“I’d love to do [fill in the blank with some creative idea or activity], but I just don’t have time. My classes are only 50 minutes.” I hear this lament frequently when I lead professional development. Teachers get super excited about integrating technology or want details about a project, assignment, or routine I do with my own kids. When they find out that my school is on a 90-minute block schedule, they sigh and tell me that they just don’t have that kind of time with kids. Ironically, I see my students for about the same total amount of time because we are on an A/B schedule and our class meets every other day. However, the length of a class period has a huge impact on the way teachers plan their lessons.
When teachers plan for a 50 minute period, the scope of their lesson is extremely narrow. They know they have limited time to get through x, y, and z. Too often the default in this scenario is to lecture or verbally present information because it is faster. Allowing students to research, discuss, and share their findings takes time. Yet, if we want students to develop these crucial life skills–finding and evaluating information, communicating and collaborating with peers–they need time. They cannot feel they are being hurried through the process of learning. In fact, the more relaxed a student is in a learning environment, the more open the brain is to taking in information.
If teachers had more time, the scope of their lessons would naturally expand. They would be challenged to design a variety of learning experiences for a single class because we all know that students cannot and should not be asked to sit quietly and listen to a teacher talk for long stretches of time. Instead, classrooms on a block schedule provide the luxury of allowing students to engage with information and with one another in a variety of ways.
As an advocate for using technology to create student-centered classrooms, I believe longer classes would also make using technology a lot less scary. Teachers would not need to worry that a single tech hiccup would derail an entire class. Teachers sharing carts of devices would have time to allow students check out their devices without feeling that they’ve sacrificed a significant chunk of their class period.
I cannot understand why so many secondary schools have students running from class to class every day without giving them the time needed to form meaningful relationships or engage with complex tasks. So many teachers trapped in a 50-minute schedule report feeling like they cannot embrace project-based learning, explore the value of makerspaces, or experiment with blended learning models. The big hurdle is time.
If schools want their teachers to be innovative and teach outside of the box, then they need to take a closer look at their schedules and talk to their teachers and students about how their schedule is either encouraging or stifling creativity. Administrative teams need to evaluate how the length of classes is impacting the way teachers teach and, ultimately, how students are expected to learn.
If you are a teacher who has taught in both a traditional 50-minute schedule and a block schedule, I’d love to have you share your experience in each scenario. How did having more time impact your lesson planning? Were you able to incorporate projects, creative assignments, technology, etc. into your shorter periods? If so, do you have tips for other teachers who are struggling to be creative or innovative in a 50 minute period? As always, I welcome and appreciate teacher insights and comments!