Minimizing Lost Instructional Time

by | Sep 19, 2018


School schedules are meticulous and demanding.

With all of the requirements placed on students and teachers, it can be difficult to find time for the quantity and quality of instruction that students should be receiving. For these reasons, it is crucial that teachers make better use of their limited amount of time to ensure that students are receiving the maximum quality instruction possible.

Consider some of the following questions:

What are the causes for lost instructional time?

Even the very best teachers lose instructional time occasionally. The concern lies in reoccurring lost time due to factors that can be controlled.

Common reasons for lost instructional time include:

  • Student discipline
  • Transitions between classes
  • Transitions between academic activities
  • Bathroom breaks

How much time is really lost to these daily activities?

Time spent on each of these activities will vary from class to class and from school to school.

For the purposes of illustrating how much impact these activities can have on instructional time, I’ve provided an example below.

The following example is based on an 8:15 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. instructional schedule. This means students should be receiving instruction beginning at 8:15 a.m. and dismissed to pack up at 2:30 p.m. If you consider 45 minutes for lunch and recess, that leaves 330 minutes for academic instruction each day.

  • Class Transitions: Consider a five class schedule. Including transitions to and from lunch, that is seven transitions between classes. If each transition takes approximately 6 minutes, there is a loss of 42 minutes to class transitions each day.
  • Activity Transitions: Now within each of those five classes, let’s say there are three activities. That is 15 activities a day. If the transition into each new activity (including switching desks, passing out materials, reviewing expectations, etc.) takes three minutes, there is a loss of 45 minutes to activity transitions each day.

After reviewing transitions alone, you’ve lost approximately 87 minutes to transitions which takes that 330 minutes of instruction down to 243 minutes of instruction per day.

  • Bathroom Breaks: For the sake of this example, consider a morning and an afternoon bathroom break. That means each day the entire class is taken to the restroom twice. If each restroom break—which can include a transition to line up, walking to and from the restroom, having each student use the restroom, walking back to the classroom and getting back to their seats—takes 10 minutes then, there is a loss of 20 minutes to restroom breaks each day.
  • Student Discipline: Student discipline can look very different in each class. For the purpose of this example, allow five minutes per class on student discipline and redirection. That totals 25 minutes a day spent on student discipline.

Including bathroom breaks and student discipline you’ve racked up an additional 45 minutes of lost instructional time, which reduces the 243 minutes of instruction to 198 minutes of instruction per day.

That is a total of 129 minutes of instruction lost during each school day.

If we multiply that out by the 180 days that students attend school each year, there is a total of 23,220 minutes of lost instructional time each year.

That is equivalent to 387 hours, 70.4 school days, or 14.1 weeks of lost instructional time.

Therefore, how much time is really being saved?

It is not realistic, nor is it helpful, to suggest those numbers should be 0.

Transitions are important, as are breaks and classroom management, but losing 14 weeks of instruction to these activities is not only unfair to our students, but it is downright neglectful.

As educators, teaching students should be a priority, not a power struggle. Think about what could be accomplished if you were able to cut this lost instructional time down by 1/3. By doing just that, based on the example above, an additional 43 minutes of instruction would be added to each and every school day. That is 7,740 minutes of instruction added to each school year, which equates to 129 hours, 23.5 days, or 4.7 weeks of additional learning opportunities for each of your students. That is more time to cover new content and practice the old.

What can teachers accomplish with the instructional time gained from cutting back on those four basic activities?

Additional time for instruction gives teachers endless opportunities to impact student achievement.

This additional time could be spent working on teaching new content, reviewing old content, firming up skills students have not yet mastered, test prep, and growth in reading. This time could be spent working with students struggling to maintain passing scores or building fluency in a variety of skill sets such as reading or math. Exactly how this time should be applied will vary class-to-class, but nonetheless, more instructional time means more learning opportunities, which means greater student achievement.

How does this affect student achievement?

Every minute counts when it comes to student education. Student achievement has not reached its full potential until students are given every opportunity to maximize their educational experience.

By extending the time spent on trivial activities, time needed to cover important content is being lost. As educators, this is one example of what failing our students looks like. Instead, it should be an objective of every teacher to increase learning opportunities which directly impacts student achievement. As student achievement rises, learning rates also improve, making a cyclical pattern for student learning.

How does this affect professional performance?

Educators are students of their own profession. 

While it does not always hold true, student improvement is naturally a good indicator of teaching performance. Less instructional time directly impacts student performance, which in turn reflects on professional performance.

Lost instructional time can be a sign of poor classroom management and reflect on one’s professional commitment to student achievement. Rather than waiting for your instructional coach, school principal, or performance standards to tell you that you are losing valuable time on minor activities, be a self-evaluator and identify additional times throughout your school day that could be modified to devote more time towards instruction. Whether it is irrelevant classroom activities, extended transitional times, or excessive student discipline, work with your team to brainstorm strategies for minimizing the duration of each activity to help improve the overall educational experience of each student. Consider the significant impact this could have over a 25-year teaching career!