I can’t remember where I saw it, but I recently read an article about the interruption that bell causes with many schools when it destroys the flow of learning for a teacher. I have said something similar before and have not been in a school as an administrator where bells signified the end of a class. The idea was always that if a kid was deep into learning that the bells would stop that deep learning that was happening in the classroom.
Then I started to think my time in high school and how the bell was a reprieve from the boredom that I was experiencing in any given class. Yes, there were times where I wanted class to go on, but I would honestly say that as a student, those experiences were in the minority. How many times did you hear things such as, “The bell doesn’t dismiss you; I dismiss you.” You might have even said it a few times as a teacher. I know I have.
So as I thought about it, that one or two minutes that you might go deeper into a conversation could be great, but if we are set up on the same scheduling that we have been traditionally in high schools, do we ever really get deep enough into learning that students don’t want to leave? Are they trading “waiting for a bell” for “watching a clock”? Although I believe that bells are annoying and aren’t really helping anything in school other than create a Pavlovian effect for our students, is this small change creating a major difference in the way that we teach and learn?
When I went to visit Ann Michaelsen in Norway this past January, she told me how their high school had got rid of several classes in a day for high school students, and went with one class per day. For example, you might have English on Monday, Mathematics on Tuesday, and so on. What she had shared was that this created a significant shift in the way educators taught their classes. As I watched the teachers in action, it looked more like a workshop model in every classroom, with students doing a lot of hands on work, and the teacher becoming almost like an academic advisor, working with individual students throughout the day and seeing where they were in their studies. The amount of time that each teacher had with the students had really made an impact on changing teacher practice and mindset towards the way kids were learning throughout the day. It would be tough to lecture for five or six hours in a day; the students would have to become more involved in their learning.
I am not sure how effective this type of day would be for a student or a teacher at the high school level, because I have never experienced it (although this was a standard practice for myself as an elementary teacher), but I will tell you that it looked pretty amazing. We still have to work within the confines of a system and although there are many people that would like to start from scratch, it is not a reality for many schools.
That being said, are there times when we have to think less about the little “tweaks” we can make to the existing structure of school, and think more about some of the major changes we can make in our school? For example, many see a SmartBoard as a glorified chalkboard; a great improvement on what we have used before but not necessarily going to make a major difference on the way we teach and learn in the long run. Many would point to something like going “1 to 1” being a major change in many schools, but that would be only if was followed up with proper professional development. In a lot of schools the technology is being used to simply write notes and “google stuff”, or even simply collecting dust.
When do we move from “tweaking” the system to making some major shifts in what we do? There are a lot of innovative things that we can do within the system, but when do we start really pushing the boundaries?