so it feels like a winter book.

We had some great ideas for winter read aloud in our teacher approved Facebook group. Kelly said Sneezy the Snowman for fun and Owl Moon for reflection; great choices.

Kate said Snowflake Bentley because he awesomely discovered that no two snowflakes are alike. Tacky The Penguin because he’s hilarious. We love Tacky. And the Boxcar Children for that warm cozy feeling.

I know that but yeah, that fits. Jill said Snow Minute Night. The best we loved that whole series. Elizabeth said Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift. Really cute little chapter book series. I had to look that up. I didn’t know that one, it looks darling.

Kim, Donna and Leah all said The Mitten. Yes. And The Hat. Can’t forget that one. Natalie said Stone Fox perfect. Kate W said Snow by Uri Shulevitz. That’s a fun one.

Nancy said Over and Under the Snow. This is a wonderful series, we learned about the subnivean climate and my students love learning about animals in winter.

All of those Over and Under books are just gorgeous. They really are. We’d love to hear your favorite winter read alouds over in our teacher approved Facebook group or an Instagram at @2ndstorywindow. And that’s what the two. Also we will have a link to this list of books in our show notes.

It’s time for the resource of the week: our chunk spelling system. Heidi, can you tell us a little about the system and how you started using it in your classroom?

So the main focus of the chunk spelling system is the chunk. Such a lovely word. It’s really a word family. So we focus on word family each week. And then as a class we work together we make what we call little words. So these are words with the chunks, let’s say at that have just a single consonant beginning, you know, cat, bat rat, all that.

And then we work to make words with beginning blends and digraphs. Flat that. And then this is where the magic happens, we work to generate a list of what we call big words. So multi syllable words that have that chunk in it, you know, attic, Caterpillar all those juicy words.

And then the kids can use those words to put together a spelling list, either the whole class can choose the same 10 words, or maybe the teacher chooses some of the words and the kids get to choose some of the words or how Emily and I did it. We let our kids choose all of the words.

And it’s a really multisensory method because the kids work with a little word card and a sound board that has all the different initial sounds on it, and they go through and move the card around on the sound board, which just makes it a much more engaging process for students. We put the method together into a system that can be adapted in lots of ways.

We have over 80 spelling chunks that you can pick and choose from. You can generate the words together as a whole class or have the students use the soundboards to generate their own lists and then they collaborate on a full list for the whole class.

This interactive hands on method helps students learn strategies that they can apply in the future when they encounter these unknown words. And I really love the way it helps students make connections between words, where you know, before they might come to a word like Caterpillar, and it would just be overwhelming.

But as we practice with these chunks, they learn to see that multi syllable words are just made up of all these chunks arranged in different ways. So it really kind of helps give them the skills they need to be able to decode and write multisyllabic words.

And it’s constantly building their own individual word banks. Yeah, it’s so good. You can find a link to the chunk spelling system at the link in our show notes. We also have a podcast episode all about using this method. It’s episode 17. and we’ll like to that too.

Last week, we started our three part series on classroom transitions. We define a transition as just the ending of one activity and the beginning of another. It’s a pretty simple explanation. But of course, there’s nothing simple about managing classroom transitions.

Several studies have noted three characteristics of efficient transitions. First, they have clear beginnings and ends. Second, they are rapid. And third, they minimize the amount of downtime between activities.

In our previous episode, we offer lots of suggestions for addressing how to give your transitions clear beginnings and endings. So you’ll want to go back and check that out if you haven’t yet. And in next week’s episode, we’ll share important keys that keep one activity efficiently rolling into the next. But today, we’re looking at ways to make sure your transitions unfold rapidly.

We have all had times where the school day is running smoothly, and then it’s time to transition to a new activity, and everything goes off the rails. A few kids are following directions, but mostly kids are wandering and talking.

And then you have to intervene to get everyone back on track. And that totally sounds like a simple undertaking. But in reality, redirecting the focus of 20 or more people takes a tremendous amount of time and energy.

Yeah, that is time and energy that would be better served actually teaching your kids, you might not think efficient transitions are a big deal. And I have definitely worked with teachers who seem to have the attitude of we’ll get there when we get there.

Maybe it seems like a minor detail. But chaotic transitions eat away at your day. You’d never sit down to schedule your week and write in your plans 15 minutes on Tuesday for students to wander the room aimlessly and talk to friends. But if your transitions are loose and inefficient, that’s essentially what you’re doing.

A lost 15 minutes maybe doesn’t sound like much over the course of a day. But that means 75 minutes are lost a week, which adds up to 45 lost hours over a school year. Wow, that is a lot of wasted time.

But the opposite of that is also true. If you can save just 15 minutes a day with efficient transitions, you buy yourself an extra 75 minutes a week, and over 36 weeks that earns you 45 hours of instructional time. That is like an extra week of school.

Wowza. Imagine what you could do with 45 extra hours.

Obviously, we all want effective transitions, not just because they benefit students, but they do make her job so much easier.

Yes, they do. So let’s take a closer look at how we can efficiently manage transitioning between activities.

I think the easiest way to set your students up for success is to prepare them that a transition is coming. Even if it’s the 165 day of school, and the transition is something you have done every single day, all of your students will benefit from a five minute and a one minute warning.

It’s basically just okay, you got five minutes left to finish your story. And then a You’ve got one minute list at wrapping things up.

Warnings are pretty simple to offer and they do so much heavy lifting when it comes to simplifying your transitions. It gives kids a chance to wind up what they’re doing, and it helps them manage their materials and their mindsets.

This is especially helpful to your neurodivergent kids. And you may find that some kids need even more of a heads up than just a five minute warning.

Once it’s time for the activity to end signal for everyone’s attention, give your action cue, and then either direct them to start a routine transition like packing up for the day, or prompt them with specific directions to complete. We walked through how to give directions before a transition in our last episode. So check that out if you need a refresher.

But once you’ve turned the kids loose to complete the transition, this is the second point where time management becomes important.

Yeah if the transition involves managing materials the key to success is making the materials as easy to access as possible.

And this is where traffic flow becomes important. So for example, in my classroom, I had a basket for papers in just like a little cubby space, it was fairly easy to grab. But if each student needs to swing by this basket, and reach into the cubby to grab a paper, it slows things way down.

If I set the paper basket on top of the cabinet before this transition, it speeds up the process of everyone getting a paper, and then I can just move the basket back after the transition.

I know, I definitely had problems with all the kids trying to get the same thing at once. Let’s say maybe I want students to put their dice in a box at the end of math time. If I put the dice box on the counter, it creates a crush of kids all trying to reach over and around each other.

And then the kids in the middle are trapped by the kids pushing in behind them. You can picture it now.

And what should be a five second task turns into a brawl. But if I move the box to the table, it’s accessible from all sides. That makes it much easier for kids to drop their dice and get out of the way.

A lot of times we ask students to return one material and pick up something new. In that case, you either want those materials right next to each other, or in completely different parts of the room.

Wait, wait, wait, which one is that’s not very helpful.

Well, it kind of is if you are analyzing your traffic slow. Maybe you want students to drop off their dice and grab a paper at the same time, you know, then it’s just one stop. If that’s the case, you could put the dice box and the papers right next to each other.

But then you need to help the students form a line so they can leave the dice and grab the paper efficiently. But if you’re like me, you have got stuff to set up before the next lesson. And you can’t devote yourself to crowd control.

So in those moments, it is easier to spread out the materials. If the dice box and the paper stack are in different sides of the room. It keeps bottlenecks from forming.

Okay, okay, that does make sense. You also may want to consider having a few kids pass out or collect items are just sending a few kids at a time to get their materials.

Back when I was just a little baby teacher, my professor came to observe one of my lessons because I was still in college. And once we got to the practice part of the lesson, I directed the kids to grab a paper and go back to their seats to work. And the kids were great. They did exactly as I asked and 24 kids tried to grab a paper once.

And then during the debrief after the lesson, my professor asked if there was anything I could do to minimize the giant herd of children grasping for papers. Honestly, until that moment, I don’t think it had even registered that it had been a problem.

And he suggested sending smaller groups at a time to get their papers, or to send one person from each table to collect materials for their whole group. And over the years, I have found both of those suggestions to be handy.

Yes, you can even add some surprise and delight to your directions. Instead of everyone on table one can get a paper tray, everyone wearing stripes or everyone with an S in their name.

That also keeps kids from tuning out what you’re saying.

Efficiently managing the collection and distribution of materials really streamlines transitions, it provides fewer opportunities for kids to get distracted. It helps keep everyone on task, and it minimizes the time it takes to get from one thing to another.

But even if you perfectly prepare kids for a transition ahead of time, and you streamline your materials for ultimate efficiency, some of those little bunnies just aren’t going to feel the need to hop to the next task with any sort of hurry.

Part of that is just the nature of being a child kids are still developing time management skills. But also some kids just don’t have any hustle muscles in their body. I have one of those. Oh, yes you do.

Also, I think the biggest transition headaches really come down to personalities. Some kids are motivated by the freedom of a transition. And they start testing limits. You know, they could move quicker, but they don’t want to.

Since these are internal processes and since we can’t do much to affect what happens on the inside, we need to adjust what happens on the outside. So we do that by offering a little nudge.

A nudge is anything that helps kids recognize that time is passing and they better hustle their bustles.

If you teach primary grade songs are very useful kids learn quickly that they have until the third time through singing the clean up song to have their backpacks on in their chair stacked.

If you teach older kids or if seeing just isn’t your jam, you could choose a song that lasts about as long as you want the transition to take and then play that as your end of day cleanup song or your get ready for lunch song. Once students are familiar with the song, it helps them to judge how much time they have left.

An alternative to songs is to use poetry which we both really love doing. It’s particularly useful if the transition is short and simple. It’s hard to recite a poem while you’re trying to count out papers.

Emily and I like to use a poem of the month as our transition to morning meeting. So after we corrected our morning work, we would start saying the month’s poem, and then the kids knew they had that long to check in their chairs and come sit in the circle.

Now I have little snippets of poems coming back to me. This felt like a win win, though, because it worked in some poetry, which can be hard to do, and also provided a gentle way to keep everyone on track. I didn’t love the vibe of starting morning meeting by nagging kids to get to the rug.

If you need to nudge a little more strongly than a song or poem, a timer or stopwatch can get kids moving. You can offer up a reward like, I think it’s going to take you three minutes to clean up and get back to your desks. If you do it in two minutes and 30 seconds, we have time for a 30 second dance break.

And it doesn’t have to be a dance party. But any kind of fun brain break can be a motivator. Just make sure to select an achievable goal, you want to make it actually possible to earn the reward.

Timers also work for challengers. Yesterday, it took us four minutes to get out our books and start reading Can you do it in three minutes and 45 seconds today? Kids love racing, even if it’s just against themselves.

However, some kids have such rebel spirits that the more you nudge, the slower they seem to get. Bless them. I’m sure you have met some of these kids.

If you have one of these rebels, it’s important to know you can’t change their nature, the more you insist the more they’ll resist. Ask yourself if it’s really vital that this kid be at the rug before you start reading the story or whatever your transition is. Most of the time, it’s probably not. And if you back off with pressure, they might start moving quicker on their own.

I really wish I had understood this earlier in my teaching career because I often would escalate minor events into a power struggle. It’s hard, it’s hard not to do it.

But now that I have some more experience, I understand that kids personalities just come hardwired and my demands were just giving a rebel more to rebel against. It would have been way more beneficial to let the inconsequential stuff go, as long as it wasn’t creating bigger problems.

Hindsight, right. It’s for sure important to know what to let go. But sometimes it will be a problem if a kid doddles through a transition. If someone is chronically slow coming in from recess that affects the whole class. It could even be a safety issue.

If you’re certain the child is completely capable of making a better choice, there needs to be consequences. Maybe your tardy student has to spend the first five minutes of the next recess practicing hurrying in from the field quickly. Maybe they have to miss out on something fun to come up with a plan for how they can set a better example.

It will be more impactful if you can tie your consequences to improving the behavior and not just as a punishment, right.

So as you tackle the challenge of transitions, remember that most challenges can be addressed by planning ahead, offering warnings before a transition occurs, and arranging materials strategically handle a big chunk of the problems. Issuing a nudge to help kids keep track of time will cover most of the rest of the problems.

What’s left can mostly be addressed on a case by case basis. Some kids may need extra support to manage the transition successfully. Some kids may need you to back off completely so they have the freedom to make a good choice without feeling pressured into it.

So remember, the four tips for keeping a transition running rapidly are: one, give five minute and one minute warnings before a transition starts; two, arrange materials to minimize traffic jams; three, use a nudge to keep kids moving; and four, teach time management.

But even with all your forethought and planning not every transition will unfold smoothly. And that’s okay. The important thing is that it runs well most of the time. Each transition that happens quickly and efficiently is adding minutes to the time your students have to learn.

So it’s always worth the effort to transition as smoothly as possible. We’d love to hear how you keep your transitions running quickly and smoothly over in our teacher approved Facebook group. We’ll be back next week with the final episode in our transition series where we’ll talk about how to minimize downtime in your transitions.

Now let’s talk about this week’s teacher approved tip. Each week we leave you with a small actionable tip that you can apply in your classroom today. This week’s teacher approved tip is use a visual nudge to keep kids on track.

Heidi, can you tell us about that? Yes, I would love to. Because time is so abstract, especially for kids, a visual timer is a helpful nudge for kids to gauge how much time they have left. In the show notes we have a link to a visual timer that shows the time left using color on like the front dial of the timer.

But if you want a digital version online/ has lots of different timers you can project to help kids visualize how much time is left. I’m particularly a fan of the sensory timers, they give a great sense of how much time was left without the pressure or the abstractness of numbers.

So like a rain will slowly fill with color or a candle will burn down as time passes. But some of these are really fun to watch though so just make sure the timer you choose isn’t adding to the distraction I can picture kids sitting there staring at that. Yeah I’m sure your son’s doing that. Yes, exactly!

This site has a paid version, but you can access a lot of the tools for free. Just be aware that the free version does include ads, and you can’t always ensure the content in internet ads. So be careful before you project any.

To wrap up the show. We’re sharing what we’re giving extra credit to this week. Heidi, what are you giving extra credit to this week?

My extra credit goes to throw pillows on the bed. Fancy. When I moved into my house, I decided that I was done with decorative pillows. They’re just such a pain to have to move on and off the bed every day. But I finally got tired of my room looking so utilitarian.

And Emily, you were kind enough to give me a beautiful set of pillow shams for Christmas. So I guess all my extra credit goes to you. Yes, gold star for me. But now my bed just looks so welcoming and comfy. Just don’t actually try to get comfortable with any of those fancy pillows that are just for looking at only for decoration.

Emily what is your extra credit? I’m giving extra credit to candle specifically flameless candles. For Christmas, I got a set of pretty glass candles that are battery powered. They have a little fake flame that moves and it gives a relaxing flickering effect. And you can turn them on a timer so they turn on a certain time every day.

I have such a hard time when it gets dark early in the afternoon in the winter, Heidi and I lament all the time, it just kills our spirits. But having something like this to add light does a lot to improve my mood and the ambiance in our house, especially now that the light of the Christmas tree is gone, which I was really mourning.

So these candles help a lot. And I especially love when I like walk into the room and it’s like, the candles are on it’s that time of day the candles are on you know. So I will link to those candles in the show notes. And you were kind enough to give them to me so I can enjoy it too. Yes, you can.

That’s it for today’s episode. Remember to plan ahead so your transitions can happen quickly and efficiently. And don’t forget our teacher approved tip to use a visual timer to keep everyone on track.

Be sure to check out our show notes for links to anything we’ve mentioned. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode, please consider sharing it with a teacher friend. Your recommendation is the best way to help people discover our podcast.

More About Teacher Approved:

Do you ever feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to be the kind of teacher you really want to be? The Teacher Approved podcast is here to help you learn how to elevate what matters and simplify the rest. Join co-hosts Emily and Heidi of Second Story Window each week as they share research-based and teacher-approved strategies you can count on to make your teaching more efficient and effective than ever

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