One Solution to the Longer CPS School Day

A few days ago, I received an e-mail to join the Voice Ideas Vision Action (VIVA)Project's Chicago Teachers Project (all CPS teachers got this email).  The project is part of a national initiative to give teachers a voice in the 21st-Century education issues.  VIVA collaborates with school districts around the country to explore topics affecting their communities.  The Chicago focus is on the 21st-Century school calendar.

The discussion question presented for us is "if you could redesign the school structure to best fit the needs of your students at this 21st century moment of rapid change, what would the school day, week, and year look like?"

Teachers can post their response on VIVA's social sphere.  Other local teachers can then view it, comment on it, or vote with a plus sign(if they like it) or a minus sign (if they don't).

According to VIVA, here's what will happen:

1. They collect ideas from teachers from across the city on the question.

2. They select a Task Force of forum members to synthesize and summarize the comments and assemble a report to present to Jean-Claude Brizard.

3. Members of the Task Force meet with Brizard to present the group's recommendations.

These are some of the most active posts:

Be Bold Chicago, Stand Up to Kill Testing Culture Now

Um . . . Realistically [Some Students Are Done by Lunch]

Parallel Block Schedule: This would allow teachers to meet with small groups of students (6 -12) for 45 minutes, for Math and Language Arts.  Then as a whole class for an additional 45 minutes.

Submitting Grades at the End of the School Year Later (so students don't think it's over a couple of weeks before the last official day)

My response is below.  If you're a CPS teacher, check out the VIVA Project (see your First Class email) or comment here.  If you're not a teacher, present your response to the question here.

Let me assume my writing teacher role: More effective responses will respond directly to the question bolded above in a solution-based perspective that benefits students and doesn't overwhelm teachers.  Less effective responses will address other issues but, while they may be important, these will distract from this conversation and may confuse or repel readers.

Let's promote thoughtful conversation.

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In order for high-school students to prepare for and succeed in a 21st-Century world, they need to be exposed to real assignments. The extra time in a school day should be used so students can be involved in assignments that connect to the professional world outside of our schools.

Teachers don't need another class (high school teachers already have 5).  What if high school teachers have 4 classes a day (longer than the typical 45 minutes a class now) so they can do more with less students?  We would still have approximately 120 students a day.

The extra time could be used so teachers can collaborate and create engaging real-world experiences for students.  Students would, then, demonstrate their learning in a task that can be used in the "real world."  These are some examples:

  • Write an editorial or news article that is worthy of submission to a local paper or magazine--and get it published.
  • Create a piece of art or photo essay that can be displayed (even sold) at a local restaurant or coffee shop.
  • Produce an audio essay or poetry reading or current event summary that can be made available on the school's Web site or on iTunes (This last one is easy if EdNetworks manages your Web site).
  • Market and lead a work out at a local church or community center.
  • Demonstrate healthy cooking habits at a local grocery store.
  • Learn interior design concepts and redecorate a small part of a local businesss or community center.

And students don't need so many required classes each year.

Give them one reading class organized around history, literature, or nonfiction.

Give them one writing class focused on analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Give them one class in the arts.

Give them one class in math.

Give them one class in the sciences.

Technology can and should be integrated in all of these--along with a strong connection to the Common Core Standards.

PE opportunities can be provided after school through sports programs or fitness centers.  Instead of having PE in the regular school day, schools can partner with Bally's or the Chicago Park District or Curves and provide those athletic experiences after school.

World language exposure can also happen after the regular school day with online, individualized programs.  This is also a good opportunity to make language labs available to parents.

In order for teachers to provide these real-world opportunities, we need the resources.  This is where corporations--who can then hire our students--need to help.  Schools, too, need to reassess their resource allocation.

Teachers must be prepared to function in the real world outside our classrooms.  We--ourselves--need to be open to professional development in the 21st-Century.  A teacher-intership program so teachers can spend time at a city paper, a news station, a marketing firm, a restaurant kitchen, or an interior design company would help teachers grow.  Maybe this internship is a required part of our job: we take a break from teaching every few years and do an internship.

There are many teachers who are capable and willing to do these types of projects.

These can be spread out throughout the year.  If each teacher does one real-world project 2 times a year, students will be exposed to these experiences over 8 times each year.

I know all the details are not worked out.  This is a start to complicated conversation.  We need to start talking more.  I know not every school can do this.  But many, many teachers are willing and capable.  Students should have the option and access to these 21-st Century opportunities.

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    I would totally be in favor of something like 3 or 4 classes, longer classes, like say and hour, or 1:15, something like that, or maybe a more college like schedule where 2 classes meet for a longer period of time twice a week, and 2 meet for a little less 3 days a week. As an English/Social Studies teacher, it's sooooo hard to do the 45 minute thing especially when you're trying to teach kids how to analyze literature, or you find that your students don't have the context that they need to really understand & expand when you're trying to get them to see something or to make a connection.

  • Thanks for the response on my blog. Love your emphasis on the "real" world here! I very much believe that most high schoolers are ready to make decisions/solve problems/impact people in real world situations that, properly selected, will motivate them to practice complex thinking skills. How about starting, promoting, and running a small business? It seems like business teachers could be doing "hands-on" learning that students would get excited about. This, however, contradicts the fewer required courses you advocate. (which makes sense) Too, I must admit, using world languages and exposure to world cultures is pretty important, too...students should be exposed to the real "real world" in its global context...perhaps they can study world languages with a combination of online learning and a special project that utilizes the city's diversity and engages students in language/culture. Not to push business--but marketing and advertising in another language could be interesting...

    Longer class period goes without saying, almost. When I taught 5 classes as a new teacher in the CPS, it was a bit of a blur, I'm afraid. Your point to do more with less kids is well-taken, as students would benefit from depth in their studies--and be better known by their teachers and classmates, creating a stronger connection to the learning environment.

    It's a good idea, as well, to have teachers get/stay involved in this "real world" perspective. I only taught in the CPS for 3 years, but it was all-consuming. I am glad that I did, and have done, some other things besides teaching in a large school district. Long-term, teachers will grow from their own "real world" experiences and bring that excitement to the classroom. Surely they have interests besides teaching they could express in this way! Can only help.

  • In reply to the Sub:

    Thanks for posting a comment, the Sub and Jeffery. Anything we can do to help students make decisions instead of just recall information is necessary. And we, as teachers, need to see the world outside of our classroom. The amount of time good teachers devote to planning and instruction, not to mention after-school activities, takes over people's lives. We sometimes lose touch with current events. Let's see what happens with the longer day.

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