Classroom Management

Slow Down! How to Deal with Fast Finishers! (Ep. 056)

Last week, the guys talked at length about the slow finishers–the ones who never get work done. This week, they are back to talk about the other end of the spectrum–the fast finishers! It can be frustrating as a teacher to fill all of that down time that and deal with the misbehaviors that come from it. Listen as they guys discuss why fast finishers cause stress for both teachers and fellow students (4:00), how to deal with the excuses kids make (13:15), and proactive classroom management strategies (17:00). Full episode transcript below.


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Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education, and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick.

Last week, Tim and I discussed one of our frustrations as teachers: pacing. Now, we spent all last podcast talking about how frustrating those slowpokes can be — you know, those kids that can never seem to finish — and we talked about some tricks on how to work with them. Well, I’m back with Tim this week to discuss the equally frustrating and problematic — and let’s be honest, maybe these kids are even more so — those fast finishers, those kids that just seem to fly through project, and just can’t be bothered to put the care and devotion into the quality and craft of the artwork. They can be tricky, because, you know, what the heck do we do with them, as everyone else is finishing up at the pace that we were anticipating?

You know, just like last week, when we asked if it’s fair to complete all students to complete all artwork, I’m wondering if it’s fair to heap on busywork onto our fast finishers. Or are there some things that we can do that are more fair, that are more proactive or retroactive, that we can do to keep those students engaged? This entire episode is focused on speed, and how frustrating it can be to have fast finishers. And let’s be honest with why those kids are so frustrating. Those kids have downtime, and downtime is what can lead to kids messing around and creating behavioral issues, and those issues are the things that can derail a class, and we’ve all been there.

So you’d better have a tight classroom management plan in place. If you don’t, you might want to tighten up on a few things. That’s why AOE’s class, Managing the Art Room, is such a great asset. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and maybe it’s a way to bolster my own fortitude, but you really can reclaim your room and reclaim your sanity with Managing the Art Room. It’s a two-credit class, and it starts at the beginning of every month, so head on over to and check it out.

I’m excited to bring Tim on again, but this time, we’re back to our separate corners of Omaha and Des Moines. You know, it’s okay, though; I think we were both on a little bit of overload with each other. You know, we saw each other about a month ago, and then we hung out at the NAEA conference a few weeks ago. It’s been good, but all things in moderation.

All right, so joining me tonight is Tim Bogatz. Tim, how you doing, man?

Tim: I am doing well. How are you?

Andrew: I’m doing good. So hey, you know, last week on the podcast, we discussed those slow-moving students, which we kind of established and talked about, you know, those kids are pretty tricky, they’re frustrating, they can slow down our overall pace and how we’re keeping the class moving. But I kept thinking last week that those super-fast kids are even more frustrating to me than the slower finishers. So, do you think that fast finishers are just as tricky as our slow finishers?

Tim: Oh, for sure, yeah. I would say they’re worse, because they cause even more stress on you as a teacher. Like, the slow finishers, that’s fine, like, you know what they’re working on, and fast finishers, you have to either keep them engaged or keep them entertained, or they’re going to start causing trouble. So the slow finishers, you’d know what they’re doing, but the fast finishers, you need to find something for them to do, and so that’s just extra stress, extra planning, and it makes it really, really difficult on you as a teacher. I don’t know, what about you? Like, would … Yeah, do you think the fast finishers are worse?

Andrew: Oh, yeah. I mean, like you said, I mean, slow finishers, it’s like, “Okay, you are only kind of hurting yourself, because now you’re feeling stressed, because we’ve introduced a new project, and you’re still kind of working on the old one.” When it comes to the fast finishers, they stress everybody. They stress out and put a strain on you as the teacher, because what are we going to do with them? They start screwing around, and they can actually distract other students, so they can … Their early finishing can actually be one of the reasons why other kids are slow to finish, because they’re screwing around, right, and messing with them.

Tim: Yes, exactly.

Andrew: And yeah, so, I mean, they’re just … They’re pretty tricky, and I think back to, like, my first year of teaching. I had this guy who was actually kind of like an IT director, and he had this nice quote that said, “Kids don’t do nothing well,” and I’ve just always kind of thought of that. Like, yeah. When we have problems with students, it’s probably because we didn’t script and have planned every minute. Now, the other weird tangent, man, that I keep thinking about is like … You know, both these episodes are really about pace and pacing, and scope. People who are TAB, I think, probably have less of an issue with this. Would you think that that’s true, or do you think that they also have issues with fast and slow pacing, it just may look different?

Tim: Yeah, I think it probably just looks different. Yeah, I don’t know, I can’t speak to that super-well, because I don’t have a ton of experience with a TAB classroom, but my impression is you’re still, no matter your pedagogy, no matter how you teach, you still want kids creating work to the higher end of their ability. Like, you still don’t want them rushing through work. And so, no matter how you’re teaching, you want kids to be intentional, you want them to put time in, you want them to focus on what they’re doing, and create the best art that they can. I think part of that, in … Part of the reason it’s so frustrating is when kids rush through stuff, you know it’s not the best that they can do, you know that there’s something more in there, and so no matter how you approach those kids, you’re trying to get better work out of them, right?

Andrew: Right, right. And I think, you know, one of the things I hear from people who are full-on TAB — and I’m not there, and don’t really … I don’t know if I ever anticipate being there, but you might open up some centers, some stations, some choice, and have a kid who, like, “Okay, boom, five minutes, I got my painting done. Um, can I go to the next station?” And with them, I could see it meaning, or looking like, “Holy cow, slow down on the materials, dude. Like, you’re going to burn us out of all these materials if you’re just, like, flying through stuff.” So I guess, yeah, I think they probably also have an issue with pacing; it just probably looks a little bit different.

You know, one of the things that we talked about in our last episode is, like, are there some different reasons why students are working slow? So I wonder if we can apply the same question to why kids are working fast. Like, do you think there’s a reason for it? I mean, if we’ve told them, like, “Listen, you need to slow down, we want you to do this,” and they just continually are flying through it, I mean … Do you see there being kind of an underpinning or a reason why kids are working so fast?

Tim: Oh, I’m sure it’s different for every kid, but I think there’s a lot of accomplishment – kids are trained to get things done quick, be proud of themselves, “Hey, I’ve really accomplished something.” But I think for a lot of other kids, it’s their version of being lazy. I mean, I know that seems kind of counterintuitive, but they just rush through their work in order to be able to sit around and do nothing, which I think is kind of crazy. But I see that a lot with high school kids, where, like, their biggest goal in live is to sit around and do nothing, so the more quickly they can get through their project, the more quickly they can sit there and just be lazy. And so that seems like a weird incentive to me, but it really is an incentive for a lot of kids.

Andrew: Yeah, I think you’re right on the money, and I … You know, I honestly think I have less of that. I feel like the kids that I have this year who are really quick finishers and fast finishers, it’s more the “I get a great sense of fulfillment in knowing that I’ve gotten something done, and I’ve moved it from the ‘I’m working on this column’ to the, like, ‘I’m done’ column, and who gives a rip about quality?” It’s just like, “I just want to know I’m done, I just want to know I don’t have to work on this anymore.”

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: And I think both of what we’re talking about, you know, you’re talking about sort of this roundabout way to having lazy downtime, and then the kid who just wants to be Type A and get everything done right away so that they know they’re done, both of these types of students are really missing the point of what creativity and art-making is about, and why it’s beneficial. So I don’t know. How do you think we can … I know we’re … Maybe I’m jumping ahead a little bit and talking solutions, but how do you get them to understand the importance of art, and do you think that that’s enough? I mean, do you just say, like, “Listen, I want to have a serious conversation with you about the importance of art,” and then they’re going to see the error in their ways, or is it more than that?

Tim: Yeah, I don’t know. Like, I’ve never been able to convince kids of that all that … Like, maybe I’m not persuasive enough, but those kids that are just rushing through work, I don’t know that I can sit them down and, like, explain to them all of the wonderful things that are out there for them in the art world. I just … I don’t know that their mind is ready to think that way. I guess my approach has been more like, “Well, what else can you do?” Like, sitting around doing nothing is not a great option, or sitting around and doing your math homework, also not a great option, because I want kids doing art in the art room.

So I guess rather than try and, like, convince them of why they need to slow down, or why they need to put more care and effort in them, I give them other options of things to do, and so … Whether that be some drawing prompts, or some sketchbook works, or a choice project, whatever the case may be, I think it’s really important to have kids finding something else to do, so they don’t have that downtime, they don’t have that time where they’re doing nothing. And I think once they realize that … And maybe this gets into a whole classroom-management discussion, but once they realize that there’s not going to be any downtime, a lot of times, they will slow down, they will put more care and more effort into their original project. I know that’s kind of a roundabout way of answering your question, but just always having something for them to do is something that has worked for me.

Andrew: So, okay, we’re talking definitely strategies here, and let’s just assume that … Boy, this is going to be the magical unicorn here. We’re kind of assuming that all of our kids who finish early, the work is not great, that they either rush through it to just be done, or because they’re not thoughtful, or they want downtime, or whatever. Do you ever have students who finish early and also are making top-notch work?

Tim: Yes, I do, but that comes with a caveat. Like, those kids have never been a problem for me. Generally, those kids are so self-motivated, or they love art so much that they just move on to the next thing that they want to work on, or they can sit down and have a discussion with me about, you know, what might be coming next, what else they’d like to develop, what ideas they want to chase. And so I’ve never thought of that as a management problem or an issue that I need to deal with. Like, the kids who move quickly and make great work generally just move on to make more great work, and so it’s not anything that I’ve ever worried about. What about you? Do you run into that issue?

Andrew: I get it a little bit. I was just thinking, as I said that, that that never happens to me, and then instantly, I have like three students that come to mind as that fell out of my mouth. But yeah, I think you’re right, that those kids probably are not the ones that we’re really worried about, and they’re not the ones that are causing us frustration. Because you’re right, they get done early, and they’re like, “Hey, I really want to get out my own sketchbook with my own materials and work on something that I’ve been working on at home,” and you’re like, “Oh my God, I love you, you’re like the most” …

Tim: I’m not going to say no to that!

Andrew: Yeah, “You’re like the most amazing kid ever.” But … So let’s talk about a kid that’s kind of similar to that, and see if this would drive you bonkers, or if you have any solutions. So a kid who rushes through their work, you know, it’s not great, you can tell they’re kind of phoning it in, and just like, “It’s good enough,” and then you get the classic, like, “Well, I think you could do better,” “No, I want it like that. I, I wanted it to look that way.”

Tim: Oh God, I hate that so much.

Andrew: That can be tough, but let’s say that that kid does that because then, they really want to get into, let’s say, free drawing of anime characters, which, you know, it’s not very original, they’re doing-

Tim: Which you know how much I love.

Andrew: Right. I brought that up because I knew that would kind of irk you a little bit. But let’s say they want to do some free drawing, some sketchbook work, that you find is, like, they’re not really stretching themselves much, they’re not doing anything new. Are you cool with that, you not cool with that? I mean, is it kind of one of those things where you’ve got to pick your battles and see how it goes? I mean, they’re just rushing through the work to get to something that’s really not as rich as what you had planned for them to be doing with their time.

Tim: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s worth a discussion. Like, part of me says, “Who am I to judge what the ‘better’ artwork is,” you know, quote-unquote “better.” But I think any situation like that is worth a discussion with your kid. I think it’s worth calling them out and saying, “I have a feeling that you’re just rushing through this so you can get to,” you know, X or Y or Z. And just to kind of gauge their reaction, and then it’s time for an honest conversation with them. Like, if you’re okay with them moving on and doing their own work, then encourage them to do that. If you want them to spend a little more time, develop their ideas a little bit more, hey, then I think that’s worth explaining to them too, and just kind of see where that conversation takes you.

But any time a kid’s like, “No, I wanted it like that,” I always follow up with, “Why did you want it like that?” And if they have a legitimate reason, and they can explain to you what their thinking is, that’s awesome, but 99% of the time, that doesn’t happen. Like, they really are just trying to rush through. And I think, like I said, that’s the time when you call them out, that’s the time when you discuss with them what your expectations are, what you want them to do. So I don’t know. What’s your approach?

Andrew: Well, I don’t think I have very much of that. I mean, in a weird way, I don’t know, I feel like we’ve been talking a lot about kind of, “Okay, it’s not great when kids finish early, because they’ll screw around,” and we’re kind of coming up with alternative solutions after the fact.

Tim: Right.

Andrew: I want to ask you, maybe, like, do you … I want to deflect here. I don’t want to answer that question. I want to ask you a better question. Do you think there’s some things we can do, even proactively, so we don’t always have to play fix-up, and try to put out the fire that’s burning. This kid’s trying to be on their phone, they’re trying to watch movies, they’re trying to work on their math homework, they’re doing really crappy drawings. What can we do, even ahead of time, if we know a kid is a habitual early finisher, just flying through projects?

Tim: Yeah, I think there’s a couple things. In high school, I think we’ve talked about this before on the show, but I always run three projects at a time, where we have our regular project that we’re doing, plus a choice project, plus sketchbook assignments. And so that’s just part of my system, and kids know that when they finish their work, they need to move on to a choice project or a sketchbook assignment. I think that’s a really good way to be proactive, and just establish with your kids that when you’re done, we are moving on to something else. And I think that’s pretty effective.

When I taught elementary, you know, there’s all kinds of good things that you can do for early finishers, but I just had a binder with some drawing activities, some writing prompts or sketchbook prompts, a little bit of modeling clay, just a handful of things that kids can do that you think are still worthwhile, and just kind of teach them, you know, “Once you’re finished, I want you to move on to this, move on to this.” And if it still has a little bit of structure, then I think you can avoid, like you said, putting out those fires. Do you have any proactive strategies, or are you just going to deflect and keep asking me stuff?

Andrew: I think I’m going to deflect, because you’re better at this than I am, man. You’ve got better answers than I have. No, I’ll elaborate. I mean, I think … I’ll elaborate, and then I’ll expound. I mean, I feel like I’m kind of similar. You know, I’ll have a … When I was an elementary teacher, I had my bin of free drawing ideas, and “how to draw” books, and rubbing plates, and all of this stuff. When I taught more traditional high school, I had … Boy, okay. I had, like … I would usually run, like, an extra project, like, “Okay, for you handful of students who get done early, here’s kind of an enrichment activity that’s kind of related.” So if we were doing something with color, here’s another smaller kind of tidbit, like, you know, aftermath kind of project that was similar.

Here’s my question to you, and I think that those were fine, but I don’t know that they were proactive. I think I just played a lot of catch-up once the problems started to happen.

Tim: Right.

Andrew: I actually noticed that sometimes my … In my attempt to fix the problem, I actually poured gasoline on the fire, and made it worse. I would come up with, like, extra projects, right? I almost said “extra-credit projects,” but I want to get to that. I would make an enrichment project, or an extra project, or my free drawing bin was, like, so good, that I almost encouraged kids to go faster and be more thoughtless so that they could hurry up and get more to the fun activity. Does that make any sense?

Tim: Yeah, for sure, and I’ve seen a lot of teachers do that before, because you want to make it worthwhile, but … And yeah, just unknowingly, you’re creating a new problem.

Andrew: Yeah, so, I mean, I kind of stopped doing that, because I noticed, God, all I did was encourage people to slop through their work faster to get to this quote-unquote “project” that they think is more fun than the traditional one. And I’ve got to say, that was actually one of the first seeds in my mind, when I realized I was doing that, where I was like, I need to offer up more choices up front that the students can pick.

Tim: Yes, yes.

Andrew: So if all of my students are starting to pick, like, “Actually Option B, this extra project looks way more fun than Option A,” that was when I was like, hmm, maybe I need to offer up more options up front to allow them to pick which one they think is the right difficulty or creativity for them. So I don’t know, I kind of abandoned doing that, but then in some ways, I’ve fleshed it out in other ways.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s a really good idea, and I think something that takes a lot of teachers a long time to realize, or a long time to get to. I think the sooner you get there and offer kids more choice and more voice, the better off you’re going to be.

Andrew: Wait, I’m going to take this as an opportunity to say that you just complimented me in a roundabout way, because I figured that out by, like … I figured that out by, like, year two, so I think you just said I did a good job.

Tim: All right, yes.

Andrew: In some ways, I was a fast finisher. How about that? I got through it quicker.

Tim: Nice.

Andrew: Okay, so this kind of brings us up to, I think, one of our final points that’s a little contentious. Kids get done early, extra-credit assignment. I mean, is that fair? Are there some flaws in that idea, in that system?

Tim: I’m just going to bring the hammer down real quick. No, no, no. Never do extra credit. Is that fair?

Andrew: Right. I think that’s fair, yeah.

Tim: Because kids who are going to work super-hard and get that extra credit don’t need it. Like, it’s not worthwhile for them, and I don’t see any reason to offer extra credit. I just don’t see a place for it.

Andrew: I totally agree, and I think I realized that too, that, yeah, the kids who are doing it are not the kids who need it, and the kids who need it never get to a point where they’ve got room on their plate, and everything else that they’re juggling, to ever really do it, so …

Tim: Exactly.

Andrew: It was just kind of silly. Now, I will say this, though. As I’ve kind of moved to a little bit more choice-based, and kids go at a different speed, I will encourage kids who get done early to do something very similar, maybe a little different. Maybe it’s just like, “Yeah, do it again.” Do a different painting, or a different still life, or another piece of ceramic art, and then I tell them I’ll grade and assess the best one. So in some ways, it is like a way to have extra credit, because, well, now you just had two opportunities to show me what you learned, whereas other people only had one, but it’s not like I’m giving you bonus points for having put in the extra work.

Tim: Yeah, exactly.

Andrew: Okay, man. Well, I think we’re pretty similar on that one, but let me ask you, kind of in closing here … You know, we’re looking at our students on this spectrum of, like, race cars and slowpokes, like the kids that work way too fast and the kids that work way too slow. If you had to choose one, which one would you choose, as far as, like, “I can work with this one a little bit easier than the other one”?

Tim: Yeah, I don’t know. For me, I guess I would rather have the slow finishers, because generally, the quality of work that you’re going to get is so much better. And even though we’ve established the routines and procedures to really help the fast finishers, and kind of keep them out of our hair, I guess, for lack of a better phrase, it’s still expounding some effort and some energy that you don’t need to do, and you’d much rather see those kids slow down and do a little bit better work. So just in terms of quality, I would much rather have the slow finishers.

Andrew: Yeah, I’d agree. I think that’s a thing that I keep thinking about too, is when I look at the quality of the work, and even the learning, it’s the slow finishers are making better work than the fast finishers. Now, there is kind of a whole third category, and I promise our listeners out there, we won’t make, like, a podcast version 3.0 of speed and pacing, but there are those students who are, like, willfully noncompliant, who just get a 0%, never turn anything in. But that’s a whole different ball of wax. Like, that’s a whole different set of behavioral problems, when those kids are willfully doing nothing.

Tim: Right.

Andrew: The challenge as a teacher is you’ve got to work with all of them. You’ve got to work with the fast ones, the slow ones, the willfully “never gonna do it” ones, and then the kids that are like, “I’m doing it at exactly the pace that you want me to do it.” You know what I mean? Those kids that are right in the middle. You’ve got to work with all of them.

Tim: Exactly. It’s a total balancing act, and that’s difficult to do, but that’s why we get paid as much as we do, right?

Andrew: Yup, we get paid the big bucks. All right, man. Well, thanks for coming on. On that note, I think I’ll let you go.

You know, it was nice for me to hear some of my own strategies and pet peeves shadowed back to me by Tim. He had some really great strategies and ideas on how to manage those early finishers, whether it’s sketchbook prompts, modeling clay, working on multiple project. You know, the big thing, I think, that we agreed on most heavily was whatever you do, don’t do extra credit. It’s a pain in the butt for you as a teacher, and it really doesn’t provide any intended benefits for the students that honestly need it. Student assessment should reflect what they’ve learned, not that, you know, at the end of the semester, they went through the last couple projects really quick to bulk up on some extra-credit assignments to pad their grade. If they finish fast, keep them going, or coach them up ahead of time, and kind of show them how to take their time and actually connect with their work. Be proactive and have a plan. Remember that kids don’t do nothing well.

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