The students take several minutes to get organized before starting the activity. None of the students take the lead on the discussion and it takes a long time to transition from one question to the next. You spend several minutes checking in with a group, only to find out they didn't really need your help. Students put solutions on the board, but the work is very hard to follow and it takes you time during the debrief to get it all organized.
The bell rings, and you haven't finished the lesson.
This scenario has has happened to us so many times, and now after many years of practice using the Experience First, Formalize Later (EFFL) teaching model, we are starting to get much more efficient. Here are our best strategies for getting through a full EFFL lesson in one class period:
Read, Discuss, Write
This is a very simple protocol that we establish very early in the year. When students are working together in a group, they are expected to:
Read. One student reads the scenario at the top of the activity and then reads the first question. Be sure to identify the reader for students (the student closest to the door) or give them a clear and easy way to identify the reader (the tallest student).
Discuss. The group has some discussion about the question, allowing all ideas to be considered.
Write. Each student writes down a summary of the discussion. It does not matter if this is "right" or "wrong". It is just the rough-draft thinking of the group.
Repeat the process for the next question.
Using this protocol, students do not have to feel awkward about talking in class. They are simply doing what the teacher asked them to do. We want a noisy classroom!
Set a Timer
Try to anticipate how much time students should need in groups to complete the activity. When you clearly communicate the time expectation before the activity starts, you are sending a signal to students that their efficiency does matter. Your time estimates will get better the more you practice and the better you get to know your students. Be willing to extend the time if many of your groups are not finished at the intended time.
Have your Questions Ready
Study the questions in the activity before teaching the lesson and try to anticipate common student roadblocks or misunderstandings that might come up during the activity. What will you be looking for on student papers and listening for in conversations? Once you identify a group that needs support, what questions will you ask to help them get unstuck and moving forward again.
Getting Student Work on the White Board
We always project a blank version of the activity on the white board and have our students write up their solutions. When we get to the teacher debrief of the activity, we are not starting from scratch, as we use the student solution to start a classroom discussion. We then help formalize the learning by adding margin notes around the student work.
Now, it does take time for students to write these answers up on the board. One strategy for efficiency is to identify the group that finishes the activity first and asking them to write solutions on the board. This way, the groups that still need more time to work through the activity are granted this time, while the group that finished early is not sitting around doing nothing.
Always Get Through the Important Ideas (QuickNotes)
The capstone of the formalization process is when the teacher provides the Important Ideas in the small box on the last page of the lesson. This formalization is critical for student learning, as it provides a summary of what they should take away from the lesson. This teacher summary is important for students to gain clarity around the intended learning targets. Budget yourself 5 - 7 minutes to be able to do this with fidelity and don't be afraid to rush your debrief of the activity in order to make this happen.
The Check Your Understanding (CYU) is Flexible
The intention of the Check Your Understanding problem at the end of each lesson is to give students a chance to practice their learning in a new context and in a more formal way than they did in the activity. While this is a nice way to do some formative assessment around the learning targets of the day, it is not always necessary. Most often, the activity covers all of the intended learning targets and would be enough for students to leave the classroom with what they need to work on some practice homework problems.