The shouts and applause from the 6th grade last week when we shared plans for changes to the daily schedule were just one affirmation of the work we’ve done over the past two years to re-imagine the structure of our school day.
Our goal was to create a schedule which is student-centered and meets the educational needs of our children in the 21st century. The students’ joyful reception over the past week, as they heard about the changes, makes our excitement over the opportunities ahead even greater and it shows how wonderfully engaged our children are in their own learning environment.
Eighth graders met with Upper School Head Brent Bell, and returned to the Drake campus more revved up than ever about entering the Upper School in the fall. (Read Mr. Bell’s post about the schedule changes in the Upper school.) The 5th and 7th grades will meet by grade level this week to hear about opportunities for FLEX classes and to learn about how the pace of their day will be improved. Fewer transitions to make between classes will mean their time is less rushed while longer class periods will give students and teachers time to work together.
At first glance, the Middle School schedule may not seem too different. The biggest overall change is a move to an eight-day rotation. Not unlike the Lower School’s change a few years ago, an eight-day rotation means a more even occurrence of classes so that same class isn't regularly missed due to long weekends or an early athletics dismissal on a certain day of the week. By not having each class meet every day class periods are longer.
The 7th and 8th grade students will still have their academic classes in the morning, followed by lunch, arts and/or computer classes, and end the day with physical education and study hall time. We have found that to be a successful sequence. However, with hour-long class periods in the new schedule, not every class will meet each day. This will lighten the daily homework load. Just as importantly, it increases learning time for student inquiry and identifying areas of misunderstanding. A longer class period also will build in time for organizing and refining study skills as well as provide more time to teach and practice critical thinking skills, such as deductive reasoning and comparative problem-solving techniques.
Carousel scheduling & FLEX time
The same gains will also be realized in the 5th and 6th grades, with longer class periods and fewer class meetings within a week. Their schedules include a “carousel” of courses. In 5th grade these will be taught at the beginning of each day, mid-morning in 6th. Carousel scheduling allows many opportunities in a child’s day for such classes as art, music, physical education, and technology time without disrupting their other classes.
We are especially excited about our new 5th Grade Seminar class, which is designed to begin the year orienting our youngest students to the Middle School, and will include elements of speech, drama, and interdisciplinary work as the year progresses.
In the 6th grade carousel, a writing workshop will be added to help students work on the important skill of composition, and in response to their request for more study hall time, that also fits into the carousel.
New in the 7th and 8th grade is an additional course called FLEX time where students will take a rotation of courses including speech, computer science, leadership and cooperative learning. As in 5th and 6th grade, time is being designated for these courses.
The loudest shouts of joy came when I announced that Wednesday mornings will be “late start days.” Our teachers will come in early to do professional development and classes will start at 9:30 AM. The 5th graders, at age 10, aren’t quite sure what the excitement about more sleep time is, but they know enough to watch the older kids’ reactions and celebrate this, too.
One parent asked me recently why we chose Wednesdays and not Mondays. I explained that not only did our kids report midweek as their hardest time, but we found students have more Tuesday night activities than on any other weekday evening. A later start on Wednesdays will give our students time to catch up on sleep or studies, but it will also give our teachers a fresh time of day to meet, make lesson plans together, and gain some training time.
In my 17 years at Randolph, I have not seen such a significant student-centered change, nor have I been a part of such a comprehensive planning process to bring it to fruition. The opportunities for our coming year energize us all as we imagine the gains. We look forward to sharing more about it with you in the months ahead.