Teaching Tips for New Teachers: The Importance of Bell-to-Bell Instruction
Posted: Saturday, September 1st, 2012
by Amanda L. Smith
During your first few years of teaching, it’s easy to become preoccupied with mastering craft of content, discipline, and classroom management. However, it’s also important to follow the best practice of using your class time as efficiently and effectively as possible. One teaching method that may be used to accomplish this is called “bell-to-bell” instruction. You might think that this means having students participate in one particular task or activity for an entire class period. This is a common misconception, partially due to the name “bell-to-bell” instruction itself, but also because teachers may be more focused on getting through all their content in the duration allotted rather than thinking globally about overall classroom learning objectives and management.
Although I’ve spent seven of my nine years in education teaching middle and high school science, I still find myself altering my instruction each school year around this idea of time management. The main concept underlying the “bell-to-bell” approach is learning how to properly allocate your daily classroom minutes. This can be used in both the elementary and secondary classroom but will vary dramatically with individual classroom needs, so I will provide some basic examples and ideas for your classroom, and you can alter them as needed for your specific grade level and subject.
One of the first ways to break up your instructional minutes is to examine the age of your students (e.g. mine are typically 12- and 13-years old). Accordingly, in my own classroom I don’t remain on any one topic, activity, or teacher-led discussion longer than 12-13 minutes. Likewise, a kindergarten teacher may want his/her students to do a particular task for no longer than about 5 minutes, and a high school teacher may have up to 15-20 minutes before students lose interest. As you may well have already discovered, if you try to cram in more than your students can handle they’ll likely shut down. This leads to a waste of precious classroom instruction time, rather than gaining progress towards the standards and learning objectives for the day or week.
Another factor is how well your students handle transitions between activities. These might include going from one activity to the next within a single class period, moving from class to class in secondary settings, or from the classroom to recess or lunch. This will take practice not only for the students, but the teacher as well. My personal rule is to spend a good amount of time within the first two weeks of school setting clear expectations and practicing transitions with the students, which will ultimately make the rest of your school year much smoother for everyone. For example, I have my students practice lining up in the hallway outside the classroom door, and then come in and sit down quietly. As soon as they master this, I show them how to submit homework items into the basket as they enter, then sit down quietly. You can continue to work on building these procedures for morning activities, such as going to the carpet to do the daily calendar, or washing their hands before they go out to lunch. The more they practice simple procedures and transitions, the better their classroom behavior will be, which frees up valuable time to be used with more effectively.
Once classroom transitions are well in hand, there are additional layers you can add to maximize teaching and learning. Instead of having the students sit and wait for you to take the daily attendance and lunch count, you can ask them to discuss or write about a prompt on the board, work on a math problem, think about a science current event, or even answer a question about what was covered in class previously. These daily questions can be part of your morning warm-up routine and can be graded or not, but either way can provide a great opportunity to share their ideas or just practice their writing skills at the same time you are finishing administrative duties like attendance. For example, if you ask students about something that was covered during an earlier class you can treat this as a warm-up for further discussion. Over the course of the semester you can also consider keeping their responses or artifacts in a composition notebook or binder as a portfolio demonstrating their progress.
An additional option for bell-to-bell implementation is to include the use of classroom jobs that are grade-level appropriate. I find that my middle school students can easily be responsible for collecting homework, passing back graded worksheets, greeting guests, caring for classroom plants, picking up trash, etc. This approach not only creates less work for the teacher in the long run, but I find that it also fosters good student behavior when they perceive having a classroom job is a privilege.
Of course, the typical classroom day almost always also includes some type of teacher-led activity, instruction, or lesson. As science teachers, we have the luxury of having a variety of resources in our “tool belts,” and one of my favorites is doing demonstrations followed by open discussions about the students’ observations. Alternatively, teachers might have the students take notes from a lecture, guide students through a chapter in the textbook, or play a review game for a history topic, etc. No matter what the activity, it’s important to budget time appropriately for grade and age-level and as you’re leading the activity, to be mindful of adhering to your planned timing as much as possible. However, it’s also crucial to plan ahead for any unexpected daily disruptions that might arise. These might include unplanned observations by Administrators, discipline issues with students, fire/earthquake/lockdown drills, changes in weather (my students love to stare at the rain falling outside the window for some reason!), or technology problems. You should always have a backup lesson plan just in case these distractions arise, as they can drastically alter and hinder your ability to keep your students on track with your daily teaching minutes. If you work hard on your classroom management and discipline plan early on, these distractions will be less of an issue as time goes on. The important part is to be flexible and to be prepared to just take a step back to revise your game plan.
Bell-to-bell instruction is a critical part of your teaching strategy, and as long as you “keep your eye on the prize” (which for most of us is reaching proficiency on the state exams), you will maximize the chances for your students’ success!
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…