Monday, May 13, 2013

Longer School Days - Is That REALLY the Solution?

I just read yet another article about the push to lengthen the school day in order to improve student achievement entitled Learning Takes Time: Growing Movement Seeks to Expand the Length of the School Day by Celia Baker. The last paragraph of the article I think highlights the advantage of this idea:
"More time and money won't help if they are not well-spent, Gabrieli cautioned. The National Center on Time & Learning report suggests that additional time be used for more engaged interaction in academic classes; broader curricula; enrichment activities that boost school engagement; and more time for teacher collaboration and professional development".
 As with anything in education (think technology), if it's done right and planned out and designed to address specific needs, it will have an impact.  If it's done for the sake of being done with no real plan or purpose, it is NOT going to be effective. Adding hours to the school day so that students can do more drill-and-kill worksheets or practice more test-taking strategies is not the intent or purpose, but is what I fear will happen, as I have experienced this very thing personally.  An extra hour added to the school day, which divided up between the classes added about 8 minutes to each class.  Whoopee!!  The thought process was: "we can get in 10 more problems or, we now have more time to start on homework, or we have 8 more minutes of lecture" - that's how it worked.  It was NOT a benefit to students or teachers - rather it simply provided more time to do more of the same. If you are going to provide more time, then do something DIFFERENT.

I look at my poor daughter, who has three weeks left of classes before she graduates from high school. State testing is over, so apparently all the teachers have decided that there is nothing left to teach (exception to the rule -Forensics and English), since it was all crammed in before the state tests. The school added time to the schedule this year - all classes are 10 minutes longer so thankfully there was lots of extra time to practice test taking....and practice, and practice, and practice. So what do we do with the days and hours that stretch ahead in these next three weeks? Apparently nothing.  Here is my daughters day from Friday:

  1. First bell - watched a movie "Surfs Up" (in government).
  2. Second bell - played games on her phone as rest of class slept (and obviously took a picture as well!)
  3. 3rd bell - played games on her phone.  Oh...and planned her AP calculus project - i.e. making a cake decorated with a math symbol.  Yes....that is the project.
  4. 4th bell - thank goodness, early release (being a senior and now that her basketball season is ended).
Three more weeks of this. I would LOVE to not have her go and basically waste 5 1/2 hours of her day, however if she doesn't go, she fails for attendance. (Despite having no work to do, straight A's and literally doing nothing educationally productive). Calling and complaining and asking the teachers to do something results in worksheets of problems and review...worksheets...drill-and-kill.

So...here is a case where there is time.  Lots of time. Time that  is completely pointless.  I know this happens everywhere, and not just in my daughters school. Why isn't anyone doing something that is engaging, challenging, dare I say it, FUN, where students take the learning from the year and apply it?  Wouldn't that be a better way to use our time? I myself had the same end-of-year time issues - but I loved it.  I used the time to do applications of what we had learned all year in math - i.e. let's determine what's the strongest bridge design is (shapes, force, etc.), using toothpicks, and have a contest for creating the strongest bridge. Or let's create an animated transformational geometry project using Sketchpad and programming. Fun, collaborative, creative and not sleeping or watching irrelevant movies.

I firmly believe in adding time to the school day IF it is going to create a different, engaging, creative and productive learning experience.  But if all time is going to do is allow a school or school system to brag that they have extra time in their day, but all teachers do is more worksheets, more test prep, or watch a movie, then what's the point?  I am against it. If we want students to learn more and be engaged in school, time is not the answer unless that time is filled with true educational value. Think and plan - if it's not going to change what's happening, if it's not going to add value or different options, then it's not worth the time.


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