Minimum viable product is key to reducing teacher workload.

Why Doing the Minimum is Actually the Best Approach

To say that teaching is a demanding job is an understatement.  Which is why I’m always looking to find ways to streamline and simplify.  Not just for myself, but for others, too.  Doing the minimum but getting the most student benefit is the goal. 

In today’s world of teaching, not only do most of us have way too many school and/or district-provided resources at our fingertips, but there’s also social media and the million more resources it provides.  There are just too many ideas to try!

Too often, the curriculum we are given suffers from “basal bloat,” an apt term coined in 2021.  Curriculum companies aim to sell their product to the widest audience, so they throw everything in.   This can lead to teachers doing way too much but with too little depth, or worse, miss the mark for students when the decision is made to follow the pages of the curriculum rather than the needs of the students in front of us.

And let’s talk social media and online resources.  They are both a blessing and a curse.  They’re wonderful because you can find a ton of inspiration for everything from classroom set up to activities to assessment–and everything in between.  There is no shortage of easy to download things right at our fingertips.   

It’s easy to become bogged down by all of it. 

Too many resources can quickly lead to teacher overwhelm. Image from Wavebreakmedia.

But all too often, TPT, Pinterest, or Google searches can lead us astray, promising answers they don’t actually provide.  

Case in point?  Out of curiosity, I recently typed in “SOR,” and one of the first hits was a resource from a highly-followed seller (who has made a not-so-small fortune) claiming that the activities within the product were “SOR aligned” and “must do” for upper grade kids. 

When I clicked to preview the product, I was blown away at how terribly off the mark it all was, and how it would do absolutely nothing to promote the learning of spelling patterns.  Some of the products included:  a random assortment of nine letters for kids to try to make words.  No pattern to it, no rhyme or reason, just directing the teacher to “pick any 9 letters.”  Another:  “word jumbles,” where a random assortment of mixed up words were to be reconfigured to make real words.  Again, absolutely no pattern, no rhyme or reason.  And a third activity: downloadable forms with lines on them for kids to summarize a book.  The price?  About $8. 

A complete waste of $8.

Not only did the spelling activities in particular do absolutely nothing to actually help kids learn any spelling patterns, but the other things, like writing prompts and lined paper for summarizing are just not needed.  They might all be on cute paper with snazzy fonts, but this will do absolutely nothing to drive the learning forward.

Instead of turning to Pinterest and TPT first, where you can go down a many-hours long rabbit hole sussing out what’s great from what’s not, we just need to cut the fluff and focus first on what truly matters: the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

MVP refers to the most basic version of a product that still delivers value. The idea was made popular by Eric Ries in his 2011 book, The Lean Startup.  The idea is to just get the thing out there, then iterate on it over time, as you implement it to make it better.  Angela Watson, teacher productivity queen, also talks about it, reminding us all that “a minimum viable product is not about sending crappy work out into the world. It’s not a minimal product. It’s recognizing that you’re going to have to iterate and revise later on, anyway, so there’s no point in trying to guess exactly what is needed ahead of time and make something perfect right up front.”

And many times, we leave it at minimum, because doing the minimum gets the job done.

When we apply the MVP concept to literacy instruction, it means identifying the essential elements that are needed in order to achieve the learning outcomes we’re looking for. This streamlined approach ensures that teachers can focus on what works without being overwhelmed by all the extra, unnecessary stuff.  And that means less stress and reduced overwhelm.

Let’s take that $8 TPT packet down to MVP.  

Simplifying is key to reducing teacher overwhelm. Image from Garagestock.

First, the cutesy fonts and images?  No child cares.  In fact, the fonts can often be hard to read, and the images do little more than limit space for work.  Fancy fonts and cute images do absolutely nothing to drive learning forward.  Hate to break it to you, but Times New Roman will also get the job done.

The lined paper for summarizing?  Absolutely no need for it. All kids need is a half sheet of lined notebook paper or an index card.  Something every teacher already has ready access to.  It’ll take you 15 seconds to pull it out of the cabinet or drawer you keep them in–and your school probably provided it for you, costing you nothing.

The spelling activities?  A jumble of random letters couldn’t be more opposite of “SOR” aligned. Fun?  Sure.  Will it make kids look busy if admin were to walk in while kids work?  Yes.  

But will it drive the learning forward?  Nope. 

If the honest answer to the “does it drive learning forward” question is no, then it’s not worth doing.

Stay focused on the MVP! Image from Olanstock.

Instead, focus on what, exactly, you want kids to learn.  If it’s a particular spelling pattern that your students need, first explain the why behind the pattern, then just think of a list of words that contain that pattern (or patterns)  and call out the words for them to write on paper or white boards.  Chat GPT could give you a list within seconds. You might even spice things up with a word ladder activity, but again just have kids write on readily accessible white boards or notebook paper.  Tim Rasinski shares many word ladders freely, or you could easily come up with your own.  Again, thanks to AI, Chat GPT can come up with a word ladder in mere seconds–also for free.  Or a totally free and truly researched-based option for loads of meaningful and engaging spelling pattern work?  The Florida Center for Reading Research.  

Any of these word work activities would be much more SOR aligned than what’s found in that $8 packet.  And all of them would drive learning forward, for free. 

Are they cute?  No.  Would any kid care?  Absolutely not.  But are they engaging?  Completely.   

Keeping it simple and cutting the clutter also reduces cognitive overload, as kids are better able to focus their attention on just the task at hand versus all the script writing and images. 

These kinds of meaningful, effective activities go a long way to keep kids engaged. Doing the minimum really is often best.

Using simple, more truly effective things like these would also save you a ton of time.  Rather than searching and searching Pinterest or TPT, only to have to retool the resource anyway to make it work or buy multiple things to have to piece together,  keeping it simple also keeps it quick.  You end up saving an insane amount of time. (Want more ways to save time? Click here!)

So as you think about plans for next year, think about focusing on just the MVP.  Your time is precious.  No sense in squandering it scrolling to find sort of ok things, only to have to revamp them anyway, download, and then waste time at the copier making multiple sets.  This also goes for making slides, which I talk about in this post.  Creating slides is a big time suck for many teachers.  Here too, all the fonts, images, colors, and videos that take so much time to plug in do nothing to drive learning forward.  

MVP.  It’s key to feeling less overwhelmed.

Not only is your own planning and prep time precious, but so is your students’ time with you. We can’t waste a minute of it on things that don’t help them grow as learners.  

Getting started with paring things down to the minimum can be a big step.  But man, it’ll free you like nothing else.  This year, I helped a teacher plan a writing unit, and a part of that work was paring down her slides.  She video messaged me over the weekend saying she’d reduced her weekly slides from 90 to 12.  Twelve. The huge smile on her face said it all.  She said she felt absolutely liberated, and couldn’t believe how much it had opened up her weekend.  When I followed up with her later that week to see how it was going, she said she felt like her teaching was much more targeted and her students were far more engaged.  She said she would not be going back to the old way.

She had learned the value of doing the minimum for max benefit.  

So if you’re ready, like this teacher was, to simplify and streamline, know that I’m here to help you think it through.  I’m just an email or Instagram DM away, and I’m totally here for you!  

Who is Coach from the Couch??  I’m Michelle, a 25-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach.  I continue to teach and learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers just like you as I can.

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