Time constraints put pressure on teachers to start lessons as quickly as possible, but ensuing disruption may make this less effective than allowing a set amount of time for settling in. Dave Stott looks at how to establish a baseline to judge whether such techniques are worth employing and gives tips on how to make them work

While a prompt start to lessons may be desirable, a short ‘settling’ period may avoid problems and disruption once the lesson has started. Equally a ‘finishing up’ time at the end will contribute to an orderly conclusion and exit from the room.

Given the pressures of time, content and organisation, there is always an emphasis on getting pupils into the room or teaching area and making a prompt start in order to use all the time available during the scheduled lesson.

There will inevitably be disturbances once the lesson has started:

  • missing or wrong equipment
  • wandering around, out of seat
  • texting, using phones or mp3 players
  • chatting, catching up with friends
  • continuing issues begun during the last lesson.

Try monitoring over three or four sessions the amount of time you spend dealing with disturbances once the lesson has begun. If you are working with another adult in the classroom it is probably easier for them to do the monitoring.

If the amount of time taken in this baseline is in excess of 10 minutes, it’s worth trying to establish a settling-in period of no more than three minutes at the start of the lesson. This gives pupils time to sort themselves out and begin to engage in the learning process.

The same goes for the end of the lesson. If you wait until the bell before finalising the lesson, there is almost certain to be excessive noise, confusion and, at worst, chaos. A simple advanced warning will again give pupils the opportunity to structure their activity and prepare to tidy up and leave in an orderly fashion.

Practical Tips
As with all strategies and advice, in order to be successfully implemented in the classroom, the techniques need to be taught clearly and consistently to the pupils. If you choose to try the ‘settling in’ strategy, ensure you plan it carefully before trying to introduce it in the teaching and learning environment.

The three minute settling-in time is not an excuse for simply wasting the first part of the lesson. It is there to enable pupils to:

  • finish conversations with friends
  • ensure they have the correct equipment, books, etc
  • find their correct seating area
  • switch off phones and other equipment

Give clear and non-confrontational directions about your expectations. Use a low voice and recognise those pupils who are following the structure. It is essential that pupils understand the reasoning behind the strategy. Once the three minutes have passed there should be a very clear understanding that no further disturbances should take place and the full remaining time of the lesson can now be used effectively.

Moving towards the end of the lesson, it’s worth employing some of the advice given in ‘Using timed reminders’ (Behaviour Matters, 3 October 2007):

  • use visual timers (clocks, egg timers etc)
  • use verbal reminders to warn pupils of remaining time
  • vary your times depending on activity.
  • Once again it is important to teach and practice the techniques with all pupils, sharing with them the reasoning behind the strategies.

Using the above techniques will, at most, use up three minutes at the start of the lesson and three at the end, giving a total reduction of six minutes of the allotted lesson time. Using your baseline information, compare the amount of time spent in dealing with issues during the lesson to the six minutes used employing these techniques.

If there is a significant saving of time using the settling-in strategy, it’s worth continuing. As pupils become accustomed to the routine, it will be possible to reduce the time allowance even further. Pupils will understand the need to start lessons quickly. They will be well organised and the amount of disturbance once the lesson has started will be reduced.

The great payoff for you will be reductions in your stress level and in the risk of confrontation or challenge during the lesson.

It is also possible to integrate other ‘start and finish’ strategies into the three minutes:

  • show and tell
  • brain/mental agility exercises
  • calming music
  • circle time activities
  • plenaries and evaluations.

Pupils will quickly become used to the structure of the teaching and learning experience and will adjust positively to the clarity and structure of the sessions.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2011

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.