So often in teaching when we try something new we wonder, “Why haven’t I done this all along??” Maybe it’s a grading technique or a behavior management strategy that you’ve implemented that you look back and can’t believe you ever taught without. This is how I feel about my classroom before I started doing Prime Times.
Prime Times are my fancy words for bell ringers, but I really see them more as more than that. They have become the foundation of my classroom routine and my #1 tool for formatively assessing students. If you haven’t tried daily bell ringers yet or you haven’t enjoyed doing them, keep reading as I tell you 3 reasons why I’ve found them so effective and 5 strategies for making them reduce your workload and not add to it.
Why they are effective
First, I love Prime Times because I truly believe that the most important time of the class period, the “Prime Time”, is the first 5 minutes. If you can get your students settled down, focused, thinking about your subject, and ready to learn within the first 5 minutes, you are set up to have a successful 55- or 90-minute class period with them. My students really appreciate having an established routine each and every day. They know when they walk in what is expected of them. They know what to do and how to do it. There is no lolly gagging in the halls or sitting on each other’s desks chatting before the bell rings. They get in, sit down and start working. I treasure the silence I hear when the bell rings and I close the classroom door, only to be interrupted by the sound of pencils scratching on paper.
Second, I love Prime Times because it is an opportunity for me to daily check in and see how my students are keeping up with the content. I don’t have time to collect assignments and grade them for accuracy daily. If I tried, I wouldn’t give them as good of feedback as they deserve and I wouldn’t be able to get feedback back to them quickly (I am firmly committed to a 24 hour return policy.) Instead, I grade a lot of homework and classwork practices for completion so that we can immediately go over them in class. Then I use the Prime Times to grade something quickly for accuracy to see if they actually get it. I only give the students 5 questions maximum a day because I only give them 5 minutes to complete them, so it isn’t much to grade at all. Because I am checking in on each kid daily in this way, I always have a gauge on where my students are, how I need to adjust instruction, and who I need to chase down to come to after school tutoring. It is a more effective and efficient use of my time to grade this small 5-question assignment daily than it is to try to grade mountains of practice handouts at the end of the week when it is already too late to track students down to correct their misunderstandings.
Third, I love Prime Times because they motivate students to think about my class daily. Even if the students don’t have homework for me every night (which they never do), they know that they will have a Prime Time the next day and that they need to spend 10-15 minutes each night reading through their notes to be prepared for it. Implementing Prime Times has gotten my students to start reviewing and studying the content sooner than the day before the test. It is also an opportunity to benefit students who are studying and taking notes. The questions aren’t in-depth, higher order thinking questions. They cover basic concepts from the content taught the day before. Additionally, it motivates absent students to stay caught up with their work because I require students with unexcused absences to do the Prime Time the day they return. Both the students and I benefit in the end!
How to implement most effectively
1. Make it a priority to do this daily!!!
Students of ALL ages do so well with structure and routine. I have never had a student in 6+ years of teaching that doesn’t appreciate knowing the teacher’s expectations and the structure of the class. Even if you have a full class period, such as a lab, where you will need every minute of class, don’t waste this time! Even if you want to create a Prime Time of having the students read the lab through and answer pre-questions, it is worth it to stick with routine in order to have a consistent classroom culture. Better yet, you can have the students read through the lab for homework and then give them Prime Time questions to see if they actually did it!
2. Have students use the same piece of paper for the whole week.
Every Monday my students pull out a fresh piece of paper when they get to class to use for the entire week’s Prime Times. I have them pass them backwards (in order) so that I can grade them easily and return them to their desks within 30 seconds of the previous class leaving. This saves paper for students and makes it easy for you to not have to keep up with as many papers. I paper clip them after I grade them and keep them in a folder on my front demo table. Speaking of grading…
3. Collect and grade daily.
I honestly try to grade these within the class period that I have the students, if at all possible, so on the same day as they did the Prime Time I can grab kids and talk to them about what they don’t understand or get them to come to tutoring. When do I find time to do this you may ask? You would be amazed how many little moments you have in a 50-minute class period to check these. If we are lecturing through a PowerPoint, I will grade a few while kids are writing down notes after I’ve explained each slide. If I assign a practice handout, I grade a few while kids are getting started before I start walking around and checking in on them. On a lab day I grade them while kids are gathering materials or working on analysis questions. I am not always able to get it done within class, but when I am it is so helpful for me and the students to touch base on their understanding! I just provide feedback and put in the margin how many points they missed (they are worth 5 points a day.) At the end of the week I tally up their points and give them a score in the grade book out of 25.
4. Don’t make kids who are absent re-do them – it will be a headache for you and them.
For kids that are absent, I just make a note on their paper when I am grading them for the day that they were absent. Then when I calculate for the week, I just calculate their score out of how many days they were present and convert it to the total for the rest of the class. (Example: If a student missed a day and earns a 15/20 for the 4 days they were at school, I calculate the percent which = 75% and then multiply .75 by 25 to get their score out of 25 for the week = 19/25)
5. Accommodate for your students.
If you are reading this you are probably teacher, so I know accommodation is your middle name because your job is pretty much making accommodations for different learning needs – All. The. Time. Like I mentioned before, some students need to use notes and that’s okay. Some resource students may need to be given the questions in advance. Do what is best for your kids while still maintaining the purpose and integrity of the assignment. I usually allow students to use their notes on their Prime Times because (1) it encourages students to take good notes, even when they miss a class; (2) I’m not expecting them to have everything memorized within 24 hours of learning it, but I do want them familiar enough with content to be able to reference their notes and answer the questions in 5 minutes; (3) Kids never forget their science binders for me anymore because they know they want their binders to help them with their Prime Times!
I know this was long but I am SO PASSIONATE ABOUT PRIME TIMES!!! I sincerely hope you will consider using them in your classroom and see that you can now have a stress-free first 5-minutes to start every class AND you can decrease the amount of assignments you have to collect and grade.
If you are a science teacher looking for Prime Times, I’ve made them for every day of the entire school year for biology, physical science, and anatomy. Check them out by clicking the pictures below!
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