For more than 50 years, success gurus in the business world have been urging employers and employees to work smarter not harder. In business, it often means to think big, delegate more, and let technology work for you. It’s often recommended for people who are overwhelmed with details, facing multiple deadlines, and feeling stressed out by all they have to do. Sounds just like many teachers getting ready for class each day, right?
I believe it’s possible for educators to work smarter not harder too, and here are some specific ways to achieve that lofty goal.
Quality Over Quantity
For class routine, research has consistently demonstrated that long lectures are deadly for learning. Having students take copious notes and then studying from them is a recipe for working harder. To work smarter, it’s wiser to break up the class into chunks – start with a short talk about concepts, then take some time to practice skills, engage in some peer discussion, and then do a little independent practice. This kind of routine is a balance of rest and activity that maximizes growth. It’s also more enjoyable. Retention is better when there are more “chunks” of learning. This also matches the modern tendency to get information in bite-size pieces, such as short news clips, short videos, short summaries, quick lookups on search engines, short conversations, etc. The idea is to aim for quality over quantity.
Complexity Over Difficulty
For developing lesson content, researcher David Sousa, in his 2006 edition of How the Brain Learns, notes how complexity and difficulty are different mental operations. Complexity refers to the thought process used to deal with information while difficulty refers to the amount of effort that is expended in learning something. It’s the difference between rigorous and arduous. The point is that, to work smarter, lesson content should focus on increasing complexity, not difficulty.
For example, a lesson could ask a student to write a paragraph that describes one character rather than write a paragraph that describes four characters. Or, a lesson could ask a student to compare two main characters in a story rather than compare four main characters. Or, a lesson could ask a student to explain how they add decimals rather than having them do a worksheet of 40 decimal problems.
Automatic Over Manual
For lesson delivery, teachers can work smarter by putting their lesson in more automatic mode. This works on two levels – 1) the teacher developing automaticity in his or her delivery: and 2) the use of technology to deliver the content more smoothly. If teachers practice such things as Checking for Understanding, Pair-Shares, Engagement Norms, Cognitive Modeling, EL Language Objectives, and other such strategies for class interaction, then eventually these become automatic. The goal is to be able to implement these without having to think about them. Like driving a car, the brain will have wired itself to manage these actions smoothly.
Secondly, if teachers become proficient in using a variety of technological tools to deliver the lesson, then the lesson itself can go smoother and easier (if the technology cooperates). Tools can range from simple whiteboards to PowerPoint to Smart Boards to iPads and a lot in between. The goal is the efficiency that automating can bring. The teacher needs to be able to use these strategies to speed up the learning, and not rely on older manual procedures that smack of difficulty and slow, rough learning.
Sharp Over Dull
Finally, for lesson preparation, teachers can work smarter if they adopt the template and the saw approaches to getting ready for class. The template approach means to use lesson models that have already been developed rather than trying to re-invent the wheel for each lesson. The beauty of this approach is that it saves time, and allows the teacher to concentrate on delivery and connecting with the students. This is definitely working smarter not harder!
The saw approach means that the smart teacher will spend time sharpening their saw. The story is that a lumberjack who keeps cutting trees will eventually get a dull saw and be less efficient in his work. But, if he spends time sharpening his saw, then he will get more done faster. The same holds true for teachers. If we just keep going nonstop, then we end up with burnout and dull lessons. But, if we take the time to replenish our energies – through regular sleep, food, exercise, and inspiration – then our lessons will be more effective. We will be using our mind to be sharp in class not dull.
Work smarter not harder is NOT a meaningless buzz phrase. It’s an actual strategy for getting more done in the time allotted. If we want to teach our students to be smarter, then we need to act that way too. We can model for them that smarter means more than just good grades; it’s striving for quality, engaging with complexity, moving to automaticity, and maintaining our sharpness. It really means being efficient in all that we do!
The bottom line here is that if we, the teachers, maximize these ways of working smarter, then we will provide Great Initial First Teaching (GIFT). More students will be successful the first time — that‘s the ultimate working smarter.
To help teachers work smarter, DataWORKS offers READY TO TEACH® Lessons which are a template for presenting concepts and skills but rely on the teacher’s own unique input to deliver the lesson. These lessons are also broken into “chunks” for quality learning, and higher-order questions are used to boost the complexity. They are presented by PowerPoint, allowing the teacher an easy way to guide the lesson with technology.