Scheduling for Learning – An Exciting Development

On Wednesday 9th March, in a letter to all Secondary School families, I outlined an important and exciting change in our provision of learning in the Secondary School. It is something that I have discussed at length with colleagues and with students during my three years of being the Secondary School Principal, which should give some indication of how strongly I have felt that it is the most important step required in making learning at our school more progressive, student-centred and efficacious.

As I wrote in my letter, our current schedule has been relatively successful for a long time in ensuring we can offer a broad range of subjects and meet our Higher Level hours for the IB Diploma classes (in which HL subjects must have 240 hours of learning over the two years, a challenge for many IB World Schools). However, on the downside Middle School students in particular spend 40 minutes of every day moving between classes, and the school day is very fast-paced for all of the wrong reasons.

The most significant developments are with length of lessons and with the creation of ‘flexible, student-directed’ time, the latter being something that students in Grades 6-10 haven’t had the opportunity to utilise before.

Lesson length:

Currently, our lessons are 40 minutes long. This, I’m afraid, is the greatest problem with our current schedule and is something that has been desperate for development. A 40-minute class leaves little time for any more than a little bit of re-cap on prior learning, some teacher input or instruction of new learning, and then a maximum of twenty minutes of time for students to explore and practice. This is not enough time for authentic collaborative learning, for exploration, experimentation and feedback, nor allowing opportunities to ask questions, seek clarification, and sharing learning in a form of plenary. These are also essential components to effective pedagogy, and our lesson structure has, instead, restricted us to a little time for giving of information and some fairly passive reception, recall and individual practice (without time for loops of feedback and any deeper learning). Of course, many classes in the Upper School have had double-lessons on their schedules, which has alleviated this problem to some extent. However, most Middle School subjects and many Upper School lessons have continued to be single 40-minute lessons, and so changing this is one of the key motivators behind a schedule change.

The new lessons will be approximately the same length as current double-lessons, with morning lessons being 1 hour and 25 minutes in length, and afternoon lessons being 1 hour and 15 minutes in length. Naturally, if lessons are to be merely lectures with students listening or copying down what they hear, this is far too long (as, incidentally, is 40 minutes). One of our new teaching blocks will involve the whole range of recapping prior learning, connecting new learning to prior learning, teacher instruction, scaffolded inquiry, collaborative activities, individual reflection, sharing of learning and teacher feedback (both individually and collectively). Effective lesson design has been central to our work in the past three years, and will continue to be so with the Assistant Principal for Learning, Jamie Wilkinson, continuing his excellent start to life at LIS and supporting me to this end. The central aim is for students to be proactive participants in their learning, allowing them to inquire and take more ownership of what and how they learn.

Flex(ible) time:

To that end, the other big advantage is the Flex-time we are creating. Mainly through the abolition of changeover time between 9 different lessons per day (now there will only be 4, and the longer lessons means less need for such urgent marshalling of changeover time), 40 minutes per day has been created as student-directed flexible time. Some of this time will be used for Pastoral and PSHE lessons – where students in different classes being scheduled at the same time is essential for the opportunities it brings for putting groups together, and for larger community meetings and assemblies – and we have the early shoots of ideas for other projects within this time. However, one of the main advantages is for there to be time when students can form their own study groups, go into one of the many supervised study rooms, and collaborate, share their learning, and support each other in study groups. For students in Grades 11 and 12, this is something that they do anyway in their free periods. But for students in Grades 6-10, currently there is no time in the day when they can approach their teachers to ask for support or clarification in that concept they didn’t understand in class, or for guidance with that assignment they are struggling with. They have only 20 minutes in the morning for a snack break, and 40 minutes at lunch in which time they need to get their food, eat and clear up after themselves for the next lesson. And even if they sacrifice that, there’s no guarantee that their teacher won’t be busy eating too, since they might be teaching either side of the lunch break.

Thus Flex-time will allow our students to develop important skills such as self-management skills, which have been highlighted by the IBO in their ‘Approaches to Learning’ as essential areas to develop to create successful, lifelong learners. It is for this reason that this might be the most exciting development of all for our students. Meanwhile, the time is critical for IB Diploma students, since the lessons extend from the normal block of time for Higher Level lessons in order that they can meet their hours in effective blocks of two-hours of learning time.

Any downsides?

Being completely honest, I see no downsides at all to this schedule change. We have managed to design a significant change in schedule structure without affecting any of our curriculum offerings, which is to say that subjects have maintained the same hours that they have currently with very few amendments. The IB Diploma years (Grades 11 and 12) maintain the hours mandated to us per subject by IBO, while Middle School classes have sustained the hours we were previously offering for English and German (or EAL and GAL), for Mathematics, for the Sciences, for Individuals & Societies (previously called Social Studies, and including History and Geography), and for the third Language Acquisition subject (French or Spanish). Meanwhile, the Expressive Arts subjects (Art, Music, Physical Education) also maintain the current hours of activity and creativity they have currently. The only increase comes in ICT, where we have responded to the growing need for Digital Citizenship education for the students in the modern technological world and created additional time there.

Of course, there have been other mild changes that won’t please everyone. It has been difficult (but ultimately has been managed) moving from one timetable system to another for students in the current Grades 9 and 11, who made their subject choices in one system and we have had to honour them in another.

Connected to this has been the fact that students in Grades 9 and 10 in future will have one fewer subject option. Moving away from the UK-system of credential-gathering at IGCSE, we believe that it is far better for students to have the time to properly explore subjects, content and concepts, to have the time to have student-directed inquiry as opposed to curriculum-delivery and examination-practice as the sole driver of the study. For this reason, and because it works in our new 8-block structure, we have reduced the number of offers by one subject to allow other subjects (German, the Sciences, the Languages, the Human Sciences – Individuals & Societies) to have the same curriculum time as we previously gave only to Mathematics and to English (who also complete the Literature IGCSE in the same time-frame). This seems not only more balanced for students and their wide-ranging interests, but also will allow those subjects more time to create authentic learning rather than just curriculum-completion. If truth be told, our website still says that students are recommended in taking a maximum or 6 or 7 examination subjects at IGCSE when in actuality students have been taking 10 or 11 this past examination session. We believe the 9 that can now be taken is more than sufficient as students move towards ultimately selecting 6 subjects (including some offerings only commencing in Grade 11, like Business Management, Psychology and Economics) for the IB Diploma.

All of that said, I’d like to reiterate my appreciation of the Grade 9 students and families who this year became the only year group who would have to drop a subject mid-course to facilitate this timetable change. Despite initial worries and disappointment from some, I was impressed with how everyone listened to the arguments put forth about the benefits of such a shift and were supportive of the process.

What does a schedule look like?

In order to facilitate the subjects and the hours, it is a two-week timetable with a Week A and a Week B. Such schedules have been very common for a long time around the world – the first time I worked with one was in 2002 – and, despite worries that people will never know what week it is, people easily adapt. Please note, too, the school day will start a fraction earlier, at 8.00. This is something that we have been doing anyway throughout COVID-19 and our testing regime, but it will be the official start of registration time from August 2022. The fourth and last lesson of the day finishes at 15.15 – a little later than currently – but then there will be enrichment activities just as during the past two years that will continue to 16.00 or 16.15 depending on the nature of the activity. Sports coaching and some of our musical activities will take place, as currently, after that time.

The lesson-block rotation for Grades 6-10:

Without wishing to over-complicate things in this post, it is enough to know that each different letter-block has a different subject per year-group. So, for example, ‘C-block’, which has five long lessons over two weeks, is Mathematics for Grade 6, English or EAL for Grade 7, and a mix of ICT, Art, Music and PE for Grade 8 (these classes have different lessons of the five assigned to them at different times, something the students just receive in their individualised schedules and so don’t need to worry about how it is created).

Grade 6 schedule for the two weeks:

The schedule works on the same rotation for the Grades 11-12 in the IB Diploma years, but with Flex-time and the Clubs time taken up with Higher Level extension lessons for the students’ three HL subjects.

The rotation is as follows:

Example for an IBDP student:

Any other business:

I hope this post will prove enormously useful in explaining why we’ve made such an important change and give an early indication of what it will look like for the students. Despite the unintended benefits of young people with schoolbags larger than themselves hiking up and down the stairs of our beautiful school building all day being lost, I believe this new schedule will replace that sort of physical rigour with the academic rigour of deeper, more student-centred, inquiry-based classroom learning as well as allowing more time for our students to develop the important ‘approaches to learning’ skills to make them more efficient and effective lifelong learners in the future.

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