As we look deep to analyze our education system, we usually tend to focus solely on obvious targets such as curriculum, testing, standards, and teacher evaluations. But, there is one additional aspect of education that might be worth taking a hard look at.
Now, be careful! I am going to bring up some ideas and suggestions which go against main stream traditional thinking. These ideas may not coincide with the status quo. Implementing ideas like this would require some change; in some cases major change. And of course when I suggest these ideas, I am not suggesting that we throw out the entire current system. We keep the elements which make good sense and work great. But, we have to be willing to let go of some of the outdated and irrelevant “traditions” which are there, not because of best practice or because of success, but more simply because we have always done it like this—and change would be hard. And yes, there would be things we’ll have to figure out in order to get them to work. And yes, society would have to change to accommodate major shifts like these. That is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact—that is what is so exciting to think about.
Let’s talk about some areas where we can look differently.
First—- some classes do NOT need all the time they are given. “WHAT?! How dare you suggest that!” What I mean is that we tend to give a typical core class 1 full year of time and then those teachers fill that time with content. That is what we have always done. We should be asking a different question, “How much time to you need to accomplish the goals you have for the class”. What we may find is that there are some classes which might not need the full duration, and others which might be able to take advantage of some extra time. There might even be enough freed up time to offer an entire new class. Some classes don’t need to meet every day, others might take advantage of extra time each day. But, I think what we’ll find is that there is no typical schedule that works all year long. So, I suggest we have different schedules at different time of the year.
What does that look like?
How about a few weeks of the year with fewer, but more intensive classes. For example for 2 weeks, two class each meet 4 hours per day, or even one class all day. It would not have to be a complete class, just two weeks “in the middle” where the meeting schedule is different than ordinary, providing time and space and energy to engage with the subject differently. Or perhaps for 2 weeks, all students have homestay or other intensive language study in the country where the language is taught. Art classes might spend a week going on a museum tour. Fine Arts programs might visit a series of performances around town. Physical education and nutrition classes will attend professional and college sporting events, interview athletes, but also the people behind those teams, city officials who are part of the sports leagues and recreation departments. History classes study civil war in the mornings, then go visiting historical sites, taking walking tours with professionals, even offering tours by students. Would those departments be willing to give up days and weeks at other times in the school year for that type of learning environment? I bet they would. Or maybe a math class wants to have a few weeks in the second semester where students work together on an intensive group project. They need a few weeks of long block periods, but would be willing to give up 2 weeks during early August so English classes can have them longer for an intensive writing lab.
Maybe some weeks students meet every day in every class, yet in other weeks they rotate through a portion of their classes. Maybe those rotations, and the length of time and frequency changes depending on the time of year.
What we have to be careful of is assuming that a schedule won’t work in your discipline for cliché reasons. For example, my kids need to have math every day in order to retain knowledge, or foreign language saying kids have to have it every day or they will lose it, or the Computer Science teacher suggesting that they cannot live without JAVA every morning. Just because they are not in-person with you does not mean they cannot be interacting with your content. You will have some options on how you handle that. Yes, if you give them worksheets to do and the questions at the end of the chapter –you will find them not much engaged with your class during that out of class time. Yes, it will require a different type of out-of-class experience. Foreign language teachers will have students recording interviews, acting out role playing parts, and attending cultural events in town and in the area, even traveling. I remember hearing one story of a school which had a short 2-3 week intensive class mini-session. The first year the foreign language department wanted no part of that, thinking it was not long enough for grammar and vocabulary to sink in. Yet after trying it one time the following year, they fought to be part of those mini-sessions.
If we had some time slots throughout the year, different subject areas could take advantage of those times to lead an interactive, hand-on, real-life experience related to their subject area. Because, our role as teacher is NOT to teach content, it is to inspire students(see my video post about this) to learn and help them develop connections with your subject area—-so don’t discount those incredibly valuable out-of-class experiences. And certainly don’t waste your valuable homework time on something that should be done in class—have them do something amazing and interesting and real.
While the corporate business world revolves around a Mon-Fri business hour schedule, the rest of society does not. Why not take advantage of that? Why not offer classes in the evening? There might be teachers who would LOVE teaching in the evening. It might allow them to pursue other ventures during the morning and daytime. Why not take advantage of weekends. Their might be teachers who would LOVE to teach only on weekends.—there might be students who would LOVE to take classes on weekends, freeing up the workweek to pursue additional interests. Yes, society would have to change to accommodate. And that is what is so exciting. Think of the awesome possibilities.
I’ll argue that the days of typical summer vacation should be gone. This old agriculture–based schedule has little relevance today. Yes, society would have to adapt if we changed it—and—-YES , it would. Who knows how we might structure the year without that limitation.
Yes, society would have to accommodate. That is what is so exciting. What an awesome time for internships throughout the year. Students could spend 1-2 weeks on several occasions throughout the year working in the community in areas of their passions just to get a taste. Who knows, students could be inspired to refocus their academic efforts because of their interaction with amazing people doing the things they are interested in
With most universities offering online classes and many colleges even offering entirely online degree programs, perhaps it is time to have students take more advantage of online education. Not every class is good for this type of learning environment, but there might be some that are perfect. Not every teacher has a personality and comfort level that would be good in an online learning environment, but there might be some that are perfect for that. Online learning is a real part of our educational system, even (and especially) in the corporate world—why not have our students embrace that style of learning, not as an elective classes the spring of their senior year, but as a regular part of their curriculum. Online education, in some cases does levels the playing field for some students in some areas. It can also be 24/7. Why not have core classes such as 9th grade English, or Algebra 2, or Ancient History offered online. How about a class that is offered during spring break? Or a short intensive class offered fall break? Woah! How about a class that is offered during the “Christmas” holiday! “WOAH, but that is Christmas”. Let’s not forget there are many religions for which that time is not part of a religious celebration. Let us not forget, that not all students celebrate Christmas in the same way. Yes, society would have to change to accommodate. And that is what is so exciting. Think of the awesome possibilities.
And what an interesting opportunity to recruit good and talented people into the teaching profession. Choose your hours. Choose the times of the year when you would like to teach. Choose the times of day you want to work. Departments could organize their faculty to provide teachers at all the available teaching spots. Each teacher still teaches the equivalent of 5 classes per “semester”, but does so on a varying schedule. And what is awesome is that schedule might change year to year. I am getting my Master’s Degree and might love to have afternoons free now, but next year, I need my evenings free so my spouse can put some extra time in the evenings into her own small business venture. Students might even pay for the chance to take class outside traditional times & places. Yes, society would have to change to accommodate. And that is what is so exciting. Think of the awesome possibilities.
Imagine if we, as a country, had the guts to address our education system and really take hard look at some of the things we can do to raise the bar. Bring together passionate educators and ask them to design a school year from scratch . Who knows what might come out of that.
I think a great place to start the discussion is simply to start asking questions. Take a hard look at the status quo and start asking why? or perhaps why not? What if? How could we? Should we? Why can’t we? And instead of finding reasons we cannot, find ways to say yes.