Instructional Blocks with a “Flexible Purpose”

This guest post is written by Justin Holbrook @JustinHolbrook, a 4th Grade Teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. Check out more of his information at the end of the post.

When thinking about designing a dream instructional block, questions start whipping through my brain like the frantic tornado scene from “The Wizard of Oz.”  How much time do I have?  What are the curriculum requirements selected by my leadership and/or district?  What does my group of students individually need to be successful?  The list goes on and on.  How then do we as educators sort through these reflective questions and design our instructional blocks to be effective yet efficient?

Gift-512I suggest we should think about our instructional time in terms of wrapping a present:

First, we have to select the receiver of the gift which in the case of education is simple: STUDENTS.  They are life of our schools and the ultimate reason why we teach.

Once we have our receiver selected, we have to determine the purpose of our gift or the learning objective.  In other words, we have to determine the end goal of our instruction.  It wouldn’t make sense to give a birthday gift on the wrong holiday and it definitely wouldn’t make sense to teach math lessons during a block we selected for reading.  Planning with the end goal in mind will not only ensure our instruction is effective but also efficient in relation to time.

To finish the planning process, we actually have to wrap the present together and design a block which creates the opportunity to reach our students and our planned objectives.  I consider these decisions the most crucial step to ensuring a dream instructional time block.  In order to wrap and design the “prettiest” gift, we need to consider a flexible purpose.  Every activity and decision we plan has to include a specific purpose aligned with our curriculum tools but at the same time be flexible enough to meet the needs of every student.  In other words, every educator has their own box and items to fit inside; but we can all decide individually HOW to pack it in order to meet our students’ unique needs.  As a fourth grade math and science teacher, I consider the following three items to ensure I pack my instructional block efficiently.

  1. Small Group Instruction – This is critical to my ultimate goal of student growth. In order to meet every student’s specific needs, I plan time daily to work with small groups while other students are effectively working on independent activities.
  2. Incorporate Movement – I recognize the impact of including brain breaks on student focus and growth. However, if I am not proactively planning them into my instructional block…they can be forgotten!
  3. Student Voice and Choice – All students can make decisions about the structure of instructional time. For example, my students choose the order of activities as well as the type of activity when working independently.  This provides a great structure to model self-evaluation in the classroom.  We just have to ask them and value their input!

Are there other items which teachers can include in their instructional blocks? YES!  That is why flexibility is so key.  We all teach different subjects with different students who all have different individual needs.  However, to be flexible and meet a student focused purpose, we have to BE INTENTIONAL with every decision in our instructional blocks.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” – William Penn

We can’t stop time as educators but with a flexible purpose we can use it efficiently to create effective instructional blocks designed to meet our student’s unique needs!



Connect with Justin and give feedback on his post! 

Justin Holbrook @justincholbrook 4th Grade Teacher
Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City Schools, MD


Consider continuing the conversation on #BmoreEdchat. Justin founded and moderates this inspiring weekly Twitter edchat Wednesdays from 9-10 pm EST.

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Posted in Guest Posts, Instructional Tips
One comment on “Instructional Blocks with a “Flexible Purpose”
  1. Andy Jacks says:

    Justin, great article! One my big takeaways: Even the ‘best’ present in the world may be junk if not given to the person who wants or needs it! Even when we have what we consider the most amazing instruction, if it’s not matched to the needs of the students, then it’s not ‘flexible’ enough to be what they need.

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