Constructive Laziness for Teachers

I’ve written before that students need to be trained to understand the benefits of constructive laziness. This means working more effectively for less time. Some students have a tendancy to spend ages making work ‘perfect’. This might involve copying notes out into ‘neat’, memorising paragraphs word for word or reading text books from beginning to end. Most of the ideas I’ve discussed for effective revision are about making sure a student is fully engaged for a shorter period of time, rather than daydreaming for hours with a folder in front of them. Of course, it isn’t just students who can gain from this approach.

It’s very easy as a teacher, especially on a topic you’re familiar with or enjoy teaching, to slip into bad habits. I’m talking about teaching from the front, writing notes from memory, responding to questions from a small subset of the group and basically never getting a moment to pause and think. Students get the right notes, and they get to hear the anecdotes or extras that (we hope) bring the topic to life. But there are other ways which end up being a lot less stressful. That kind of lesson means trying to keep on top of everything at once, with little ‘one to one’ time speaking to any particular student. There are alternatives.

Making Life Easier

There are several activities – ones I’ve mentioned before – which take the responsibility off us and gives it to the students. It can be a high-risk strategy, especially close to the end of topics, but I find it much less stressful. The downside is that it needs a small amount of prior planning – but less than you’d think. Put one of these lessons in the middle of a busy day – one per teaching group over their timetable – and suddenly you have a moment to pause, reflect, and give your voice a chance to recover.

Lazy Lesson: Students watch a video

Constructive Laziness:

  • Give them the questions first.
  • Provide a list of key terms (out of sequence) and ask them to note down definitions and/or examples.
  • Ask them to produce summary notes, perhaps using a Cornell blank.
  • Have them write a review for the BBC Bitesize website.
  • Ask them to choose headings for a Powerpoint that they can then write for homework.
  • Give them handouts using Powerpoint that have titles, but no content; an example is below. This is another way to give them the framework for the notes. (Differentiated versions easily produced.)
  • Tell them it is old or out of date. What mistakes can they spot? How would they script an improved version?

printable: B1b Part 1 as pptx

Lazy Lesson: Students research online

Constructive Laziness:

  • give them a framework first (powerpoint, Cornell notes etc – an example is below).
  • ask them to produce a hotlinked document linking to each of the best websites.
  • specify that references (relevant website addresses) must be included.
  • Give them five websites and ask for them to be rated in how well they cover the ideas, from 1 to 5 stars for content and presentation.
  • give them a spot the mistakes article (a rewritten piece with ten errors) and ask them to find and correct them, using one or more reliable websites.

printable: Power Stations 2 as docx :

Lazy Lesson: students answer questions from a book or past paper

Constructive laziness:

  • predict score and where marks lost.
  • have them add on an extension question to each  – so if the question is (a)-(c), they write (d).
  • ask them to produce a markscheme with key words highlighted.
  • can they list the five (or ten) main ideas they needed to understand – perhaps words to define, or methods to use.
  • do they get the same list for each set of questions or each past paper? Are there patterns that often come up?
  • give them three sets of mock answers, each with an identifiable kind of mistake (student A writes long answers and runs out of time, student B can’t rearrange equations, etc).
  • play ‘consequences’ when the questions come in linked parts; three students compete parts (a), (b) and (c) in turn, basing their ideas on previous part of answer.
  • In a group, students have the same total amount of time (e.g. four students would have ten minutes to do a 40 minute paper) but must work together to get as many marks as possible. No overlapped marks are given. To make this harder, give them only two minutes to discuss then work in silence.
  • With warning given, students must choose a section to ‘specialise’ in then ‘tutor’ those who are less confident, using questions as examples of the basic principles.

The Justification

There’s been a lot recently in teaching about ‘Learning to Learn‘. This turns into days of INSET and pages of Powerpoint handouts, but the idea, as I understand it, is simple. It’s about explicitly teaching the skills students need to learn effectively, which can then be applied to all lessons and in real life. Giving them a chance to practise these skills is clearly equally important. Now, we’ve done this for years, with varying degrees of success. It does give us as teachers an opportunity to take a step back during the lesson and watch learning happen.

As far as becoming independent learners is concerned, we specifically want our students to be able to:

  • manage time
  • extract information from text/video (inc. internet)
  • apply ideas to new situations, making notes or answering questions
  • share their ideas within a group
  • assess their own level of understanding and their use of these skills, asking for help when necessary

None of this is new. What L2L does is share these aims with students and assess the success. One suggestion is to have a split plenary in lessons, separating content and process objectives. However you apply it, the use of L2L ends up forcing us as teachers to take it easy. This doesn’t mean lessons are any less busy, or that we’re ‘slacking’. Instead we have the chance to move around the classroom, speaking to individuals, giving feedback and perhaps getting a proper chance to see how well students cope with different tasks. (Hush now – is that the sound of APP rearing it’s ugly head?!)

One thought on “Constructive Laziness for Teachers”

  1. Thanks for the response to my blog, I really liked some of your suggestions and will definitely be giving them a go. A lot for me to think about in this post. I have started to get a good idea of my ‘toolkit’ and what activities really work and often fall back on these when I am feeling lazy.

    I really like your suggestion of regular lessons where the emphasis is more on the kids (learning to learn) and this is something I was doing already although not consciously so thanks for flagging it up. Plus being a geography teacher always an opportunity to get a video on! Thank you BBC : )

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