To address the social, emotional, and psychological needs of our students in more creative ways, we need more time with our students face-to-face. (Day 4 of the 30-Day Writing Challenge)
The Ramifications of Shortened Class Periods and Increased Screen Time
Shortened Class Periods: The Rationale
In the 2020–2021 school year, we shortened our class periods by several minutes. Teachers had “office hours” at the end of the day, during which we could help individual students.
The rationale made sense, considering we were teaching in a hybrid format, then fully remote, and then back to a hybrid format again. Students stared at their screens a lot, since our classes were completely synchronous. To give back an hour seemed like a good idea at the time.
What I Could Have Done to Cut Screen Time
Upon reflection, and speaking only for myself, I could have done better by my students. I could have shortened the screen time for my class by distributing texts, for example.
I put everything online because I was afraid to distribute texts to the students. If I could do it again, I would have distributed those books and cut the screen time in half in my class. I regret the error.
What I Did Do to Cut Screen Time
I did incorporate audio whenever possible, and asked the students to listen instead of read. That idea was helpful. Additionally, students were encouraged to complete their assignments on paper, take a photo, and upload the photo to the assignment in the LMS. That eliminated some screen time.
Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself. That’s no surprise.
My Response to More Homework
The shorter class periods gave us less time to work with our students. Still, the objectives, content, and skills of the course remained the same as previous years. The solution was to assign more homework.
When the kids complained about the amount of homework they received, and I analyzed their workload using a feature in the LMS, I decided to avoid daily homework as much as possible and favor longer-term projects, like novel studies. Again, I encouraged students to use audio and text together as much as possible.
I told myself, and still believe, that their homework for other classes required their full attention. For example, a review of a concept learned in math or science class after school is good practice.
Longer-term projects, complete with regular journal entries and a highly structured workbook, afforded me the opportunity to teach them about scheduling their time to avoid procrastinating. I explicitly taught students how to be self-directed learners, to take ownership of their learning. Finally, I explicitly taught students about metacognition, challenging them to contemplate their learning and thinking processes.
I Still Think Stretch Time Was a Good Idea
The increased screen time influenced my decision to allow stretch time for five minutes at the end of class. I was concerned about the students sitting in one spot for too long, and encouraged them to get outside for a minute, take in some fresh air, and then get back in time for their next class.
Yes, that means I had less time to work with students, but I do not regret that decision.
The Argument for More Time with Our Students
This school year, we are returning to face-to-face instruction. We are supposed to return to a regular bell schedule. It occurs to me that we actually need several minutes more than that schedule allows.
More Time to Teach Taking Ownership of Learning
As I wrote in my article about Summer School, that course afforded me the time to teach students about mastery-learning and being an advocate for one’s learning. The students responded strongly to those ideas.
With only a few more minutes, I could continue to emphasize being an advocate for one’s learning, adopting critical thinking strategies, and asking good questions for clarification. I could share more resources during class a s well.
More Time for Collaboration and Enculturation
In my article about teaching journalism for the first time, I wrote about collaboration and enculturation as a way to get “buy in” from the students. Collaboration takes time, and is more successful face-to-face. It seems to me that just when students are hitting their stride, the class period is over. It would be helpful to have just a few more minutes.
More Time to Incorporate SEL
Teachers are not psychologists. We are curators, however. Fortunately, there are many resources that focus on Social and Emotional Learning. They can be adapted for the students in front of us to address their needs.
My thoughts include a brief class check-in; time to journal, to complete an exit slip, or to think-pair-share; explicit instruction on managing one’s cognitive triangle; and using literature to emphasize how important interdependence and empathy are. CASEL, however, provides even more information on SEL.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
Let’s Learn from the Past
We can learn so much from this past school year. My ideas about teaching and learning have become more complex. I am more committed than ever to meeting students where they are, helping them realize their potential, and helping the whole human being. Experience has been a key factor in this evolution.
My historian skills (I was a history major in my first go-round in college) cry out to me to review what has passed and learn from it. What I learned while writing this post is that we need more time together as a learning community. We can be so much more successful.
Thank you for reading the fourth post of my 30-Day Writing Challenge. If you have any comments or questions, I encourage you to respond to this article. I am grateful that you took the time to read it and would love to read your thoughts.