Back to School

100619_142348_0.pngBack to School -

I guess today is an important day, at least for some secondary students I know.  Today will be the first day back to school in eight school days, almost as much time as the regular winter break.  In some ways the month of January for some students has become a non-existent school endeavor.  There are reasons why this happened, and perhaps there are reasons why this should not have happened.

Many schools divide the year in half, and believe me, this will come back to a discussion of the calendar.  A semester plan works and it is the tradition, and it's time to question that tradition in a most serious way. The school does divide its school year into semesters, and it does allow students who are "academically behind" a four day window in which to catch up on all their studies.

All students enjoy the legal holiday of Martin Luther King Day.   After Martin Luther King Day, the school engaged in what would have been "finals" time, but with a difference.  That difference is that students who are "on schedule for learning" are given time away from school for up to four days, while those students who are needing remediation are required to attend school for four days.  In theory this is a good idea, as it provides students a chance to reset the learning clock.  I wonder however about the secondary messages being sent.  Instead of indicating that all students learn at different rates, the message is being sent that some students learn better and earn rewards, while other students learn less well and have consequences.  It also sends a message that there is a hierarchy of learners, those that can learn and those that can't.  The "cans" get time off; the "can't's" get time on task - in school - with the teacher, almost like an elaborate in-school detention.

Two points emerge here.  If those students who "can" and "do" earn extra free time what might that extra time have to do with learning?  Could they be given additional learning?  Or, could they choose from a menu of special learning options, like mentorships, internships, community service, or independent research programs?  In some ways, while the "can do's" have earned the credential of learning well, they are being punished for learning well and have now been denied learning.  How did all those "can do's" spend the last eight days?   Was there a plan?  

Second those students who "need more" learning time were likewise punished.  In addition to being singled out as unable, or unwilling, or unaware of the consequences, they are forced to come to school to catch up on learning in such a way that isolates them from their peers.  Was their learning enhanced or improved?  Did they show mastery or proficiency, or did they attend school to catch up on missed assignments?  Were those assignments tailored in anyway to their learning styles or learning needs?  And to make this situation more negative, some students were forced to attend school because the teacher had neglected to correct the papers which would have enabled them to stay at home.  

Somehow things are all mixed up.  I have to ask, "What happened to after school time?"  What happened to special study times?  

Now all this was exacerbated by a two day hiatus due to the blizzard Juno.  It's Maine, it's going to snow - and we all know it's going to snow in January.   In Maine, everyone loves the unpredictability of a snow day, knowing full well that the day has been added back into the calendar later in the year.  It's that wonderful unpredictability that makes snow days enjoyable - but we all know that snow days get made up.  And everyone loves this video's creative principal as he announces it is important to "Stay at home."  But notice that he also says, "Read a book."

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So, make up sessions and snow days have meant a hiatus of at least eight days in the month of January - when in fact students just had a winter break of ten days.  That means that some students had a total of ten school days in the month of January.  That kind of schedule does not build continuity or stability into the learning program.  When students and teachers meet today for the first time in an organized regular schedule, it will feel more like the restart after a vacation than school itself.  How many class sessions will be given over to review?  Is that a wise use of time?  Does that meet learning needs?

Yet, if the school, or any school in Maine, moved to trimesters, and actively engaged in planning a learning calendar, this could be avoided.  The first term could end in late November and the school could give a day to catch up at that point before the onset of the worst winter weather.  The second term could end in March after the worst winter weather.  It's not just the time off, but the sequencing of the time off that interrupts continued learning.  

If we are truly concerned about learning, we all need to do better at creating learning opportunities.

Everyday should be about learning.  The New Classroom will always attempt to find learning opportunities which are relevant to the child's experiences - and no child can be left behind or left out of those opportunities.

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