So, the esteemed Sam Abrams and I gave a workshop on school scheduling today. Now, in addition to what we talked about, we were able to sit in on Prof. Robert Canady’s workshop on block scheduling. His general take was that less is more… he’s a proponent of a modified 4/4 schedule where kids take, essentially three major courses a semester and two minor courses. The major courses would meet for double the normal time, and would count as two credits. So a student might take English, History and Math first semester and English, Science and Foreign Language second semester (one of the ideas could be a focus on literacy in this model.)
I think it’s important to keep thinking about this kind of thing. I wanted to try to pilot an experiment at Beacon with this next year, but we didn’t have the teachers who wanted to do it. I thought it might be interesting to try that in the 11th grade where, instead of looking at interdisciplinary work, two teachers might be willing to double up… so, one semester, the English teacher would take a class for two periods, and the history teacher would take another. Second semester, they’d flip.
The positives for an experiment like this would be that teachers could really go in depth as they’d have the kids for eight hours a week. They’d have fewer students a semester, and therefore fewer papers (and could hopefully give more feedback on the papers and projects they do give)
The negatives would be a loss of an ability to do interdisciplinary projects with another teacher… and not everyone views eight hours with one class a positive.
But either way, I think it’s important to keep questioning the way we do the schedule… even if those questions don’t lead to new answers. And this gets into the focus of our workshop:
Scheduling is pedagogy. In fact, it is one of the most powerful pedagogical tools we have at our disposal. How we structure our school day… what choices we make in the ways in which our students move through their day… affects everything else we do. The traditional 42 minute / 5 day a week class model doesn’t encourage technology / literacy infusion. It doesn’t encourage project based learning. It doesn’t really encourage anything but chalk and talk teaching.
At Beacon, we have settled into a 1 hour / 4 day a week model, and it is long enough to do more project based learning while also giving departments who would prefer the every day experience something pretty close to it.
We chose that model for a lot of reasons. And I think all schools need to consider what they value and then build a schedule that reflects those values.
In the end, I think there are a lot of ways to skin the scheduling cat… and yes, I think that the more opportunities we give kids and teachers to have the time to reflect, work, and experiment in the classroom, the better our schools will be… but most importantly, I think all schools need to remember that structure will influence learning. and therefore, we need to question and challenge the old assumptions about scheduling and keep looking for progressive ways to create school schedules that encourage the kinds of learning that we at Beacon and folks like David and Will and others are talking about.