Often—maybe too often—in schools, we carve up the day into finite sections of learning. An hour for reading, and hour for math, maybe 25 minutes for science. We know on some level that learning really doesn’t work this way, but it is the best way we have to make sure content is covered and not skipped.
Principals are often to blame for master schedules like this. There are, of course, good and necessary reasons for these kinds of schedules. Minutes are generally labeled in a student’s IEP, which require specific time spans to be allocated to specific content areas. There are resources or classrooms that need to be scheduled at certain time. Adequate planning time is also needed for each teacher, so creating a schedule like this is one way to go about it.
There is a downside to these schedules, too. Learning doesn’t always exist is sections like this. Students can learn in a deeper and more relevant way when they learn across different curricular areas, making connections between the different disciplines. But master schedules like this aren’t going away. And while we wait for the system to adjust to meet the needs of the learner, the adults involved can try to impact learning in the most positive way possible.
Making the Most of Your Time
In thinking about time, specifically instructional time, it is critical to step back and think strategically about how we use the time. While we are in the middle of the year, the week, or the lesson, it is hard to see exactly how we are doing with meeting our goals of learning. Here are some ideas to help with that reflection and hopefully create a more positive impact on the classroom and the teaching:
- Some learning can be fast: There are some skills that students need to practice multiple times with a set pace to create automaticity. Examples of this would be practicing math facts, practicing letter recognition, or memorizing the states and capitals. These are low-level skills that don’t require a lot of deep thinking.
Watching the time: Repetition is key, so the pace of this practice should be very quick. By teaching the procedures to the students first, these skills can get the repetitions they need to become embedded in the student’s memory.
- Some learning needs to move more slowly: There are other concepts and ideas that require a deeper level of thinking—and this level isn’t easy to reach quickly. For these ideas, it takes not only time, but processing time for the students to embed the knowledge. Consider something like learning about checks and balances in our democracy. Students would need to understand branches of government first, and then understand how each helps to balance out one another.
Watching the time: The trouble most teachers have is not allowing enough time for some of these concepts. For these ideas, it is better to go deeper instead of faster, so by adding a day or two to the lesson, the teacher can make sure that students have the chance to really process the knowledge.
- Some learning needs to span over periods of time: Experienced educators know that not all students learn at the same rate and at the same time. When we put together a master schedule or learning blocks and align it with a curriculum map of when we are teaching different skills, we suspend the idea that all students learn at different rates.
Watching the time: This is why some curriculum resources “spiral” the concepts. The ideas come back over time and again so that students who may have missed it the first time have another chance to learn it through multiple exposures.
- Some learning requires mastery while some doesn’t: Another idea that is important for the planning of a teacher is the idea that some skills require mastery while others don’t. Sometimes there is guidance on a national or state level with this prioritization, but if not, the teacher as the professional can determine which skills students will really need to master.
Watching the time: A good rule of thumb for these skills is to ask two questions: “Is this idea critical for the student to be successful in life?” and “Is this skill essential for the student to be successful in the next level of their education?” If either of these are the case, it is worth the time to revisit the concept or spend more time on it if needed.
There are not clear answers to many of these questions. As I stated earlier, teachers are the professional in the classroom, so he or she can make determinations about how to allocate the time spans of learning. It takes reflection and collaboration with others, but by looking deeper into the time we spend on different tasks, we can improve outcomes for our students.
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