The (Best/Worst) 10 Minutes of Class: Part 1

When students come into the room, I figure I have two choices. Either be ready, or be dead.

“Be dead” looks like this: students come in talking, wrestling, beat-boxing, and generally owning the space. Class supposedly started six minutes ago.  I I fumble with attendance, one student tries to tell me about his weekend, three students have some sort of homework-related emergency, five students are playing “The Cup Song” without using cups, and my laptop decides it’s time to Update Windows (from Sucky 4.0 to Sucky 4.1). Stressful. Loud. Frustrating. And time-wasting.

“Be ready” looks like this. Music is playing – music I like, music I think they may like. Students know not to talk to me unless it’s an emergency. Students know that they should consult the Flight Plan on the Google Calendar.

They do “Bell Work” (some call it “First Thing Work”) while I plug in my projector and take attendance. I peek at students’ work, walk around the room, and review my notes.

And when I drop the volume on the music, like an awkward cocktail party, everyone gets quiet. Yes. Quiet.

10 to 20 minutes later, it’s time for Housekeeping: review the bell work, check in on not-quite emergencies, preview homework, review today’s Flight Plan, and list any students’ names I might need to speak to.


Though I have nearly made a religion out of being ready for class, I’m still surprised by the panoply of students’ “non-readiness” that  greet me each day – and how confusing and destabilizing these “not ready” states can be. Each has a completely different response!

  • Students can “space the homework” completely. These students will hope you will not notice – or they will get a little aggro about it: what? What homework?! There was no homework!
  • Students might have tried it…and got bored or frustrated or ran out of time, stopping halfway through. They will say they were “confused.”
  • Students might have tried it…and legitimately became stuck or lost. Each might need 3-10 minutes.
  • Students might be done: but are not sure whether you’d agree they are done.

No teacher has time to look over the whole pile of students’ work, right at the start of class. Some amount of training students to evaluate and articulate what sort of help they might require is a classroom-necessity. And other constructive tasks (I call these Anchorwork) must be at hand, ready to occupy and focus these students’s attention in a meaningful (read: NOT BUSYWORK) way. But how do you reinforce the norms of “what to do next?”

Recently, I decided to make a flow-chart: color-coded boxes would walk students through the steps to determine what they should do at the start of class. I would include live links to my personal scheduler for major problems, reminders to use homework passes*,  and could adjust it for lab days vs. partner days vs. discussion days.

This chart is a work in progress, but I’m hoping it will progress the type of work that happens in those critical minutes at the start of class — minutes that either get everyone set up for success, or that allow mob-mentality to blur free-time into class-time.

chart 2

Now, I just need to make one of these for Sunday mornings.

*Homework Passes: Students get TWO per quarter: I reward their honesty with the privilege to finish the homework in class. Many students say they do homework MORE consistently with this sort of system in place. A box of Popsicle sticks, each labels with students’ names, sits in the class cupboard. If a student didn’t finish the homework, s/he gets a pass and puts it in front of his/her computer. It’s a visual cue to me to check in with them, record the passes in,  set up an appointment if it’s a chronic problem, and determine what to do, next.

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