Watching The Clock

Watching the clock

An American report could help schools to re-examine their views on the timetabling of the school day.

Pupils spend two-thirds of their waking hours away from school, and along with money, time is perhaps the most readily measured and easily understood resource in schools.

The Extended School Day has become a term familiar to anyone working in the state education sector in the UK. Before asking children to spend more time in school, we need to take a serious look at how time is spent during the existing school hours.

Already, much of the school day is filled with assemblies, registration, announcements, break-times, movement between rooms and other activities that contribute neither to achievement nor well-being. In many classes, once children arrive in the classroom, it is likely that they will have to wait until the slowest and least motivated child is present and settled, and the teacher organized, before any educational activity can begin. Once the lesson has got underway, further time can be lost to intrusions, disruption, procedures and inattention.

Is “More” more when it comes to teaching and learning?

Despite the drive for extended schools, additional tuition for the gifted and the needy, there is little evidence that extending teaching time alone benefits children.

According to Silva (2007) the way that time is spent in school can be analysed so that planning for future use of this precious resource can be most effective.

The report suggests that one can think of school time as being “comprised of four different “types” of time:

  • The largest is allocated school time, followed by
  • allocated class time (hours that students are required to be in school and class, but include break times)
  • instructional time, (time devoted to formal instruction or learning)
  • Academic learning time. (time in which students are actually engaged in learning)

While the distinctions may seem obvious, they are important because they make clear why any extended time proposal must focus on providing the right kind of time, i.e., instructional time and academic learning time, rather than just adding hours in general.” (Silva, 2007)

The report gives an example of how a 50 minute session of reading instruction per day can result in just four minutes of engaged reading at a high success level for a student who pays attention about a third of the time, and where one quarter of the student’s concentrated reading time is at a high level of success.

In addition to the conclusion that the best kind of extra time should be instructional time, she also cites research to show that the children from the least affluent homes gain the most from additional instructional time, since children from more affluent families are likely to be given more opportunities to continue educational experiences after school and in the holidays.

It is not surprising to read in the conclusion to this report that “extended time was an essential part of the schools’ success, but other factors were also important, including strong leaders, excellent teachers, high student expectations, careful monitoring of performance, and a safe, supportive and nurturing school environment. In other words, time was not an add-on in the schools, but part of a larger, coherent reform plan.”

So what does the report conclude?

  1. Use additional time in school to provide opportunities for teachers to work together and support their professional development.
  2. Schools should look at providing time for individualized attention to students
  3. Provide Academic Learning Time in Blocks: block scheduling divides the instructional day into longer and fewer periods, usually four periods of 80–100 minutes. Longer blocks of instruction have been shown to increase student learning, particularly for low-performing students.
  4. Data should be used to answer questions such as:
    • How is time in school currently spent?
    • How much time is spent on academic instruction in a given school day and in a given class period?
    • How well are teachers able to cover the curriculum within existing time constraints?
    • Do problems stem from ineffective teaching or poor curriculum coverage relative to national standards?
    • How much time is lost to poor classroom management or “dead time,” when students are dozing or waiting for instruction?
    • Are events, field trips and testing schedules aligned to complement the curriculum?
    • And do teachers and students feel that they have enough time for learning and, if not, what do they want more time for?

This report reminds us of the importance of increasing instructional time spent in schools and suggests that one of the answers is to use Block Scheduling. For the individual teacher, there are additional approaches they can implement that will ensure that valuable instructional time does not leak out of the system on a daily basis. These will include self-starter activities for motivated children so they do not have to wait for others to begin their work. Examples of these are preparation and warm-up tasks children can undertake as soon as they arrive in the class or at the activity area; “Do now” and “Discuss now” instructions and resources ready for children to do in groups as soon as they are ready.

Yes, children do need breathing time between activities, but use of time needs to be defined and delineated and both teachers and children clear about what is work time and what is relaxation time. This whole area of school life can be a fruitful area of debate for both teachers and children and is an excellent way of involving children in self-assessment. What a great way of preparing children for taking control of their futures.

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Silva, E. (2007) On The Clock – rethinking the way schools use time Washington, D.C.: Education Sector.

Image Credits: kevindooley

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