Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Class Time

Teachers can change their classroom environment, what assignments they give, and how they interact with students, but none of that changes what their class literally is on paper. Although all of the things I mentioned can easily affect how much the student learns and how engaged they are, it still isn’t what composes the class. The actual time spent in the class, when it really comes down to it, is the class on its most basic level. It’s the foundation of everything that makes the essence of the class. It’s the only thing that’s technically required from a class.
            The classes that most students are accustomed to primarily revolve around notetaking. You take your notes and then there’s an activity right after that. Then the bell rings and you go on your way. It’s not necessarily a bad method of class time usage, as it does have results. Students will remember everything they need to pass the test. No problems there, right? Usually, those note based classes are pretty dense and fail to give their students enough time to truly learn the material. They just memorize. They might know what, but they don’t know why. And as a result, they information fades from their memories the second after they’ve taken the test.
            It’s a good idea in theory. Lots of information delivered in a condensed form, an activity to compact the knowledge in a student’s head, and then a test based off of the information that they’ve learned. I’ve looked at this teaching method through both a student’s and a teacher’s perspective. When I had the opportunity to follow a teacher around for a day, I got to learn about how he saw the teaching method I mentioned above. He was passionate about teaching and confident in how he taught. He tried to add variation between lessons, but despite all of his efforts, when I asked his students, they still said that they were bored and disengaged. I feel badly for the teacher, as he poured his heart into it, yet student engagement didn’t pan out.
            Sometimes it’s just not about the notes and the content. If a teacher can teach students valuable skills and engage them, then interest in the subject and positive feedback in the class will quickly follow suit.  Nearly all of my most memorable and enjoyable learning experiences have come from classes that utilize their time differently. I can think of very few unique classroom “schedules” that I haven’t enjoyed. They’ve had a very high success rate for me.
            I’m really enjoying my current math class, which means a lot coming from me, as I historically dislike math classes. Math, for me, has tended to be a very by the book class that I’ve struggled in. It’s usually a fast-paced class that I have to invest a lot in to keep up with it. But that all changed this year when I walked into my math class. It’s very obvious that the teacher is very passionate about math and spends most of the class working through problems, discussing why things are the way they are, and general review from the last class so that it’s drilled into our heads to the point where we are one with it. Math has never been so easy for me and it’s all because of how the class time is used.
            Lately, I’ve also been reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and have been very impressed by what’s contained within the pages. I’m not extremely far in, but I can already tell that I would have loved to have been in Miller’s class. She dedicates the majority of her class time to letting students read. The point of it all is to spark a reading drive in her students, no matter who they are. She has the same results with developing readers, who are reading below the grade level, dormant readers, who read solely for the sake of school, and underground readers, who already read for fun. I’m an underground reader and I know that I would cherish all of that time spent reading. But Miller also yields results from all of that class time spent reading rather than taking notes and filling out worksheets. One of her students, Kelsey, was a developing reader who had failed the state reading assessment three times prior, but by the end of the year she “passed the Reading TAKS with flying colors.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009). But the classroom brought Kelsey further than that. After the well utilized class time, she went on to become an avid reader and “has never stopped reading.” (The Book Whisperer, 2009). This is a great example of how well used class time can change a student for the better.
            There are so many ways to make a class more enjoyable for students, but the one thing a teacher has to do is plan their class time well. After all, during class time is the only time that teachers get to see their students and actually teach them, so they really have to take advantage of that limited time. Teachers have to come up with their own unique way of spending class time that will keep the student engaged and foster their learning. If that is successfully established, then the students will care enough to truly learn from the teacher. For example, Miller built a class schedule that emphasized reading. From there, she built a bond with her students through a shared love of reading and right after that, the students were willing to follow her anywhere and truly learn.
            This has been a collection of my experience of classroom scheduling. I hope that every teacher reading this can pull out a unique classroom schedule from this to enhance the learning experience of their students. I also hope that any teacher with a unique classroom schedule already in place can use this to look at their schedule from a student’s perspective and reflect.
Miller, D. (2011). The book whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.


  1. This is such a wonderful post Spencer! Your reflections on note taking for the purpose of testing taking is so insightful and I especially loved your message about the value of reading. You WOULD have loved being in Donalyn Miller's class but now you have an opportunity to spread such an important message. Thank you from all educators who believe that time spent reading is time well spent!

  2. Spencer,
    I enjoyed meeting the Bow Tie Boys during the #G2Great chat! Yours is the first blog I've visited!

    I am very interested in your discussion of notetaking. I teach undergraduate future teachers and am exploring various ways to structure my classes. What's the best way to handle readings, notetaking, discussion, etc....?? I know that research says that learning is enhanced by doing some type of writing or drawing or doodling as you read or listen to lectures. I've been reading Tanny McGregor and Sunni Brown, who both explore the concept of sketchnoting. Have you looked into this? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
    Susan Vincent

  3. Well-written blog, Spencer. Happy to see you're enjoying high school and making a difference in so many ways.
    Mrs. Branch