Research-informed practices can aid educators in improving school schedules
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland., has switched up its school day to lighten homework loads, reduce unproductive transitions and improve student focus, among other goals, EdSurge reports. The changes were made based on neuroscience and student learning research from the school's Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.
After 18 months of planning, the school — which starts at 8:30 a.m. — rolled out a new schedule with longer classes that meet three times a week, rather than four shorter periods. The school hopes longer periods will promote creative teaching and deeper learning, spur less overwhelming homework loads, and allow for more focus and a more moderate school life tempo, EdSurge notes.
The new schedule should also open up more time for students and teachers to meet one-on-one during the day, minimize conflicts between class time and other school activities, allow for research-informed professional development and allow for students to pursue their own interests. And roughly six months into the new format, the school says it looks to be successful.
The classroom norm has changed drastically since the introduction of what's known as more traditional learning formats: early school starts, many classes each day and the same set of electives. Today, high school students are expected to complete more credits, have a chosen career path, and maybe even have some professional certifications under their belt by the time they graduate.
While expectations for these students may have changed, the allotted time they have to get this done has not, leading districts to take on the task of changing that. From starting school later, to reducing how often classes meet, to adding extra hours in the school year, schools around the country are adjusting their schedules.
Later start times, for example, have been linked to fewer suspensions and higher grades, especially for disadvantaged students, and multiple school districts have embraced this model so far. The group Start School Later claims early high school start times force students to walk or drive to school in the dark and leave them sleep deprived — which ultimately hurts their academic performance and overall well-being.
On the other hand, Guilmette Elementary School in Lawrence, Massachusetts., recently added 260 hours of instruction to the school year. The longer school day allows grade teams more time to plan lessons, while students are given enrichment activities like dance, yoga and robotics that are taught by community partners.
Making school schedule changes is a major adjustment that will have impacts on not only students, but also their families and educators, and it's up to administrators to make sure schools' bases are covered before switching things up. For example, if class periods are extended, teachers must adjust their instruction methods to take advantage of the extra time granted. Changes could include more group work, in-class activities and discussion. However, less obvious effects of a change as major as this — including shifting transportation logistics — should also be considered in thinking through the implementation and feasibility.