Prisoners of Time

Time is a scarce commodity.  No one has enough.  We talk about how busy we are and how much there is to do.  How do we fit it all in?

In “Prisoners of Time“, A U. S. National Education Commision identified time as the missing component in the education system in the U.S. Lack of time affects student learning and the success of the system.  Within the opening pages of the document, a number of problems around the issue of time and the educational system are listed.

Problem 1 – Schools are controlled by the clock. Set start times, set finish times, set holidays and numbers of days.

Problem 2 – Classes are the same length regardless of content and student achievement or need.

Problem 3 – Standards for entrence into post-high insitutions are based on credit unit, which are determined mostly by the number of hours a student sat in a class regardless of the effectiveness of that time.

Problem 4 – Within the school day some time is lost from academic subjects to ‘non-academic’ subjects.

The opening of the document then spends a little time looking at some commonly held myths to do with school and time.

Myth 1 –  All students arrive at school ready to learning in the same way, on the same schedule in rhtyhm with each other.

Myth 2 –  Time spent for nonacademic purposes will not interfer with academic learning.

Myth 3 – If the school day and year worked in that past it will still work now.

Myth 4 –  Schools can be transformed without teachers having time to relearn and change to do new work in new ways.

Myth 5 –  World class academic performance can be achieved in a system that is failing students.

So is the report correct?  Are we prisoners of time, is the system failing and can things be changed within the confines of the current time-bound system?

It makes sense to me that learning takes time.  I see the benefit of this year of time given to me to pursue my Masters.  I have had the time to read, reflect and rethink the issues which are important to me in school and what I would like to accomplish.  It has given me the opportunity to try out ‘new literacies’ and see the benefits znd drawbacks associated with them.  It has allowed me to form connections with some of the educational community beyond the walls of my own school and into the global world.  It has given me a glimpse of the ‘ideal’ for which I would like to strive.

I have not been able to ‘flex’ my day as much as it would have been nice too.  I know that another colleague on leave has been able to work at home and relax her day, live not by the clock as we do at school.  I haven’t been able to do this because I have young children and it starts my day and my work neds to fit in the spaces between. It would be interesting to see life with that kind of ‘leisure’.  It reminds me of a paper I wrote on Bertand Russell and “In Praise of Idleness”.  Thoughtfulness requires time.  Do we give students time to be thoughtful?

It makes sense to me as well that students in some communities would benefit from longer or more flexible school days and years.  Students who rely on school food programs and run the streets during the summer, would do better to be in school or at least in adult supervised and loving situations for the summer months and off-hours.

Certainly in some schools in Saskatoon, there is flexibility being built into the kind of year and day that the schools offer.  High schools are experimenting with later start times which suit the body rythms of teenagers more accurately.  One of the schools has a quarter system and runs only two classes a term to suit students whose lives are busy with work or have difficulty committing to a whole term of school.  Flexibility which reminds me that not all students come to school ready at the same time for the same things in synch with one another.

One of my classmates was speculating about a school year which was divided into six week blocks where a topic was studied in a multidiscimplnary way for a short period of time.  I think this has excellent possibilities for increasing student cricital and creative thinking, maybe allowing for a ‘studio’ classroom instead of a lecture hall.

It seems obvious that students are not all the smae and ready for the same things at the same times.  I wonder how the classroom in the elementary setting might be adapted to suit students.  Partly, I believe that all classrooms between K-6 should look like the excellent kindergarten classroom.  This is where I am not sure I agree with the commission in its ‘academic’ and ‘nonacademic’ distinction.  I think there is a lack of understanding or appreciation of multiple intelligences implied in this distinction.  Are Art and Music – nonacademic subjects?  Is Phys.Ed. a nonacademic subject?  Are these things wastes of time?

Do we need to rethink the school year and day?  Probably.  Do we need to give teachers time to retrain and relearn and plan?  Absolutely.  Do we need to allow students and teachers time for reflection and deep thinking.  Definitely.  Do we need to discontinue nonacademic subjects?  NO.  We need to learn how to value and stimulate and connect with all kinds of thinking modes and communicating modes.  Something that web 2.0 allows for in incredible ways.  Teachers can lead the way – if only we had the time!

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3 Comments

Filed under curriculum, education, teacher training

3 responses to “Prisoners of Time

  1. Pingback: Twenty-First Century Schools Committee » Time to learn?

  2. Susan,
    You are right, right, right. Time is such a precious commodity that we had better be sure we are using it the best we can. Do we need to look at how schools run? Absolutely. We need to consider that teachers need time to retrain, reflect, relax and renew. Schools today are doing so many more things than what the traditional schools did but we’re still doing it according to a traditional schedule. Recess – 15 minutes. Lunch – 1 hour. School ends – 3:30. I like the idea of studio type courses. I think we need to fashion our high school in way similar to our elementary classes creating self-directed learners who will pursue learning with the guidance of a teacher. As for the non-academic things, I do not think of Art or Music but of the various “other” school activities that take place like pep-rallies, speakers, spirit events and so forth. Now, to me, these are crucial to the learning environment of the school. I don’t think that we need to abandon schools but we do need to rethink how we use our time while we are there. Thanks Susan for an interesting post.

  3. I know whereof you speak Kelly. We often have special events and speakers which come in onto ‘learning’ time. I am starting to see this a bit differently now that I have a child in school and reflect on my experiences more closely. It is definitely the “Spirit Days” and special occasions which make school feel like ‘home’. This cultivation of ‘home’ and relationship is crucial to learning. My son came home in tears once this year because he was expecting a party on Valentine’s Day and it didn’t feel like a party to him. It wouldn’t have take much to make the activities of the day feel like a party, maybe five minutes or so with a snack time. (His teacher is wonderful by the way). It wasn’t a bad learning experience to look together at what is meant by ‘party’ and why that might not happen in school.

    I hope we start to lead the way in changing how schools ‘do school’. Thanks for dropping by.

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