Making the Most of Every Minute (Ep. 073)

We know that the life of an art teacher is hectic, and the schedule can be nonstop. So how do you calm the chaos and make the most of your instructional time? In today’s episode, Cassie talks about what to do when you need an extra minute to set up at the beginning of class, strategies for more effective transitions, and ideas to keep kids engaged the entire time they are in your classroom.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: If you are an elementary teacher, then you are familiar with the magical game called Quiet Mouse. Now, I’ve heard it called a couple of different things by other teachers, but when I explain it, you’re all gonna know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve got a group of kids. You want them to stand quietly, patiently, and silently, which is the same thing as quietly. So you pick one kiddo and they look at the lineup of children standing before them. Whoever they deem to be the quietest, the stillest, that probably the best friendliest, then they pick that person to be the next Quiet Mouse.

I have seen this game played probably hundreds of times. I’ve played it in my room. I’ve seen teachers do it up and down the hallways. Whenever there’s a little bit of lag time, usually they’re waiting for me probably or waiting for kids to come out of the restroom, teachers are always playing this game. You say it, it’s universal in my school. All kids know exactly what the game is and how to play it. But if you stop and think about how much instructional time is lost to the ridiculousness of this pointless and uneducational game, if you add those numbers up, you’d probably be pretty stinking shocked.

I have found that the three biggest wasters of time in my room are the beginning of art class, the transition time, and the end of art class. When I see wasting of time, I mean just minutes lost where we’re moving around. I’m trying to get the kids corralled into wherever we’re going next, or getting into the room. A lot of times those transitional minutes, they could be really an educational experience.

So over the years, I’ve come up with a couple of things that I do during those three key time losing times. I wanted to share them with you today so that you could give them a shot in your art room for the new year. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.

Now, most of you all know this because I mention it every other podcast, but for my kindergarten through second-grade students, I have 30 minutes of art with them twice a week. So it does kinda end up being 60 minutes. I say of kinda, that all depends on if a teacher’s on time, and if I’m on time as well. But with 30 minutes to get your students in your room, get them learning, get them creating, cleaned up, and then out the door, every single solitary minute counts. In my classes, many of them are back to back to back.

So one moment I’ll have two classes of kindergarten back to back, as soon as they leave, my fourth graders are walking in the room. Like you, when you have one grade level leaving and another one walking in, you need to get different supplies out. You need just a couple of minutes to either have them help you or you scramble around the room and do it yourself, which I have found a lot of times is a lot easier. During that time, it can be so easy to be like, “Hey guys, come on in, sit down. So and so, start a game of Quiet Mouse. I need a couple minutes to set up.”

Two minutes have gone by and that time is now gone. Time that you could have been teaching. Or when there’s the transitional period where you have kids who are finishing up. When my students finish up a project, after they’ve cleaned and put their things away, they gather, usually again on the floor, unless it’s close to us leaving. In that time I could say, “Hey, y’all, why don’t you just sit there and talk quietly amongst yourself?” That’s time lost.

At the end of our class, for me, normally we are working up until the last minute until one of the kids says, “Hey, are we late for PE?” “Yes, we are. We’re a good three minutes late as usual.” However, there are the random times when there’s a full moon that my life has come together, all the stars have aligned and were actually lined up a few minutes early. Instead of just using that time to … I don’t know, have the kids chat or whatever, why not make those moments count?

So when I do find that I either need spare time, like at the beginning of class, or I actually have a couple of extra minutes with my kids at the end, there are certain games and things that we do and that we play the kind of maximize our minutes. So I’m going to share those with you today.

When my students walk in the door, they all gather on the floor, and I sit in a chair in front of them. I use my document cam, and that’s my instructional area. My students know as soon as they walk in, to walk in and take a seat on the floor. Sometimes, however, I don’t have time to immediately jump into teaching the lesson. Perhaps I need to have some students helped me change out supplies, change water cups, whatever.

In that meantime, what I like to do is pick one, student and I usually do this when my students are standing outside of my door, and I’ll say to them as they’re standing there, “I’m looking for somebody to start our See, Think, and Wonder game.” And if they know when I’m walking out the door that, that’s what I’m looking for, it will oftentimes, not all the time, encourage them to stand quietly outside of my door.

So what I do is this, I will pick, we’ll say Madison, “Madison, go sit in my chair and Go Be the Teacher.” That’s what we call it, Go Be the Teacher. She will sit in my chair, and on my television screen, I will have a work of art. Now, the work of art sometimes is something that we’re currently chatting about. Perhaps we’re learning about Vincent Van Gogh, so they’re looking at the Starry Night. Or perhaps we’re just doing something else entirely, so I put up a different work of art. Usually, it’s whatever I have on hand. Meaning if the previous class was learning about Kandinsky, well what do you know? There’s a Kandinsky on the TV screen.

The friend who’s playing the teacher, she waits for everybody to sit down in front of her on the floor, and then she’s got three questions. What do you see? What do you think, and what do you wonder? Usually, the person sitting in the chair will start with, “What do you see?” And I used to even have little cards that they could hold up. One had an eyeball for see, obviously. One had a question mark for think, and the other one had … What was see, think … No, think was not a question mark. I believe think was a light bulb. There we go, and then wonder was the question mark.

I usually would tell the student to let three students talk for see, pick three kids, to tell you what they see. Then move onto the next card. What this does is it gets my students in, sitting down quietly, already focused on a work of art, already talking about art with another student leading them. If you’re concerned about, “Oh, my kids would never sit down nicely on the floor. My kids would be talking over each other.” That’s when that happy/sad word that you hear me chat about a lot comes in really handy. Because not only is the teacher, the student sitting in my chair responsible for asking them, what do you see, what do you think, what do you wonder? But it also is a great way for them to monitor behavior.

If that person sitting in the chair decides, you know what? Kids are shouting at me, they start drawing lines under the sad, and it will usually have the same effect. I’ll even say from across the room, “Oh, I hear somebody talking out. Please make sure you give us a line under the sad face for that because we know better than that.” So what this does in the meantime it gives me a minute to gather up supplies, get my things together, get my life together, while the kids are completely engaged in looking at a work of art.

So I encourage you to try, See, Think, or Wonder. You don’t even have to have an image on your television. It could be something simple as a large poster or a visual that you just want to have on an easel. If time allows, the kids can look at that work of art. What I love about it is, is that the end of class sometimes if you have extra time, you can go back and talk about that work of art. Usually, when I transition to me becoming the teacher, I’ll say, “Thank you so much, Madison. You’re an awesome teacher.” And I’ll just throw a couple of tidbits or facts about the work of art to my students. Especially, if it’s an artist that we’re currently talking a lot about and delving into his or her work.

So, I encourage you to give it a shot, if you are like me and you don’t have any minutes between your classes and you want to maximize your minutes with your students.

Okay. Now, let’s talk about transition time. For me, my first graders are the ones, and sometimes my kindergarten, but for some reason this year, my first graders, they are all over the place when it comes to finishing a work of art. I’ll have some that will work on it forever. They’re so meticulous. I mean it’s like watching a turtle walk across the street, but the end result is always something beautiful. I hate to rush my pokey little puppies because that’s the kind of artists that I am, so I can totally relate.

Then, of course, there’s always the speed demons who are flying through their works of art. I will usually if I see a work of art placed on the drying rack that I don’t deem to be their best work or completely finished, I’ll call them back to work on it some more. But, usually you guys know your kids, you know which ones are going to finish fast and finish well because there are those. You also know the ones who are going to finish fast, and you better get on over there and check that work because you know it’s not finished well. You know they can do better.

So when my students are finished and they have placed their paintbrushes away, they’ve put their artwork on the drying rack, they’ve pushed in their chair, they’ve tied their table, then they know to go ahead and gather on the floor. What I like to do during this time is a couple of things. If I have a small trickle of kiddos, maybe just three students, then what I will do is I will put one of my how to draw books on my overhead projector or my document cam. Saying, overhead projector,” totally dates me. Can you tell I’m an 80s kid? On my document cam. Then they grab a dry erase board and a marker, and then they can sit there and practice drawing.

This makes it so for a couple of minutes, my kids are still engaged in drawing. They’re still working, and they’re not distracting their friends. They’re focused. What I usually do is if I have a student who goes to the floor first, we’ll say Madison again. If Madison goes to the floor first, I’ll say, Madison, “You can draw from what’s on the TV.” And a lot of times I’ll make I’m drawing sheets for my students to draw from.

If we’re learning about James Rizzi and the next step in our project, we’re going to be drawing buildings, I will put a how to draw building sheet on the overhead document cam. “Madison, when you get five friends on the floor, let me know.”

The reason I do this is that when I have a larger volume of kids on the floor, I don’t want them all to sit there for three to five minutes, just doodling on a dry erase board. I want to maximize those minutes. So if my girl Madison hollers at me and says, “Okay, we’ve now got five,” the kids know, all right, put away those dry erase boards. And if we have time, a lot of times we don’t, the rare occasion that we do have a couple of minutes where there’s a handful of kids still working at their seats, but a handful of kids on the floor, what I will do is essentially play a round of Pictionary.

My students love … we call it the Drawing Game. My students love this. I even have an old set of Pictionary cards that I got at the thrift store. If my students are old enough, like my first and second graders, the words on the cards are simple enough for them to read. So I will usually show them the card. They nod their head when they figure out there’s a list of four on the card when they figure out which one they want to draw. Then I set my timer for one minute, and then they draw.

Meanwhile, the kids are raising their hand to tell me what they think the artist is drawing. It’s a fun game. The kids enjoy it. It makes it so my other kids are still at their seats and working. Then able to put away the things, and trickle to the floor and join us. So that’s a little something that we do during our transition time. Usually, in 30 minutes, the next step of that transition is to talk about cleanup, getting everything packed up and put away, and then lining up.

So when I do have my older students who I have for 60 minutes, my third and fourth graders, I don’t often play this game. But when we do, if almost all the kids are on the floor, our next transition is to talk about what’s happening next in our project. But I like to do this game at the end of class because if I try to do this in the middle and then transition my third and fourth graders into the next phase of their project, usually they don’t want to stop playing. They absolutely love this game.

So it would be great if you do class parties too because it’s always a hit. Not only that, but the kids do get a little energetic. So it’s hard sometimes to bring them back down once you’ve gotten them that hyped up with the drawing game.

All right. Lastly, on the rare occasion that we have gotten all of our masterpieces packed up and put away on the drying rack, paint brushes are gone, wiped those tables down, and we happen to be in line, dare I say early … this is such rare occurrence in my room, let me just tell you, when this happens, we play the kid’s … another favorite game of theirs called the Smartest Artist. I have an entire blog post all about this. I also have a video, I believe with AOE, that you can find on the AOE website. I show you what the Smartest Artists looks like, but essentially it’s this.

I will use my microphone. I have a microphone that I purchased from Amazon by Bonaok, B-O-N-A-O-K. It’s the best 30 bucks I ever did spend. It’s so awesome and the kids love it. We use it at least two times per art class. Once during clean up, another time during the Smartest Artist. I will use my microphone to announce, “And now it’s time for …” and all the kids say, “The Smartest Artist.” Then I pick three kids from the line for doing an awesome job.

I’ll pick one boy to be a host, one girl to be a hostess, and another random kiddo out to be the sound effects engineer. I have this tiny little red gadget, it’s called the Sound Machine. Google it. It’s amazing. It’s got a bunch of buttons on it that you could press that make different sounds. One of them being a drum roll, another being a handclap, and there’s a bunch, but the other three that … these are only three that we use. The third one is that, wonk wonk wonk.

So to start the game, I’ll toss the first question out to either the boys or the girls. “Girls, please tell me the three primary colors.” All the girls raised their hand. The hostess will pick one of the girls. The sound effects engineer will hit the drum roll, please. The person picked to tell us the answer will tell us the answer, hopefully, it’s correct. Then the sound effects engineer presses, little applause clapper. And the girls get a point on our dry erase scoreboard, which is situated right next to our line. Whew, I think, does that make sense? I’m hoping so.

You don’t have to have the little sound effect’s thing to make the magic happen. I personally love it. I also, using my microphone, when a student is called on to answer the question, I put the microphone next to them so they can say it into the mic. This just makes it so all of the kids feel engaged and they want to participate. Of course, when they play this game, every kid wants to be the sound effects engineer because who doesn’t want to press buttons on a little machine that makes sounds. But if you have that microphone and you’re allowing them a time to talk into it, it also encourages 100% participation, trust me.

Then we pass the question over to the boys, “Boys, what are the secondary colors?” The game just continues until time runs out, and I always make it so we have a tie. I’ve only had one kid pick up on that. “It’s so weird how we always have a tie when we play the Smartest Artist, Miss Stephens.” “I know, what a coincidence. We’re just so stinking smart.”

If you are being evaluated, all three of these transitional things are great. Because the beginning of art class, you can be introducing artwork. You’re doing the questioning, which questioning is what I always get dinged in my evaluations. But if at the beginning of art class, the kids are questioning one another about works of art, what? You’ve got that questioning on lockdown. If you want to see complete engagement, you do that drawing game. Tie in whatever artists they’re learning about. If they’re drawing animals, then have them draw different kinds of animals.

So, think of a theme that you could have for that drawing game, so it actually does have more of a purpose. Same with that extra little doodling time on the dry erase boards. Then at the end of the class, if you can use the smartest artist game as a wrap-up, as kind of a post-assessment, then you are killing it. So don’t try all of these at once. I mean, if it sounds like a lot just ease on into it.

Think about where are you losing your minutes? Are Your minutes getting zapped away at the beginning of a class, middle, end, where’s it going? And how can you maximize those minutes to really engage your students from the minute they walked into the door, till the minute you kick them right out? Not that you’re going to do that, but it’s kind of what I do.

Thank you so much, guys, for letting me share. I would love to hear from you if you use any of these in your art room.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz, the host of Art Ed Radio. As always, I want to thank you for listening to Cassie every week here on Everyday Art Room. I also want to tell you about the Art Ed Now Conference. On Saturday, February 2nd, we will have over 20 presentations that are all online, all incredible, and all relevant to what you’re doing right now in your classroom.

Each presentation comes with resources and handouts for your classroom. And you have access to every presentation for a full year after the Conference. If you haven’t attended an Art Ed Now Conference before, give it a try this winter. It’ll be a day of innovative and inspiring talks, new ideas and resources and downloads you can use throughout the year. You can learn everything you need to know about the Conference at artednow.com. Make sure you go check it out after this episode is over.

Cassie: Now, it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This first question is all about what I read to my students. I love to read to my students. I recently got a question asking what is it exactly that I enjoy reading to my students? So, to be clear, for my hour-long classes when my students are settled down and working, in order to choose to help my third and fourth graders focus more, and do a little bit more of focused work and less jibber jabbering with each other, I read to them.

I remember when I was in fourth grade, my fourth-grade teacher read … I don’t even remember what book she read to us, and I absolutely loved it. In fact, we weren’t even doing anything, except staring off into space. Which is probably the best way to have somebody read to you, so you can just use your mind’s eye. But I love reading to my kids now when I have time. It’s often difficult if you’re doing something like clay or weaving when you need to be on-hand for your students.

But, one of the reasons I love to read to them is because if you start helping one student, next thing you know, they all need assistance. When if you actually pull yourself away from the situation and make it so you’re not so accessible, so they can’t ask for help for every teeny tiny little thing that you know they can do on their own, if you’re reading to them, that removes that ability for them to come to stalk you and seek you out for every little bit of help. So that’s another reason that I would encourage you to read to your students while they’re working.

What do I read? Currently, my students love having me read Shel Silverstein, poems. All the Shel Silverstein poem books, there’s three of them that I have found, I’ve actually found at the thrift store. But your librarian should have them too. A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends. The third one is … I can’t recall, but all three of them are amazing. They are filled with such fun and just hilarious poems that your kids are going to love. My fourth graders, adore them.

I also remember in second grade, being read Shel Silverstein, poems. And just the amount of imagination that goes into each one of those poems really can inspire your students. In fact, if you have kids that finish early, they could use that as their inspiration for a drawing task. Another thing that I love to read, if you like to read chapter books to your students, my students really loved the book, The Hundred Dresses, and it’s a great story about kindness and it’s just so sweet. I think you will love it. I read it every year to my third and fourth-grade students. Yeah, and even though called, The Hundred Dresses, the boys love it, also.

My next question is all about, how do I mat artwork for art shows like Artome or school art shows. So, for Artome, you can have your students create artwork on the paper they send you. If you’re not familiar, it’s the company that will frame your artwork, and host an art show for you. You can have kids create artwork on a separate piece of paper, and then attach it.

Then when we do end of the year art shows, I try to mat, or sometimes even double mat with just construction paper, smaller works of art, just to make them pop a little bit. It always looks a little bit nicer to have a nice solid frame of color around a work of art before hanging on a wall. It looks better than just a piece of paper stuck to a wall, says me. So how do you do that quickly, efficiently? I love to use spray glue. Spray glue is my favorite thing, and I just set it up like a factory style.

I usually have a couple of moms on hand that helped me, especially during art show time, where we’ll spray just a light mist of 3M … is my favorite, 3M spray glue on the back of a work of art. Flip it over, put it on the frame of construction paper. I like to use black, usually. Flip the entire piece of construction paper over. Rub the back to make sure that it’s nice and smooth. Then you’re not damaging the front of the artwork by rubbing the front. Then while voile, you’ve got it framed. I like it better than glue, because of glue …

Glue, you’ve heard me talk about how much I don’t like glue. Well, it’ll seep out through the sides. If you stack your artwork, it could start to stick together. The frame becomes a little bit warped because of the dampness of the glue. Hot glue always leaves a little bit of a weird line, like a three-dimensional line on the artwork, so spray glue is my jam. If you use it, definitely cover the surface of the table that you’re working on because it is spray glue in, and it literally gets everywhere.

Thanks for the question, guys. If you have a question for me, you should send it my way. You can find me at everydayartroom@theartofed.com.

Many moons ago, my husband was, I guess a camp counselor, or something, or a camp leader. I don’t know what they’re called. I attended camps, I never worked at a camp. He told me about this game they used to play called, Sleep, where all the kids would lay down and see who could be the best at pretending that they were asleep.

So if all else fails, there’s just something else that you can try. I wouldn’t play the Sleep game when you’re being evaluated. Yeah, definitely wouldn’t do that. Anyway, I hope that some of these ideas and activities that I’ve thrown your way today can help you maximize those minutes. Because, especially with those 30-minute art classes, you blink and the class is five minutes late for PE every single time. Have an awesome week, guys.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.