What if we took the traditional school day and shortened the length of the periods? Would there be any real benefit to rethinking how we structure school?
I’ve been thinking a lot about school schedules and how to structure schools recently. I think it has been on my mind because our 2017/2018 school calendar just got approved and there is a lot of talk about it. If interested you can read about it here, but the quick version is that school is required by law to start after Labor day and end by June 15th in Maryland. This leaves schools with the challenge of getting their days in while getting rid of some days that were traditionally designated as off.
But calendar discussion doesn’t really address school structure, does it? What I mean when I say school structure is how do students have their day organized? Do they have choice? Does it change? Does it best fit their needs?
The answer to almost all of those questions is a resounding “no.” But why? Why is school set up so that students go from period to period for 45 minutes at a clip? Why are their seven periods in the day? Why don’t those period happen at different times throughout the week?
I don’t know the answer to those questions but I would like to see some experimentation in how school go about their scheduling. I was talking with one of our school’s administrators the other day and I mentioned that I wish the periods were 30 minutes long. My argument, that she agreed with, was that students learn better when getting smaller chunks of information quickly. And, to add, that teachers should be able to get the content out in 30 minutes because a shorter class forces you to focus on the important points. The details can be filled in later, but the main points should be able to be covered, practiced, and reviewed within 30 minutes.
I’m a tech ed teacher and a 30-minute class would be difficult for me to get everything accomplished in. I lose 5 minutes getting students logged in to computer and/or getting tools out. I lose the last 5 minutes doing the same but in reverse. So a 30-minute class would take my real instruction time down to 20 minutes. That doesn’t really work when students need to focus on a project. I would imagine that science classes and other lab-based classes would have similar problems.
Then it struck me, those classes could be double periods. A double period would give the students more time to focus on a lab-based activity. Maybe I’m getting into the weeds a bit here. Let’s reset.
How it shakes out
I will use my school as an example. The students start classes at 8:30 AM and they head home at 3:15 PM. That makes the total amount of time that students are in school 6 hours and 45 minutes. That time is currently broken down into roughly 7, 45 minute long classes, a 30-minute lunch, and time between bells to go from one classroom to the next.
Now let’s see what happens if we make classes 30 minutes instead of 45ish minutes. For my quick calculations, I’m going to approximate a class as 34 minutes to account for time between classes. 34/60 gives me 0.566 hours per class. If I then take the 6.75 hours students are in school and divide it by 0.566 I get 11.91 or basically 12 class periods. Now instead of 7 periods and a lunch, students have 12 periods. If we lose one to lunch that still leaves 11 30-minute class periods a day. Four additional class periods a day. Four!
What does that do
If there was room in a schedule for students to take an extra four classes imagine what we could do with that time. Students could have more elective choice, more time to focus on areas of interest, or more time to get support in areas of need. We could really tailor a student’s schedule to their needs.
Students would also be able to have better focus in class since they are sitting for a lower period of time and the information is coming at them in more bite-sized chunks of information. Students would also be able to take classes when they better suit them. For example, I loved having math in the morning as it was when I was the most focused, but I didn’t always get math in the morning. When extra periods in the day, it is more likely that students will be able to schedule classes with times that best fit their needs.
Teachers would be able to focus on the most important parts of topic and better engage students with the content. Teachers would also be able to better plan as there would be less variability in things that could go “wrong” during a lesson. They would also be able to address areas of concern quicker because they could more easily identify the key concepts that students might be missing. You may also be able to decrease classes sizes depending on how the schedule is implemented.
I’m not saying this is a cure-all, but it might be worth exploring to see if it has any measurable impact on the students and staff. School and school schedules have been unchanged for so long it might be worth it to take a risk and see if there are any benefits that come from a change.