Effective Practices : Pedagogy
Class Schedules - The Rhythm of the Day and Week
Pedagogy Section 6
1. Who is the person or group in your school that is responsible for scheduling classes for students? How was this person or individual selected?
2. What are the key considerations that go into the formation of the schedule? If these considerations are different for the lower school versus the high school, please differentiate between them.
3. How were these key considerations, or guiding principles, developed?
4. When a draft schedule is proposed for the school year is there any review by another body or individuals before the schedule is implemented? Describe who is involved and what process is used to ensure a sound schedule is implemented for the students.
5. What is the length of a period at your school? How many periods are there in a standard school day?
6. What is working particularly well at your school with regard to the way that the classes are scheduled? In what ways is the schedule structured to maximize student learning and promote healthy rhythms?
7. If there is something at your school that you would like to change with the way that classes are scheduled, what would it be and why?
Who is the person or group in your school that is responsible for scheduling classes for students? How was this person or individual selected?
In most schools an individual or a small group is selected by the College of Teachers to handle this task. The key skills required are strong organizational skills, an intimate knowledge of the school, and a balanced, unbiased view of what is needed. It is critical that the individual or group selected have the trust of the faculty so that fears about favoritism or preferential handling are avoided. It is frequent for schools to involve one new person in the scheduling group each year so that the understanding of how the schedule is created is shared by more than a few people, and so that fresh ideas and perspectives can be brought to the work.
One school that has recently switched from creating schedules in a manual fashion to using scheduling software made some interesting observations about this transition process and the implications for selecting the individuals charged with creating the schedule:
For many years the school entrusted this responsibility to a single person who did this work on a manual basis. The skill that was needed for this task was an organized, mathematical mind as the work is an optimization process which seeks to establish a schedule in the face of a variety of constraints and priorities. The challenge when a single person does a task like this is that he is always open to questions about his objectivity.
A few years ago the school began using Lantiv Timetabler software to do the scheduling. We began with a joint meeting between the high school and lower school teachers at which all of the various needs and desires with regard to schedule were expressed. Out of this work teachers from both bodies took up the challenge of creating a schedule using the software. Their first efforts at a schedule were given to the Leadership Team (Management Council) for review. The long time scheduler also made suggestions, and then the schedule was shared with the general faculty. Now a member of the school advisory council (College) and a technical advisor create the schedule for review by the Leadership Team prior to sharing with the faculty.
With the software available to us the skill set for the scheduler changed somewhat. No longer does the scheduler need to be able to create the various scenarios that the software can so easily simulate. Instead the scheduler needs to be able to facilitate conversations between faculty members with conflicting needs, and find the solution that optimizes the classes for our students. The scheduler must be able to solicit input from all the teachers and create a good feedback process for letting people know when their requests cannot be met. The scheduler must be both technically capable and a good facilitator of conversations about tradeoffs, and be able to suggest alternative solutions.
The software helps us to form the basic scheduling foundation, and makes it easy to ask lots of “what if” questions. Is it possible for the entire school to have lunch at the same time? What is the maximum number of classes that could have lunch at the same time and still meet our other scheduling needs? How can we add two extra periods of math per week for the 8th grade to ensure their preparation for high school? The speed of the software at answering these questions has allowed us to examine our pedagogical thinking with regard to the curriculum in ways that would not have been possible in the past.
What are the key considerations that go into the formation of the schedule? If these considerations are different for the lower school versus the high school, please differentiate between them.
There are a number of considerations that limit a school’s ability to create an ideal schedule. These include:
- Faculty availability. Schools often have a number of part time teachers who are not available all day every day. Schools attempt to maximize the number of hours that a part time teacher will work on a given day so that people are not asked to show up for just one or two periods a day.
- Some subject teachers cross over between the lower school and high school. In some cases this is further complicated by having the two parts of the school at different locations, and by differing class lengths for the lower school versus the high school.
- Class teacher requests. Sometimes a class teacher will ask for a particular period with her class, perhaps for an afternoon math or English skills period. In other cases a class teacher may have particular insights about the needs of the students. One school cited a 1st grade class where the students would benefit from gardening and extra eurythmy classes, and an effort to enhance the experience for the 7th and 8th grade boys through short blocks of fencing and blacksmithing.
- Hygiene needs. On occasion a teacher will ask for an afternoon off one day a week so that she can be fresh for Board meetings held that evening.
- Room availability. Some classes must be taught in specialized classrooms, and schools have a finite number of rooms available during the day.
Once a school has identified the limitations on its scheduling options a number of considerations come into play. The rhythm of the day and other pedagogical concerns are paramount in shaping the schedule. Typical considerations include:
- Eurythmy and games are not scheduled in the same day if possible. If it is necessary to schedule these on the same day then an effort is made to break them up between the morning and the afternoon, with eurythmy usually being scheduled at the earlier time. Schools also try to avoid scheduling eurythmy following the morning recess.
- Games and PE classes are often scheduled in the afternoon. This time of day works well for all ages. As a practical matter the older students often need to be excused early for team games, and this is easier to coordinate if they are leaving a scheduled PE class rather than some other subject.
- Schools do not schedule two different language classes on the same day.
- Handwork, gardening, woodwork and the practical arts are best scheduled in the afternoon.
- Some classes require a double period. Classes that require a fair amount of time for set up and clean up such as painting, art, and handwork are frequently scheduled as double periods. One school cited a variation on this. It has found that 7th and 8th grade art requires a period and a half, so a study period is often included at the end of the second period in those slots.
- Schools often split classes to ensure that students get adequate attention and access to equipment. For example, one school schedules woodwork, handwork and art in rotating blocks in the 8th grade, with a third of the students placed in each block. The blocks last a third of the year. This approach puts a small number of students in the woodwork and machine sewing/handwork blocks.
- In the high school mathematics and language classes are frequently split by skill level rather than by grade, adding another level of complexity to the scheduling process. One school mentioned that it has begun to use multiple lunch periods in the high school. This approach has allowed it to have foreign language classes for some students while others are at lunch. This approach has allowed it to accommodate those high school students who wish to continue with two foreign languages in the high school.
Schools have some interesting (and sometimes contradictory) thoughts on scheduling foreign language classes. Many schools feel that foreign language classes in the lower school should always be scheduled before lunch. However, one school reported success with moving language for the young grades to an afternoon period after the children have had a rest. The language teachers found from their experience that there was too much “head work” for the young children when a foreign language class was scheduled in the morning after main lesson.
A number of philosophical perspectives on scheduling were cited by the schools in our study. These include:
- Schools attempt to balance thinking classes with will classes throughout the day. Ideally the schedule will have a healthy variety for the students each day, with a good mix between academic work, artistic expression, and physical movement.
- Subject teachers often report that it can be helpful to have a class two days in a row. Something is built up in the first day that can be continued in the second day, and more seems to be accomplished in the same amount of time with this approach. When classes are split up throughout the week it seems as though the class is always starting, stopping and then restarting a subject and time is wasted while students get back into the swing of a class that they have not had for a few days.
- Schools work to make sure that the class teacher has enough time away from the class, at least one, but ideally two, periods a day. They also make sure that the class teacher is not gone for too long a period of time. Students do need the consistent presence of the class teacher, especially when they are younger.
- The work load between teachers is balanced as much as possible. Class teachers have a heavier workload than other teachers, and relief is provided wherever it is possible and appropriate. Schools are especially conscious of the particular burdens on the class teacher in the 1st and 8th grades, and work to ensure that the teaching load is lightest there.
- In 7th and 8th grades the students benefit from having the high school teachers come into the lower school for English and mathematics for all or part of the year.
- Main lesson practice classes (English, math, etc.) in the lower school are scheduled in the afternoon. Two practice classes are never scheduled in the same day as students should not be asked to do a period of English followed by a period of math.
- The last period of the day should not be an academic class in any grade.
- The lowest grades receive priority in terms of scheduling. The youngest children receive the schedule that is closest to ideal.
Schools are constantly experimenting with new scheduling approaches in their ongoing quest to find the ideal approach for their students. One school reported a scheduling change that has been very effective is to schedule recess before lunch rather than after lunch in the lower school. Lunch recess is scheduled from 12:35 until 12:55, followed by a 1/2 hour lunch and a five minute transition period. In the past classes that were scheduled right after lunch recess were difficult for the teachers to manage, and it took a fair amount of time for the class to settle down and get ready to work. The new schedule has created lunch as a settling time. The students have more than enough time to eat and talk and use the restroom, and are really ready to get back to work when lunch is complete.
Another school found that by moving high school music classes later in the day all lower school foreign language lessons were able to take place before lunch, which was a priority for them. Because teachers work in both the lower school and the high school decisions made in and for one body of the school affect the other body as well, and compromises must be clearly and carefully managed.
How were these key considerations, or guiding principles, developed?
Scheduling classes begins with an understanding of child development and a careful eye for observation of the students. The principles that guide a school’s scheduling practices are developed over time. Many conversations take place on these topics between teachers on the principles that should guide the scheduling, and they have learned through experience and experimentation what is critical for student development and where compromises can be made that have the least impact on student development.
In most high schools the faculty meets as a whole and establishes the priorities for the high school. The high school schedule is usually far more structured than that of the lower school, and track classes that take place for much of the day following main lesson.
When a draft schedule is proposed for the school year is there any review by another body or individuals before the schedule is implemented? Describe who is involved and what process is used to ensure a sound schedule is implemented for the students.
In most schools a preliminary schedule is developed and then each teacher is provided a copy of his or her own schedule and asked for feedback. Areas of concern are noted, although each teacher is aware that any change in the schedule will have an impact on others and may not be accommodated. Minor adjustments are made and then the schedule in its entirety is given to the class teachers and high school sponsors for review and comment. Adjustments are made where possible. It is hoped that no changes will be required after school has begun, although at times the reality of a schedule for a teacher or a class may be different in actual practice than it seemed before school began and some adjustments may be needed in the first week of the school year.
What is the length of a period at your school? How many periods are there in a standard school day?
Schools take a variety of approaches to class length. Some schools report that main lesson periods are two hours long, while others report them to be as short as 100 minutes in the high school and 90 minutes in the lower school. Periods after main lesson range from 40 to 55 minutes with a 5 minute passing period. As previously noted, some classes are scheduled for a double period. (See question 2 above.)
One lower school that has recently moved to longer periods noted that “students seem to be settling in more for their classes. Students get so much more done, beyond what might be expected in the extra ten minutes. We believe this is due to the fact that students really have the opportunity to settle into their class work. There is a relaxed quality in the classroom and the students are calmer. It also seems to be easier and less stressful for our teachers, even though the total time in front of students each day is the same.”
What is working particularly well at your school with regard to the way that the classes are scheduled? In what ways is the schedule structured to maximize student learning and promote healthy rhythms?
Schools in our study made the following observations on things that were working particularly well for them:
The hour long periods have been a real plus for the students and the teachers.
The practice of scheduling special subject classes on consecutive days has been helpful. But another school noted that we generally schedule subjects twice/week with at least one day off between them.
We get lots of movement opportunities into the students’ days, and are conscious of the particular developmental needs of the children at each age.
We have managed to get all of our foreign language classes in the morning.
The use of scheduling software has dealt with the unease that some people felt about whether the schedule was biased in favor of one or another individual.
The truly optimum rhythm for all classes may never be possible. We defer to the lower grades in terms of who gets the closest to optimum whenever we have a conflict.
We avoid having two foreign languages taught on the same day.
Some upper grade subjects like art or handwork are scheduled in double periods.
High school artistic or movement classes are scheduled in double periods.
We try not to teach foreign languages in the last period of the day - sometimes we have to do a French circle during main lesson to avoid this.
If there is something at your school that you would like to change with the way that classes are scheduled, what would it be and why?
We would like to be able to always make the day more hygienic for the class teacher by never scheduling them for more than 2 periods with a class after main lesson. We often end up with 3 on one day and 1 on another.
We are examining our use of main lesson blocks to teach science in the high school. We are wondering if we should move to a science track class, and if this would help in the preparation for college science classes.
We have minimized the number of grades that must wait until 1 o’clock for lunch, but we would like to eliminate this need altogether so everyone has an earlier lunch, with the entire campus eating at the same time.
The number of classrooms and the availability of teachers is always a constraint.
The 7th and 8th grade teachers often feel that there are so many subjects that must be taught that the class teachers don’t have enough time. We have asked whether it would be appropriate to have a slightly longer day for the middle school students, but have not yet made this decision.
We wonder whether it would be appropriate to end the school day at noon for our first graders.
Teacher availability, especially for our subject teachers, could be improved. At this time we are not able to offer full time salaries for our subject teachers, a situation which leads to limits on their availability.