Sometimes, less is more

Over December, my students at Skyline High School in Oakland worked on four school-reform proposals.  This project is the child of summer work that my colleagues and I did with the Buck Institute for Project Based Learning and my recent trip to Finland.

While I was halfway across the world, talking with Finnish educators, my students were studying the Finnish education system and comparing that world-leading education to their own.  After identifying numerous places where our school could improve, each of my two Introduction to Education classes chose two topics to dive deep into.  Introduction to Education is a tenth grade class for students who think they might want to enter the education field as a career.  These students then take Educational Psychology in their junior year, and cap their experience with Peer Education as seniors. This is the third of those four posts.

Less is More

My students would like to have more minimum days.  At first glance, this may seem like an immature idea.  Of course, students would like to spend less time in school.  However, this idea came from a team of students who tell me that they are enjoying their classes.  This idea came from a team of students who imagine themselves in teaching careers after college.

So why would they propose more minimum days?

Currently, my school has two minimum days each month.  These days fall on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.  On those days, school begins at it’ normal 8:05AM, but students are released at 1:15 rather than 3:05.  We reserve the final near-two hours for teacher collaboration.

My students would prefer to have minimum days each Wednesday.

They argue that having a different bell schedule every other Wednesday is confusing.  I have to agree.  Personally, I’m never so happy that my classes know that I release them at the end of the period rather than the bell than I am on Wednesdays.  The bells never seem to be synced to the correct schedule.  Sometimes, on a “regular” Wednesday, the bells sound in the middle of the class.  I see students in the classes across the hall spilling out into the hallway.  I see a teacher trying to herd them back into their room.  I hear the vice-principal over the loudspeakers announcing that, “Please disregard the bell, today is NOT a minimum day.”

It is very disruptive.  Even though my students remain in their seats, we all freeze as the bell interrupts our lesson.  It takes us a few minutes to wait for the announcement and then get back to our work.  I can only imagine how many instructional minutes are lost to those classes across the hall, where half of the class is packed and half-way gone.

Having our minimum days scheduled every week would allow teachers and students to anticipate the bells better, my students say.

Students see the value in teacher collaboration

My classes’ school-reform project is a good example of teacher collaboration.  My students mentioned to me that they appreciated being able to work on their policy briefs in their English class.  One student mentioned that she had learned how to check a source for bias in her history class, and used that skill to analyze one of the reports her team used to support the rationale for their school reform.

My students would like to see their teachers have more time to collaborate.  They mentioned that they would like our classes to have more projects like this one.  The students whose proposal was about teacher training, added that they would like to see their teachers use collaboration time to share best practices.  Actually, what they really said was, “The better teachers should help the ones who aren’t so good,” but that’s pretty much the same thing.

Sleeping in

Currently, my school’s minimum days are early release days.  On minimum days, our students begin classes at the regular 8:05.  The difference is that we dismiss them at 1:15 rather than at 3:05 in the afternoon.

Instead, my students would like their minimum days to be a late start.  They would like school to start at ten rather than eight in the morning, and then leave school at the same time as a regular day.  They quoted various research studies about the need for teen brains to sleep later in the morning.  You can peek at their research here, and here.

In total, I like their plan.  I was especially impressed with their findings about the teen brain and sleep.  After hearing their presentation, I found myself wondering not so much about changing our current minimum day schedule, but rather, changing every day to a later start…

But that’s another story.