Sometimes what might seem like an efficient way to handle a classroom housekeeping task ends up costing you instructional time rather than saving it. Take, for example, handing back tests (or quizzes or other graded assignments), which is guaranteed to create off-task time unless your timing is right. The problem is that many teachers figure the best time to return a test is when students are engaged in an independent activity such as taking notes. Do this, though, and the moment you pass back the test is the moment students stop taking notes—and good luck getting them back on track, especially if they’re bummed out by their scores or think you made a grading error. And it’s futile to ask kids right before you return a test to hold off looking at it until they’re done taking notes. There’s no way around it: pass back any graded activity, and students are going to drop everything to look it over.
The solution: hand back a test, quiz, etc. only when you’re willing to have students give it their undivided attention—either right before you plan to review it as a class or with about five minutes left in the period if you’re not going to review it (you still want to give students a chance to look it over in your presence in case they have questions).