Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No Bells - part one

David Wees feels that School Bells Interfere With Learning. I beg to differ.
"I hate being interrupted ..." and "The clock itself isn't evil, but the way we use it in schools has serious ramifications on how our students learn."
I hate being interrupted, too, but this has little to do with the bells and a lot to do with the location of the clock and the habits of the teacher. No matter how long the class is, whether you have a 4x4 block system or 7x50min or 8x40min, 1hr per day, or 2hrs per day, each class needs to end sometime. If the teacher can see the clock, it shouldn't take him by surprise.

Mrs. Curmudgeon's school is considering the switch back to bells every period. For years they had no bells between classes, just at the beginning and end of the day. There were the problems you might expect: groups of kids milling in the hall chatting, kids who show up 10 minutes late because the other teacher didn't notice the time or just wanted to keep going. The bathroom is a favorite excuse.

Students aren't going through the day in lockstep with all of their classmates and we must keep to a schedule so that everyone's time and preparation can be utilized most effectively. One freshman may take Honors Algebra2, Spanish 3 and H.English but the other takes CP English, CPAlgebra1 and Spanish1. The only course they have in common might be a Freshman History. You really can't expect every other teacher to make adjustments to fit that teacher's teaching whim of the day.

"I am always getting interrupted by the bell" and "It just never seems long enough" are not reasons to get rid of bells. "Kids are always late" is not one either. I've taught classes that were 40, 45, 50, 60, 80 and 90 minutes long; seminars and workshops lasting from 15 minutes to 6 hours. They always have definite schedules.

The only way to allow for extended time is to have large time gaps between classes, a la college scheduling. Even in this scenario, few classes are ever extended. You have an hour, so you plan for an hour. Extensions are done during "office hours" or during that time after class when the student catches the teacher and asks a question.

It wouldn't be a proper 21st century school reform piece if it didn't mention the dreaded "factory-model" analogy and dream wistfully about flexibility and "learning opportunities," so here goes:
Clocks are part of the systems world of a school but they have come to rule our life world. We have let ourselves become subject to fixed schedules, daily routine, and the drudgery of a factory-like system. I'm not saying that we can do without the clocks, but maybe we need to find ways for our system to be more flexible, to allow the learning to extend when necessary, and even send off kids early for another opportunity to learn, when their lesson with us is done.
So my group of 15 can't all begin at once because you are keeping 12 of them for a necessary extended learning opportunity? "Necessary" to whom? Will you send them to me when I have my AP calculus kids in their own "extended learning opportunity"?

If any student can be late at any time by merely invoking the "I didn't know what time it was", then what kind of message are we sending about responsibility? When your kids can deliberately steer you into a digression so they can be "legitimately" late to their next class, what societal good are we accomplishing? If promptness no longer matters, then few students will ever be prompt and the school will deteriorate.  You'll accomplish less than you do now and eventually go back.

Maybe we could do the 21st century skills, uber-techno-geek thing and program every student's iPhone, iPad, netbook ... to sound an alarm to signal the end of periods.

No comments:

Post a Comment