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Professors - Strategically Manage Your College Courses - Use Class Time Efficiently and Wisely

Meggin McIntosh

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Establishing an agenda and a good lesson plan for each meeting should enable you to keep your class on target. However, unpredictable events sometimes affect even the best planning. To minimize their impact, and to provide you with the optimum amount of time to address your objectives, you would be wise to adhere to the following guidelines:

  1. Begin each class precisely on time. When students know that their tardiness will not affect your class management, they will typically extend themselves to arrive on time. On occasions (e. g. , where there is severe weather), you might decide to begin slowly by reviewing previously taught material or even by talking individually with students regarding their progress, but start on time nonetheless.

  2. Adhere to your agenda. Students frequently complain that professors go off on tangents and tell irrelevant stories. Adhering to your agenda and lesson plans, perhaps by writing the plan on the board or sharing it a day in advance via email, should keep you on target. Remember, however, that you have developed your agenda and lesson plans on assumptions about your students’ ability to learn. If they are exhibiting comprehension difficulties, you should adjust your agenda and lesson plan and regroup, rethink, and perhaps reteach on the spot.

  3. Schedule breaks. In a class lasting longer than 90 minutes, schedule a brief break midway through the session. For classes of three or more hours, schedule two brief breaks of ten or less minutes or a midway break of fifteen or twenty minutes. The starting time of the class and its proximity to typical mealtimes, the walking distance to various facilities, and so on should be factored into such decisions. (It might be wise to assess your students’ preferences on this decision at your first class meeting, thereby fostering the perception that this is their class. ) Announce and write on the board what time students should return from a break, and start your class on time afterwards (I developed a break timer that you are welcome to access for free from my website; just see the resource box). Otherwise, students are likely to get caught up in conversations or activities that prolong your starting time, affect instructional effectiveness, frustrate highly-focused students, and foster ill will. You might also want to double-check attendance after the break. If students use the break as an excuse to skip out early, address the situation proactively at the following class meeting by explaining its impact on your management of the class and requesting that anyone who must leave early tell you so at the start of the break.

  4. In discussions, shut off nonproductive talk. Whether with the whole class or in small groups, discussions must be targeted to your learning objectives. When a student makes a tangential comment, you can confirm the interesting nature of the point then redirect discussion to the central issue. When students are working in small groups, circulate among them actively, especially at the beginning, to ensure that everyone fully understands the goals of the activity and remains on task to accomplish them.

  5. Whenever possible, relate course content to everyday events. Integrate the news from the international, national, and local scenes, as well as from pop culture and sports into your content if you can. Add relevant cartoons or quotations to your presentations. Find props to enhance your students’ engagement. Plan to make your class relevant to the specific group of students enrolled and exercise a bit of levity. Even if you are “humor-challenged, " you can probably apply your points by telling a story to which your students are likely to relate. The idea is to provide students an extra reason to attend when their lives hold so many diversions that they might be tempted not to come to class.

  6. Pay attention to your voice projection, volume, enunciations, and variety. For example, when properly employed, dramatic elongated pauses can engender student reflection. Use gestures to emphasize important ideas and concepts, and move throughout the room to nudge the disengaged into the dialogue. Communication theory tells us that nonverbal cues are stronger than verbal cues, so be sure that your nonverbal gestures do not detract from or negate what you say.

  7. Use the class time in its entirety. Avoid being swayed by some students’ requests to go home early. Usually such requests are made by a few highly vocal but relatively unmotivated students. Your most motivated students silently reject the suggestions from their counterparts to cut classes short. Which students would you want to reward for their behavior - the motivated or the unmotivated?

  8. End class on time. If you became sidetracked or had to deviate from your agenda, do not expect students to remain after the scheduled ending time of the class to make up the lost time. You will have to use the next session for catch up. Many of your students have family, work or other school obligations to meet after class, and making them late discounts your standing in their eyes. Being overly free-flowing does not foster a positive learning environment in your classroom. You also run the risk of not allowing the next faculty member to get into the classroom to get set up for his/her course.

  9. Before dismissing the class, remind students of what they can expect during the next session. If you have a special event planned, such as a guest speaker or a highly controversial video, convey that information enthusiastically to the students, so that they will look forward to returning. Their energy will feed the occasion.

Ineffective professors often mistakenly view the class period as time to fill so that students stay busy. Strategic professors realize that with clearly established learning objectives, well-chosen resources, and strong teaching and learning methods, time management is a relatively easy issue to master.

Strategic professors know that staying on top of all aspects of their course planning, preparation, and implementation is critical to success and peace of mind. Pay attention to the ideas in this article and others available from Meggin McIntosh. In addition, you can learn much more about teaching and reaching the many different types of students who are in today's college classroom by reading the book *Teaching College in an Age of Accountability* (Allyn & Bacon). The book was written by Richard Lyons & Meggin McIntosh (the author of this article).

To learn more ideas that you can use as a faculty member, be sure to check out and

(c) 2008 by Meggin McIntosh, Ph. D. , “The Ph. D. of Productivity"(tm). Through her company, Emphasis on Excellence, Inc. , Meggin McIntosh changes what people know, feel, dream, and do. Sound interesting? It is!


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