Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Essence of Time

Time has taken on an entirely different meaning since the birth of my daughter. Not only is the time of day (especially on weekends) somewhat irrelevant, but time also passes and feels differently than it once did. Sleeping for a few hours at a time can be just as good as a night filled with slumber. Time goes quickly-- didn't I just change her diaper? Time is more precious, too. I try to get as much done as effectively and efficiently as possible so as to get home before the sun sets. Spending time with my daughter and wife is the most important part of my day.

I have come to realize that I do not have time to waste.

But, it's not enough to just spend time with them; I want to spend quality time with them. For instance, I'd rather hold Elizabeth than just be in the same room with her. I'd rather talk to my wife about her day than just passively watch another Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I can hold Elizabeth in my arms while talking on the phone or packing my lunch (which takes a bit more than when I use both hands); however, I'd much rather watch her track me with her eyes, read her stories or pat her back to soothe a cry or encourage a burp. I am happy to at least be present. Just like there's a difference between lying down and sleeping, there's a difference between being present and being engaged.

Not to sound silly, but there's a difference between the level of commitment of the chicken and the pig in an eggs and bacon breakfast: the chicken was involved, the pig was committed.

When it comes to husbandry and fatherhood, I do not want to just be involved, I'd much rather be committed.

The same goes for my role as an educator. It's not enough just to keep students busy. It's also not enough just to cover the material. When it comes to teaching, we must be concerned with both the time on task of our students as well as the nature of the tasks on which we are asking them to spend time. Yes, we need to keep students busy; but, we must keep them busy on work that is worth doing.

One of the biggest indicators of student success is their time on task. The more that students are actively engaged throughout the course of a lesson or day, the more they are likely to have learned. This is extremely logical. If students are only on task for 4 out of their 8 hours in school, at the very best they can only learn 4 hours worth of material. Bump up the amount of time that students are being taught, working on labs, participating in discussions and producing work, and you will also increase the amount of learning taking place.

Similarly, we must ensure that this time spent on task is done on more than mere busy work. Learning must be focused on student-centered objectives. Activities must relate back to those objectives and lead to accomplishing others. Lessons should both spiral and scaffold, reviewing past concepts prior to introducing new ones and teaching lower order thinking skills (i.e. define, list, recognize) prior to reaching for higher ones (i.e. analyzing, synthesizing, comparing/contrasting, creating). In the end, students must be able to use their new knowledge in meaningful ways. Units should not necessarily end with a chapter test and the material forgotten after obtaining a particular grade. Students' knowledge should extend beyond the walls of the classroom and school and prepare them for a future of positively impacting our world.

None of this can be accomplished just by running in place or spinning our wheels through worksheets, end of the chapter questions and taking notes off of an overhead. An involved and well behaved group of students is a good first step, but it does not necessarily indicate the occurence of great learning. Not all students learn visually or audibly. Some require moving around (bodily-kinesthetic), incorporating music, working with others (interpersonal) or other non-traditional strategies to learn.

When it comes to education (or parenthood or even being married) time is of the essence. It's not enough to just be involved or present. We must take our presence a step further and be committed and engaged. Doing the first can lead to good things; doing the second can lead to incredible ones.

We must recognize that the essence of time is that it is a gift too valuable to waste.

Just be sure to make time for breakfast, even if it's just eggs with biscuits and gravy...unless, of course, it's chicken flavored.