Most of the schools where I coach have a wonky Wednesday schedule that I have to navigate with teachers when we co-lesson plan together. Typically, Wednesday is a short day for students because teachers are attending an all-staff meeting in the morning before students arrive or in the afternoon after students have gone home. The class periods on Wednesday are markedly shorter than classes on a regular day. This leaves a lot of teachers wondering what to do with this day.
In a recent comment to one of my blogs, Andi Jackson shared a strategy for maximizing the short Wednesday schedule called “Power Hour.” As I was responding to Andi’s comment, I realized that I had to write this blog post and share some of the myriad ways that teachers can use a wonky Wednesday. These short periods provide an opportunity to think outside of the box, break routine, and provide students with opportunities to engage in activities that are neglected in the hustle and bustle of the school week.
#1 Passion Projects
Whether teachers model their passion projects after Google’s 20% time or Genius Hour, the goal of a passion project should be to dedicate class time to encourage students to pursue topics and inquiry that fascinates them.
For some teachers, a passion project may be free form and simply culminate in some product that is shared or published at the end of each semester. Other teachers may want to impose a loose structure on the process with brainstorming, articulating guiding questions, submitting a project pitch, setting goals associated with the project, meeting periodically with the teacher to check-in, and journaling about the process.
Kevin Brookhouser’s book, The 20Time Project: How Educators can Launch Google’s Formula for Future-ready Innovation, is a great resource for teachers curious about 20% time.
#2 Flex Your Metacognitive Muscles
Metacognitive skills must be taught. If students are going to be our true partners in the learning process they must learn how to think about their learning. They need to set academic goals, monitor and track their progress and reflect regularly on the work they are doing and what it reveals about their skill set.
However, teaching these skills and helping students to develop their metacognitive muscles takes time and practice. There are simple routines a teacher can put into place to help students develop these skills. I describe four strategies designed to help students develop metacognitive skills in this blog post. I also dedicate a chapter in my new book Balance with Blended Learning to metacognition.
#3 Update Digital Notebooks or Portfolios
Moving from paper to digital notebooks and online portfolios of work was a game-changer for me and my students. It made organizing, reflecting on, and sharing student work easier and more manageable. Yet, all of these things take time. I started dedicating at least one online station each week to updating digital notebooks and posting favorite work samples to a digital portfolio. These are activities that would work well as a regular routine on a short day.
Teachers who are curious about shifting from paper notebooks to digital ones should check out my blog on this topic. I share my resources for setting up a digital notebook using either Blogger or Google Sites. I also created a Google Site Scavenger Hunt designed to help students create a Google Site for either a digital notebook or portfolio. Teachers working with younger students may want to check out the blog I wrote about using Google Slides instead of Google Sites to set up digital notebooks.
#4 Communicating about Progress
Teachers feel immense pressure to communicate with parents about student progress. Yet, I believe it is unrealistic for a single teacher to keep parents and guardians updated on their students’ progress. Instead, this is a conversation I think students should own.
I encourage teachers to shift the responsibility of communicating with parents to students. I believe students should provide their parents with regular updates about their progress, upcoming events, important due dates, and work toward academic goals.
At the high school level, I had students email their parents and CC me. I provided templates to guide their communication to parents. When I coach elementary teachers, we use audio recording tools in apps like Remind or Class Dojo to record audio updates about student progress.
Ideally, students check their grades, review their work for the week, and draft a version of their correspondence with parents before they send an email or record an audio update. As a result, this routine takes time, but it creates a level of accountability that is absent in a lot of classrooms. Often, parents do not know there is a problem or that their child is not completing the required work until it is too late. This routine creates time in class for the student to check their grades, reflect on their progress, and talk with the teacher if they are concerned about a particular assignment or grade.
#5 Playlists & Conferencing
Teachers using playlists or hyperdocs can dedicate class time on a short period day to making progress on a self-paced playlist or hyperdoc. As students work, teachers can conference with students to discuss their progress, provide feedback on their work, or conduct side-by-side assessments.
The beauty of dedicating a day each week to conferencing is that it helps teachers to develop a personal connection with each student, which makes it easier to meet their specific needs as a learner. It also creates space in class to do some of the tasks that we have traditionally taken home, like providing students with feedback or grading their work. In addition to lessening the amount of work that teachers take home, I argue that it is much more powerful to do these tasks with students sitting right next to you. If you are curious about the mechanics of moving feedback and assessment into the classroom, check out my new book Balance with Blended Learning!
Instead of feeling like your short period day is wasted, I encourage you to get creative with it. Use one of these strategies, or a combination of them, to make Wednesdays worthwhile! Students will welcome the break from routine and you can make time for tasks that you have traditionally taken home.
If you have a routine you use on your short period days that you love, please take a moment to post a comment and share it! I am also looking for “teacher tips” about how you find and maintain balance in your teaching practice and in your life beyond the classroom to share on my new podcast titled The Balance. I would love to shine a light on the strategies teachers are using that work, so post a comment and share!