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# New ways to structure the school day and year in blended-learning settings

Video transcript

Now, as we share some examples of schools actually changing these assumptions and playing with these decisions, don't get too fixated on the actual decisions that they make. You may agree with some, you may disagree with others, that's not the point. What we're trying to illustrate is that you actually have these assumptions as things that you can play with in your context. There are choices that you can make. So Summit looked at the school calendar and they had two desired outcomes. The first was for students, the second was for adults. For students, they wanted an environment where students could go deep on extra curricular or electives for a sustained amount of time. And for staff, they just wanted more PD time during the year to spend really thoughtful time and training with each other. So they looked at the calendar and they built these things called "intersessions," which looks a lot like a college campus intersession. For a couple weeks at a time, students work with either a set of teachers or community partners to do deep and meaningful sustained projects. And during that time, the staff have really rich professional development time with each other. Now, they used to have a very traditional schedule, and they went after this change in a process to create something very new and very different. "So when we started really rethinking our school model, one of the things we've tried to free ourselves from was the traditional year-long calendar, just like we tried to free ourselves from the sort-of traditional bell-schedule. And so we started with kind of a blank slate and we said, 'You know, what will be ideal and what would be optimal?' And clearly, there are some constraints because our society still has this notion of summer break and things like that. But within reason, we said, 'You know, really, how long do we need to spend on an annual basis for kids to be able to progress in the way we want them to progress and to learn the content, learn the skills they need to learn. And how can they rethink that year so that it's not start and then run all the way to the end before you have a breathe or a break or a time to reflect?' And so, we've done something really innovative, which is we have taken 8 weeks of the school year. So really, 20% of this time in school for a year, and said, 'We know we value kids having authentic real-world experiences where they're able to follow passions and do a deep dive and be in the community. Let's give them that opportunity during the school year. In our kids, we broken it up, so three two-week periods and two one-week period scattered throughout the year, and let's give them the time to set back from the regular day to day to be able to reflect, to be able to mercy themselves in something else, to get that breather and break and in a sense, restart. But even more powerful is what it does for teachers because it gives our teachers 8 weeks spread throughout the year very strategically, where they have time to professionally develop, where they have time to work as a team, where they have time to look at the data around their students and reconfigure and do these iteration cycles where they're really think about and looking at data, what they've developed and what they're learning, and how they can iterate on that, and regroup on that, and be true leaders.' It's so incredibly powerful, and I think it's one of the key drivers for how we're able to move our model forward so quickly and so efficiently and so effectively, and I think of a beautiful example on how you can take what's best for kids: principles and things you value, and find a way to leverage that to make the model really, really work very well." Now, that's one way we've seen people start to play with the school calendar. Some schools were familiar with are actually going to year-round schooling. And they're doing this in a variety of ways: having flexible groupings for students, they're doing very specific tracks so they have different vacations, and staggering the schedule within the school, and we're seeing all manner of innovations in this. What we think is important is to remember that everything is a tool. The calendar can be a tool. Don't assume that it has to be the way it always been. Think about the desired student outcomes that you want in a learning environment, and figure out how your calendar can support that. Now, all the schools that we're looking at, KIPP probably has the most different looking school day itself. Now, you may be aware, but KIPP has made a very big commitment across its 140 plus schools to have an extended learning days for each child. And often the schedule goes from 7:30 am to 5 pm. Now whatever you think about an extended school day -- I happen to think length of time matters a lot, it's an interesting question to still ask. Well, does this have to be true for every student? If we believe in our mastery based ideas, what if some students need an extended school day and other don't? Could we envision a system where students could show mastery and maybe get an earlier release or even have a day of the week that they didn't even have to come to school, or that they could work on projects that they cared most about because they already shown that they know it. So again, if you think about changing the length of the school day, you don't have to think in a uniform block of every student. We're still focusing on what individual students need. And this brings up a really interesting question, which is everyone's favorite, which is homework. Now, do we actually need the same concept of homework that we always had, or if we're focusing on mastery, could we let the students decide where they do the work? So we hold them to the bar of what they need to learn, and whether they do it in school or at home almost becomes irrelevant. Carpe Diem, in Arizona and Indianapolis, combine these two ideas of question and homework and whether all students need the same schedule to create one of these models where students who has demonstrated mastery can take their Fridays off or work on something they're interested in. And similarly, Navigator Schools has built their schedule with an earlier release each day for students who are on pace and showing mastery, they get to either go home or work on something they want to, and the students who need more work to demonstrate mastery stay and get small group or 1-on-1 time with their teachers. So today, let's focus on how people use time across the whole day as well as how people manage this day to day in a school when there's these kind of different schedules happening. Now, one of the things that we've emphasized is that when you move to blended learning, teachers can use time much more effectively within a classroom. But our protagonist schools don't just stop there. They're also thinking about, how do you combine classes in novel ways, rethink schedules, and actually move beyond using that time effectively just within the classroom. Right, so in KIPP LA, they do a rotation within the classroom, but they also rotate between classrooms to mix and match students and teachers all around the idea of getting the right kid in front of the right adult for the right lesson. "We thought, wait, why don't we played our strengths? We have a teacher who's really good at getting the low babies up. We have a teacher who's really good at getting those bubble students, those students that were right in the bubble, proficient, advanced, push them all the way up and getting them solid advanced. So why don't we played our strengths? So we started mixing the kids. We started sending kids to different teachers for the math lab to make sure that they were truly getting what they needed." Similarly, think about how Navigator Schools created a school wide schedule that allows teachers to peel off students as they mastered material, so they can dive in deeper with the students who are still struggling with a concept. "I'll give you an example. A second grader would begin a day in a math class. They have a 60 minute math lesson, and at the end of that 60 minute math lesson, we assess the student's learning for that day on what we call "daily learning objectives." Those who got it go on to the blended learning part and do ST Math for 30 minutes. The rest are pulled into this small group intervention. We have a parent that comes in and covers the computer time, while the teachers are working with the kids." And these lab rotation models are going to require school wide coordination because you have fixed resources, like a lab, and different students using them. So this is, by definition, going to bring everyone in the school together coordinated on schedule. Now, as we think about a flex model, the opportunities for school wide reinvention around schedule becomes even greater. And the reason is because we lose those distinct demarcations between subject matter times because in essence, students are picking when they want to do math, foreign language, reading, social studies, science within that period of flexible learning. So, at Carpe Diem, the school we've mentioned in Arizona and Indianapolis, they have a large, open blocks of time, often multiple hours. And one student might spend a little bit more time on math, and a little bit less time on English. And this is really nice because, why do we think that all knowledge can be broken down into a 57 minute chunk? Some activities are just going to take more time, and that's really hard to do if the bell rings and sends kids on every 57 minutes. "We've created time and space for students to really drive their own learning. And we call this 'personalized learning time.' Personalized learning time, in our schools, for one day a week happens in a really large chunk of time. And during that time, students are also engaged in a 1-on-1 conversation with their mentors. So this combination. And really, what we're driving for here is that we wanted students to sort of build that muscle, if you will, to get the experience of thinking about a longer chunk of time, a big stretch of time that they really were going to control in terms of planning for it, setting goals, actually working their way through it, accessing resources, seeking appropriate help, and we felt like the way schools are traditional structured, students really only have short chunks of time in which they're asked to do that. We wanted to give them a longer period of time that they could really build that muscle because we do think that's more like college career in life that you're going to have those big, open spans of time that you really have to think about." At Acton Academy, which is a blended learning school in Austin, Texas, the school gives students 2 to 3 1/2 hours each day, where they can pick and choose what to work on to meet their individual learning goals. So some students may be working on math by consuming videos on Khan Academy, or working through ALEKS, which is a math software program, and others might be working on English, where still, others learning their foreign language through Rosetta Stone. And this idea of flexible schedules is not a US only phenomenon, especially for those of you taking this course internationally. Take a look in Sweden, an organization called Kunskapsskolan, which has schools in Sweden, New York, and other settings. Here, students actually create much of their own schedule each day. So they essentially eliminated this notion of a classroom schedule, and students are progressing through their own individual pathways, and they actually divide classes up in steps. So there's steps 1-35 that students are working on, and it might actually seems sort of chaotic, but from the students point of view, they have a strict schedule. It's determined by their learning goals, which they recorded in the logbook, and they work their way through them. And it's fine for Michael to be on step 34 and me to be on step 3, but we both know where we are, and there's a minimum that they're assuring everyone is still making progress at. Now I want to pause for a minute, put my old principal's hat back on because if I'm honest with myself, it was really hard to manage just one master schedule. And I used to fanatically look at the right teacher, the right room, to think about building flexibility into that would have been like playing 3 dimensional chess. And I think it would've been really hard for me. So I want to put two ideas out of how people are working on this. The first is to really still hold that control, and to put just as much attention to the master schedules we've always done, but now to really build in that flexibility. And this is hard work, but it's doable, and it's almost being a wedding planner on steroids. You have to get everybody in the right seat, but Uncle Joe can't sit next to Aunt Sally, and then what happens if there is a disaster. But if we think about flexibility as a piece of a schedule they made tricks to, it actually can be done, and schools are doing this new model. Now, if we move to a flex model, this sort of demonstrates the second option in front of us, which is to sort of relax our rigidity around each minute of the school day, and let students actually own and drive the learning. So if we look at our flex schools like Summit and Acton Academy and others, basically students are making those decisions about how they use that individual learning time themselves. And again, this isn't all day, take away the rules. We think schools need lots of structures and systems to hold kids accountable. But could we envision a part of the day, where for some amount of time, kids have more control and there are more flexibility? We think yes. And this is a win for students because there's nothing that says, "I need to spend just as much time on reading as I do in math, or that Michael has that same formula." If we can let each student customize a bit, it would be a more efficient learning system. And if we think about post-secondary success, it seems logical that students would do much better in the post-secondary or work forcing environments if they've had the experience of managing their workload at the K-12 level.