Most teachers believe that there is not enough time to teach all their grade level standards in a single year. I’m guessing that this doesn’t come as a surprise to you. So, the question then is what do we do about it?

I think that the most common reaction is to want to skip certain topics and standards. For example, a teacher might skip sections from geometry and/or statistics. To be honest, I’ve definitely done that. It isn’t a good feeling, but it seems like you often run out of time to teach it all. So, you might proactively skip certain parts.

However, what if I told you that there might be another way to do it where you wouldn’t have to skip topics because you’d have the equivalent of a whole extra month of time to teach students?

I remember how I used to spend the first five to ten minutes of class going over the previous night’s homework. Now, let’s put aside the reality that many kids didn’t even do their homework and got nothing out of the experience. Let’s also put aside the possibilities that students who did do the homework may not have gotten anything out of the experience.

Now, let’s think about the total time spent on homework. 5 minutes per day x 140 days per year (assuming that there isn’t homework every day) is 700 minutes a year on reviewing homework. At 10 minutes per day, we’re at 1400 minutes per year. Assuming a 50-minute period to teach math, we’re talking 14 to 28 days per school year were being spent reviewing homework! Imagine reclaiming that time for other things! It wouldn’t be in those large chunks, but you could re-purpose it for something like problem solving or number talks.

It doesn’t have to end there. Matt Vaudrey has shares some wonderful ways he uses music to make his classroom more efficient. If you’re wondering about when you could use music, he explains simply:

Think about the stuff in your class that takes longer than you think it should. A music cue could smooth out that transition. My students also appreciated a “talk to your neighbor” song for several reasons:

  • It mandates “wait time” for the teacher; I can’t call on anybody until it’s over.
  • It allows students with language needs or disabilities time to process the prompt and think out a response.
  • It provides squirrelly students a chance to get out of their seat and chit-chat. Even if they burn through my prompt and talk about something else, they’re more likely to focus after the song ends.

He goes on to share a list of all the transitions for which he used music, which includes tasks like “clean off your desk” and “take out notebook and turn to page ___.” How much time (and stress!) would you save each day if students completed these tasks quicker? Could you save 1 minute each day? That’s over three extra days of time per year.

Matt’s point (and mine) is that small increases in efficiency have huge impacts when scaled out over an entire year. So, perhaps it’s time to take another look at what you’re doing in class and think about areas that can be tightened up.

If you’ve tried any of these strategies or have some of your own to share, I want to read about it. Please let me know in the comments.


  1. The age old question of whether homework should be given send to crop up in this conversation. I get so frustrated when students don’t do their homework and wonder why I even assign it? But, I know the answer… Many teachers on my team would not like the idea of no homework. And, I get that kids need to practice. But… If they aren’t practice anyways, what’s the point?

    • These are tough conversations teachers have to be having. It sounds like too often teachers assign homework because that’s what they’ve always done and that’s what they think everyone expects of them, not because it’s actually beneficial for students.

    • Homework has gone the way of worksheets for me, for much the same reason. If they aren’t doing it, what’s the point? If they are practicing through homework/worksheets, but doing it incorrectly, they’re building up misconceptions. If they are practicing it and doing it correctly, we’re back to what’s the point?

  2. I have been studying the topic of math homework for my doctoral dissertation. The research is for the most part inconclusive as to whether students benefit by doing homework. There are many math abilities in a typical classroom, so does one-size fits all math homework make sense? Are we differentiating the homework that we assign? Is homework equitable? Should homework be graded? That’s another discussion that evokes strong feelings with educators. My interest is the possible stress homework is causing students and families. There is a lot to consider!

    • Very interesting. I look forward to seeing what you come up with if you’d like to share. There is surely a lot of status quo bias in that we keep doing it the same way because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

      • I am a new teacher using a system of mastery grading and I assign homework to do during class time. It isn’t graded – they will only be scored on quizzes, tests, and projects – but it’s a great way to monitor learning progress and provide additional supports. This article really motivates me to consider how to use all the class time wisely and productively!

  3. I find starting with an emotional check in, funny game or thinking exercises or connection to real life that work on skills- spot the difference, which one doesn’t belong, 3 act lessons quickly, but something not purely academic as a warm up, then kids say- I can give you the rest of the time if you keep mixing it up. Transition time for them as people between classes then refocus works for most, some say lost time, I see it as an investment, go slow to go fast, per se.

  4. Hi! Wow! I really liked the shared song ideas and tasks from Matt! Thank you for sharing! I look forward to adapting and working with this in my class.

  5. I suppose “reviewing homework” is different from tackling misconceptions that have become apparent from homework. That kind of review seems very valuable to me, rather than something I could just drop. Otherwise, homework seems pointless completely, in the way that others think it might be already.

    • Agreed Andrew. It’s not my intention to cut out valuable parts of instruction. More I want to suggest that we can break ourselves from traditions we do because we’ve always done it that way rather than because it actually is a good use of time.

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