Mar 292011
 

 Cross posted at RE:School 
Image by Zen Sutherland

Image by Zen Sutherland

In building the Integrated Studies Program (ISP), we considered all aspects of the learning environment. One that stood out significantly was the idea of the 40 minute class period. In a traditional high school setting, students generally meet for roughly 200 minutes per week per class regardless of what is to be learned and regardless of whether the learner is struggling with the material or mastering it readily. No matter what, the 200 minutes are sacred; teachers are forced to create lessons that fit neatly into 40 minute chunks while meeting the needs of all learners in the room.

We rejected the sanctity of the weekly 200 minutes. We reduced formal class time to 20 – 80 minutes per week per content area dependent upon the needs of the learners (ie – support for a large group project, addressing a common misconception as seen in the data, addressing a state standard being neglected by a group of students, labs). We achieved this by adopting a project based approach tied to standards with the standards tied to online learning modules. This allowed everyone to work asynchronously which, in turn, created time for teachers to work more closely, even one to one, with struggling learners for extended periods of time. The more advanced learners could then move ahead without growing frustrated and bored by the pace of the class. We recognized that formal class time is an aspect of, not the entirety of, the learning environment.

By eliminating the constraint of a rigid schedule, we created an environment where students have the autonomy to advocate for their own learning; the students are now participants in the learning rather than recipients of information. In moving the learning to a more asynchronous environment, school is redefined for the student. The classroom is more student driven as opposed to teacher driven b/c the student now gets to decide how and when to move through the curriculum rather than be directed. Students recognized this change quickly, saying “I am no longer held back by my classes” and “I can do my work when I want”. Moving from equal class time to equitable class time causes a significant change in the class environment.

  2 Responses to “Rejecting the Sanctity of 200 Minutes”

  1. What behavioral issues did you find in this transition? How did you sell this to students and parents? How do you deal with seat time issues for students transferring in late and transferring out?

    • The biggest behavioral issue that we had with students was time management. Moving from a highly controlled classroom to one as open as ours was a bit much for some of them to handle. Advisors spent a significant amount of time with their students teaching them how to get organized, make daily agendas, and prioritize tasks. Other typically problematic behaviors, the ones that disrupt the traditional 40 minute class, became non-issues since everyone works on their own schedule. Cell phone usage, the need to talk or move, iPods, or even some daydream time had absolutely no impact upon student learning.

      As far as selling it, the parents were tough. A few understood the environment right away but the majority expected the classroom to look as it did when they went to school. After a few weeks and a substantial amount of phone contact however, the parents began to appreciate what we were doing for their kids. Personal contact is big and this type of program makes that easier.

      A tougher sell than the parents, though, are some of the administrators. They expect to see structured lessons, mastery objectives, and kids being productive from bell to bell. To some of them, the program looks like a bunch of lazy kids and adults hanging out. It is an ongoing struggle.

      As far as credits for courses are concerned, we use a program called project foundry (projectfoundry.org) that allows us to track credit attained rather easily. Once a student has completed 5 credits in a given set of standards, then he or she receives credit for a course. If a student leaves the program, then we determine how many credits have been attained and report it on the transcript.

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