Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Changing the Pace of School: Slowing Down the Day to Improve the Quality of Learning

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Changing the Pace of School: Slowing Down the Day to Improve the Quality of Learning

Article excerpt

True learning requires time: time to wonder, time to pause, time to look closely, time to share, time to pay attention to what is most important, Mr. Wood reminds us. Time is the major resource at our disposal, and we must address how we use it to improve academic learning and performance.

CHANGES in educational approaches, beliefs, and practices come faster today than most teachers, parents, and children can begin to assimilate. New initiatives, curricula, and tests are piled one upon the other in suffocating layers, leaving little time for learning how to use them well. Take, for example, a small urban school district in which I have worked as a consulting teacher for the past three years. During this time, many major elementary curricular initiatives have been started, several others have been abandoned, and now a brand-new superintendent and central office administration are busy reorganizing what exists. This is typical. Speedy results are seen as politically necessary. When new approaches are not successful immediately, they are abandoned in favor of even newer ones.

In repeated and accelerated cycles of change, it is the children who suffer. Hurried through the school day and through the grade levels, they are left with little time to reflect on what they are learning or where their lives are headed. This year's reform will take place during the one year when Belle is 7. Next year's reading craze will have to be Steven's best shot at learning to read. We cannot give these children back their childhood years.

Rather than being the democratic, child-centered learning communities that they should be, our schools are once again becoming fact factories, cramming more into every minute of every hour of every day. The schedule is chopped into small pieces of time with little connection or continuity. Even the youngest children in elementary schools come and go all day long for such purposes as remedial reading, computer lab, physical education, anti-drug instruction, and dental screenings. Meanwhile, children in middle schools must contend with rotating daily schedules that continually confuse and frustrate them, not to mention their teachers. Lessons are served in bite-sized portions that can be quickly swallowed and digested. And there always seems to be more curriculum to cover and more tests to take -- but never any time added to the day. Children and teachers are left gasping for air.

If this sounds overstated, just ask any teacher about the pace of the school day. As a teacher of teachers, I constantly hear the frustrated voices of dedicated professionals as they grow more and more concerned:

"There just isn't enough time."

"The day is so rushed; we're always going from one place to another."

"The kids beg me to keep going, to finish stuff. I feel like such a time tyrant, but we have so much curriculum to cover."

Or walk into any school and ask a student about time:

"We don't have time to finish anything."

"The teacher always says we'll finish later, but we hardly ever do."

"We're always rushing. If math class was longer, I might get it better."

We must stop hurrying children and give them adequate time for learning. The assembly-line model of production is an outmoded and alienating system, destined to create failure in our schools. For this new century of information and speedy communication, we clearly need different models of learning communities -- models that foster thinking, dialogue, and meaningful relationships.

But transformation is no easy thing. If education is going to truly fulfill its public mission of teaching academic skills and modeling social standards, we need more clarity, more planning, and less impulsive, reactive implementation of "the latest best thing." There is an urgent need in our schools for increased accountability and more focused attention on basic skills. But that very urgency must not lead us to rush. …

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