For most students, teachers, and schools, there is a set amount of time during the school day. Students arrive at school around 8am and leave around 3pm. Time is allotted for lunch, math, literacy, social studies, physical education, science, music, etc. There is usually a time for study hall. Well, really it’s time for students to socialize and do 5-10 minutes of homework. If closing achievement gaps and ensuring student learning are what you want to accomplish, your school day should be filled with time for learning, students working with other students or teachers.
I was selected as Principal of South Tama Middle School, in Toledo, Iowa in the spring of 2010. They had just been identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School via the No Child Left Behind legislation in Iowa. I started in July and embarked on a journey to ensure learning for all students. There was a daily schedule created when I began and time was given at the end of the day for a study hall. This time was consistent across all three grade levels. As I met staff, I asked what this time was for? The response was time for homework and also time for students to visit teachers to ask for help on homework. There was also a common response that it was a time teachers dreaded. There was not much structure and many students didn't need the time for homework. Being new, I knew I didn't want to shake the boat too much, however I knew that time would need to be used for something else. Specifically, time for interventions for students.
As the staff and I began to learn together over the next months, we had many a conversation about how we could utilize this time to help students close the achievement gap. I asked the question, can we use this time to provide instruction on prerequisite skills that some students were missing? The response I got was mixed. There were teachers that thought more time was needed for homework. Others, many others, were on board with utilizing this time for interventions. We made the jump. We divided up students based upon student data to provide added learning time for those who were struggling.
The question arose quickly, what do we do for the students who aren't struggling, the good students? We brainstormed and staff stepped up. We had a Family and Consumer Science teacher who teaches students about healthy snacks, then prepares and sells the snacks to students. Health, cooking, and financial literacy in one! A science teacher did a unit in conjunction with the local electrical company on conservation. Our Talented and Gifted teacher used this time to work with his students on extending learning and providing new learning opportunities. Everyone stepped up. We even had a Social Studies teacher who volunteered to take an intervention group for students who struggled with vocabulary.
So, you may ask, how has this worked out? We've refined our instruction and purchased research based intervention curriculum to support both students and teachers. There have been bumps on the road, but there have been some great victories. Staff have taken leadership and really made this time their own. In January of 2014, we were notified that we had been removed from the Persistently Lowest Achieving list. We celebrated our success and the hard work it took to get there, but we keep pressing forward, looking for ways we can provide more support for our students.
What have you done to repurpose time for student learning in your school?