Rethinking the School Day
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
What if the school day were designed to meet the needs of the students and not the schedule?
Martha Kirkland, a young lawyer is trying her first major case. Convicting Eugene “The Eel” Ellis won’t be easy. He’s slipped through the hands of law enforcement since he’d shown up on the city’s streets. His moniker is well deserved. As the young lawyer enters the courtroom, Ellis, wearing an oily grin, is confident. Martha Kirkland never takes her seat and waits patiently for the judge to open the session. Kirkland’s first words send a cold chill but not in the defendant. It's Judge Danielle Mogel who looks like she’s going to vomit. And then the bell rings. Class is over. It’s time to go to Algebra. Sorry, there’s a schedule to keep.
Abrupt and unwanted endings to otherwise engaging activities are crazy-making, and yet, this is how our schools are designed. Sure, a well-crafted lesson includes consideration for a logical ending, but the reality is that we lose track of time and class is over—not finished—just over. It’s not the teacher's fault. But how is a teacher expected to teach dynamic material in a static schedule?
Focus Friday was an approach one school used to create larger blocks of time for deeply engaging students in their work. The teachers met and decided that the students would explore the automobile. The history and science of the automobile were studied in the morning. In the afternoon, automobile design and persuasive writing in advertising were studied through visual and language arts. The school abandoned their fifty-minute class schedule and created a fluid design that allowed students to move at a pace appropriate for their abilities and subject matter. There were no math, language, or elective classes that day and that’s okay. And it’s true that the P.E. teacher could have explored the effects that car seats have on the human body, but the goal isn’t to make sure every subject gets equal airtime. The goal is to create a day that offers students with an opportunity to integrate skills (reading, writing, and arithmetic) make connections across disciplines.
Designing theme-driven, open-ended learning opportunities can be a challenge, but the focus of education should be on the learner and not the schedule. I invite you to reinvent the schedules in your school and share your stories with me. I’d love to highlight the amazing work that’s happening in your classrooms.
Markus Hunt is an educator, writer, speaker, and musician living in Aurora, Colorado.