If you’re a runner there’s little doubt that you’ve come across a training principle called “The 10% Rule” or 10PR. The idea behind the principle is that when training for a running goal, especially longer ones, a runner should never increase their weekly mileage by more than 10% over the previous week. This principle has value to runners because most injuries in running come from overuse. They symptoms start out as aching or throbbing and eventually lead to limping and even periods of rest to recover. Often times, these overuse injuries are the result of great exuberance at the prospects of a race or some personal goal but, alas, the best intentions are derailed by poor or ineffective planning.
So what does The 10% Rule have to do with teaching? How can it help teachers plan for more effective and successful teaching while contributing to increased student learning? Most teachers each day have anywhere from 375 to 420 minutes of instructional time. For elementary grades these minutes can be blocks of 30 minutes all the way up to 90 or 120 minutes, depending on the content area. For secondary grade levels, these are typically 45 to 90 minute blocks per day or every other day. Trying to improve and maximize the instructional time can be a daunting challenge if we consider several hundred minutes a day, five days a week, and six to nine weeks per grading period. It’s enough to make some teachers shy away from ever even wanting to attempt to improve their instruction or classroom structures.
I propose taking The 10% Rule (10PR) and using it to breakdown the instructional block into more manageable chunks, over a more manageable amount of time. The goal is to take 10% of the instructional block and look at how teachers are using the time to explain the learning objectives, build context for the learning, engage students on the learning objectives for the day, allow for student collaboration, and monitoring or measuring student mastery. If a teacher tried to tackle all of these things at once, they would most likely get overwhelmed or frustrated or suffer the teaching equivalence of a runner’s “overuse injury”. The risk is teachers will return to old habits or structures and lose out on the chance to improve their skills and create a richer, more engaging learning environment for their students.
Some possible steps to take when implementing 10PR in the classroom could be:
- Examine the opening and closing activities students are engaged in while in the classroom. Typically, the first two to three minutes and the last two to three minutes of an instructional time are the least organized and instructionally productive times for many teachers. Harry Wong says, “The most essential thing for a teacher to do is to structure an assignment the second the students walk into the room.” I would add that having a culminating or reflective task for students to participate in is just as critical. These 4-6 minutes (the beginning and ending of a class) constitute 10% of a typical class period or lesson and, if well planned, can be essential to building student engagement for the entire lesson while ensuring a time for a quick assessment for understanding.
- It’s important to keep in mind that each time a teacher takes on the process of adjusting 10% of what happens in their classroom, they may need a week or two or more to master that aspect of their teaching time. That’s ok and just as runners might need to stay at a certain mileage for a couple weeks or more before using 10PR, teachers should be confident and successful with the 10% of their instructional time they adjusted before moving on to the next 10%.
- After making adjustments to the start and end of a lesson, teachers can then begin to look at the questioning that will occur during the lesson. Again, using 10PR means teachers are looking at about 4-6 minutes of a typical lesson or up to 10 minutes for a double blocked class. This amount of time often aligns well with the discussion portions of many lessons. Unfortunately, most discussions in classrooms call for simple recall or perhaps the application of an idea or a skill and rarely moves into deeper, intellectually challenging interactions. By taking the time to examine how questions can promote deeper thinking and more consistent student engagement, teachers can begin to build on the successful start that students have as a result of the previous 1oPR actions. Teachers have many resources available to them to help in designing quality lessons. The most successful teachers I’ve worked with take the time to pre-write and think through the questions they will use during the course of instruction. They identify the issues or skills to be learned. They craft the questions carefully so that questions elicit multiple responses. They think through possible student responses. They ensure that the questions will promote equitable student interactions and participation.
- Again, a teacher might need to stay on the 10% of the instruction that focuses on questioning for a a couple weeks or so. That’s perfectly fine and it’s essential that they are confident and successful with this 10% of their instruction before moving on to the next 10%. At the end of this time, 20% of the instructional time has now been improved upon and just as runners gain confidence and stamina with their running by following the principles of 10PR, teachers too will begin to feel more confident in their teaching and energized by the conversations and interactions taking place in the classroom.
- Teachers can then begin to look at the remaining portions of their instructional time and use the concepts I shared in “Chunk and Chew”, for example, to adjust their actions and the student learning activities in 10% intervals until the entire lesson cycle or instructional period has been revised and improved.
When runners want to improve their endurance and prepare to be their best when it counts, race time, they follow the principles of 10PR. It allows them to systematically and methodically improve their running while giving their body time to adjust, heal, and grow stronger. Teachers can use the same principles in 10PR to breakdown their instructional time in a way that improves student learning and grows them as educators.
If you found this article useful, please consider sharing it with other educators and use the comment features of Facebook or Twitter or other social media to begin your own dialogue about improving teaching and student learning.