21 February 2009

Making Time

As I'm out and and about talking with teachers, one of the common things secondary schools are struggling with is how to deal with interventions. Elementary classrooms have approached interventions with much more finesse for years. The problem at secondary is twofold. First is the issue of what to do. At the secondary level, we're more or less inclined to teach a unit of study, give the test, and if kids flunk, we just move on. We typically don't do so well with going back to revisit things. Now that teachers are becoming more attuned to the concept of remediation, we're looking for curriculum and strategies that will support this. The second part of the problem concerns time. Elementary classrooms have more flexibility with time blocks, while secondary is typically stuck in a 6-period day. A teacher has 50 minutes or so to tackle whatever instructional needs there are and then the kids are gone.

I am starting to hear about creative solutions at secondary to address the issue of time. Some teachers are collaborating and combining classes for regrouping. Others are looking to their elementary peers for ideas about workshop models and grouping within a given block of time. But what if we brought back Study Hall? And instead of the end of the day (when brains and bodies are tired), we built it in as part of the schedule for teachers and students? There will be some that use the system for learning...and others who will use the system to get our for a smoke or snack (as this WaPo article suggests), but could schools adjust this beginning idea to help move all kids forward? Are there pockets of time each day we could better use for student learning and/or teacher collaboration?

11 comments:

Hedgetoad said...

A couple of other things also make interventions difficult at the secondary level. The most important one is apathy. By the time a student is 14 years old, they've had 9 years of "education" that didn't work for one reason or another... How does the teacher combat nearly a decade of the "you're stupid!" voice in their head and convince the student that if they try one more time, they may or may not be successful?

The Science Goddess said...

That does seem like the $20K question. I'm hearing from many high schools that are asking about that.

Dorothy said...

What do you do with the kids who don't need the remediation?

If everyone needed remediation, then the issue lies with the teacher. The teacher needs remediation or a different career. If some kids require remediation, then can we please come up with solutions that respect the needs of the kids who require (yes require, their needs are just as important as the kids who require remediation) the class to move forward?

The Science Goddess said...

Kids who don't need remediation can go to enrichment during those extra points of time. Also, while a student might not need remediation in math, s/he might need help in another class. Differentiation for everyone.

Roger Sweeny said...

It would make things so easy if everyone needed the same amount of remediation. Then we could just build it into every day or week.

But I suspect the need for remediation is very, very unevenly distributed.

Dorothy said...

Wait a minute. See, I used to teach high school math, that's my bias here. So are you saying that students who do not need remediation in their high school algebra class get offered "enrichment" instead of being able to learn the next item on the state adopted curriculum? A student who, by virtue of their ability and their behavior, has mastered balancing equations in chemistry will get enrichment until the other students catch up? Doesn't that put a sham on rigor and mastering the standards one is supposed to master in a course?

Maybe I am not seeing your point. If you are talking about all remediation happening outside of the regular class time, that's fine. But do not slow down the class to the lowest common denominator. That does no one any good. Adding flex time *if it replaces class time* would be a shame. In my district, in some high schools at least, kids who need extra math help take two periods of math, the regular class and "math support." It's like study hall but better because it is staffed with math teacher and there is an expectation that the students are there to work on math. Modifying to a more "flex" model to aid all courses would be a challenge, especially here in the Evergreen state that barely pays for five periods a day for high school, leaving districts barely able to scrape up funds to pay for a 6th period.

I am perhaps also biased because my son's LA and SS classes already act a lot like study halls. They spend an extraordinary amount of time in class reading from the textbook or working on "homework." Hmm. If they could delegate *all* of that to flextime and actually, um, teach, during class time, that might be an improvement. Seems like a lot of entrenched cultural obstacles to overcome, both from the teachers and the students.

The Science Goddess said...

Roger---you're right that learning does not occur at the same rate for all students. I hope that in coming years, secondary schools can find more flexible pockets of time for kids who need more time in a given subject area.

Dorothy---the point is to find time wherever we can, both outside of scheduled class time and during meeting times. The point is not to hold any kids back, but to support each students where s/he is ready to learn.

Mr. McNamar said...

Utopian education, I like the sound of it.
Truthfully, I would like to see this "flex" model implemented. However, unless students are internally motivated, the flex doesn't work properly. So, the task becomes changing the culture of a school first.

Jane said...

Science Goddess,

Dorothy has a very valid point. There are kids who don't need remediation, they need to move forward. And there are kids who don't need remediation in any class. Unfortunately, enrichment is often used as a speed bump to slow down the high kids.

My kids are still in elementary school, and I have had hopes that when they move beyond elementary school they can move beyond the constant remediation/enrichment/differentiation. They don't need R/E/D, they need access to materials that they don't know already.

Since you don't seem to be experiencing the problems that Dorothy and I have seen with high kids waiting for the others to catch up, could you share what your system has done to avoid this?

Jane said...

Science Goddess,

Dorothy has a very valid point. There are kids who don't need remediation, they need to move forward. And there are kids who don't need remediation in any class. Unfortunately, enrichment is often used as a speed bump to slow down the high kids.

My kids are still in elementary school, and I have had hopes that when they move beyond elementary school they can move beyond the constant remediation/enrichment/differentiation. They don't need R/E/D, they need access to materials that they don't know already.

Since you don't seem to be experiencing the problems that Dorothy and I have seen with high kids waiting for the others to catch up, could you share what your system has done to avoid this?

The Science Goddess said...

I don't know that it's a "system" thing as much as it is something that occurs either at the classroom or teacher level. I've been in hundreds of classrooms now and seen quite a range of what teachers are doing with their students. Some, unfortunately, run their classes much as you have experienced. But I would say that there are growing numbers of classrooms where teachers are able to personalize instruction for students. If there is any "system" answer, I would say that the schools where I see this happening have staff where collaboration is a norm. It's not "my kids," it's "our kids" and everyone shares the responsibility for student learning. I would not say that we have reached the tipping point where this is concerned, but I have a lot of hope for the future based on the direction things are taking now.