I had only half of my already small class today. We spent a cozy morning catching up on things and I took the time to think about whether my weekly scheduling choices have worked out this year.
One of the year’s biggest experiments was the structure of our mornings. Rather than have an hour of Latin class, an hour of “English” — writing and argumentation, and an hour of math, we made each of those three subjects half an hour. That’s enough time to quickly review homework, read or introduce a concept, and assign another day’s homework. We took the other 30 minutes of each and stuck it all together as “individual study time.”
Starting at 10:30, the students (7th grade) have till 12:00 every day to schedule and manage their work. They make and approve a schedule for their time with me every day. I also use that time to talk with students who need some extra scaffolding in any subject and go over test scores and writing individually.
We sit at one table together for our classes, but I also have a few desks facing the walls on the edges of the classroom and a nook with comfy reading chairs and a tea station. At study time, the students can work wherever is comfortable and least distracting to them. Usually one of the students makes tea and serves the rest of the class. Students may schedule short breaks if they need them and are free to move around the room and the campus.
I aim for giving students about three hours of individual work for each school day, so that they could complete half at school and then have about an hour and a half of work at home. Quick finishers can sometimes get everything done during their study time, though, and some of the slower or more distracted ones probably do work longer at home.
But anyway, it’s enough work that they do need to strategize –what should I do in the morning when I’m fresh? What should I do while I have a teacher to consult? What should I do so that I can leave some of my books at school? Should I do all of one thing, or should I do a little of everything?
I’ve mostly been pleased with the experiment. It’s given me time to build in the one-on-one conversations that some students need. Because I watch them work, I can teach executive functioning skills just when they could use them most. I’ve liked the emphasis, with shorter class times, on students forming relationships with the texts and material rather than me presenting or digesting it before hand.
I asked the students if they’ve enjoyed the set-up and they said they appreciate the freedom and the agency to finish things at their own pace. Our mornings mimics some of the best things about my own homeschooling experience, in which I had some small chunk of time with my mom to go over a new concept before working on my own to finish (and check!) my work.
The downsides might be:
This method might not scale well for a larger class.
It’s hard to keep up with the executive functioning needs of some students in this set-up. Less organized kiddos can lose track of themselves unless very closely monitored.
Unless I strictly maintain a quiet classroom, the students easily become chatty as they work- there isn’t as much externally-produced focus as there is in a designed, subject-specific “activity.”
Overall, I’m more and more a fan of putting the work of building relationships with materials in the students’s hands BUT not abandoning them while they do it. Our daily individual study times have maintained that balance pretty well this year.
CC image courtesy of Sabatheus on Wikimedia Commons.