Monday, July 21, 2014

Spending Time in Summer School

I've been thinking about ratios recently, and not because that's one of my math units. During summer school, I teach for three hours a day, from 9-12. I asked my husband and mother-in-law for their estimates on how long I spend marking and planning in the afternoons and evenings, and I couldn't get a standard answer. (One person said 2 hours, another said 4.) It depends on whether or not I have a task ahead that needs a lot of preparation, but I think it's safe to say that, recently, especially with summer school report card time approaching, I've spent more time planning and assessing than I have actually in the classroom with the students.

Is that normal? I Googled the topic and I didn't find any definitive answers. This blog mentions a Chinese school in which the instructor teaches for 90 minutes and plans and marks for the rest of the 9 hour day. This news article from England suggests that staggering amounts of time is needed for evaluating and getting ready for the next set of lessons. In the 2013 article, their teachers' union recommended:
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) passed a motion on Tuesday demanding a new working week of 20 hours' teaching time, up to 10 hours of lesson preparation and marking, and five hours of other duties, including time spent inputting data and at parents' evenings.
I don't think that this kind of change will occur. In a Canadian study I found online, on page 12 the researchers determined that 25 hours a week was spent on instructional time and 18 hours were spent on work-related tasks like meetings, assessment, and planning outside of the instructional day.

During summer school, it feels less onerous to put in those hours to craft the best sequence for the day or the perfectly-worded math problem of the day. I think I get this impression because of the different format for summer school (smaller class, more autonomy in lesson development, no clubs or teams, less subjects). I also realize that I may be actually doing things that increase my time spent that isn't completely necessary or required. For instance, I spent several hours on the weekend making these reflection pages in the students' notebooks.

Now, I could have simply whipped up a professional-looking worksheet on my computer and distributed it. Instead of placing dots on my evaluation chart that I'll be pasting into the last page of each notebook, to designate which grades were for science, math, technology, or a combination of both, I could have created a spreadsheet in Google Drive and with a click of the mouse, I could have coloured them easily. Why am I making work harder for myself? At the risk of using the rest of this post to justify my Luddite behaviour, I want to offer a few reasons why I like taking this extra time and effort to write and draw and comment in notebooks.

  1. Notebooks don't get lost like loose-leaf sheets. I don't allow the students to take home their summer school notebooks until the last day. I collect the books daily and I find that it's easier to keep track of the work when it's all in one place. Students need help with organization and keeping things together in one place where the risk of things falling out are minimal helps a lot.
  2. Putting effort into their notebook shows I value what's in there. I love watching my students flip through their notebooks as soon as they enter the classroom, to see what comments I've made on their work, what grades they earned, and what new items have appeared between the pages. They pay attention more to something I've written by hand than typed and pasted in.
  3. There's something appealing about making it by hand. Each notebook feels like a mini-scrapbook, a tiny time capsule of what the student learned for that month we had together. In fact, my site coach hopes that at least one student will choose not to take home his/her notebook so that she can keep it for her files. I know I referred to one of the student notebooks from last year to see what worked, what didn't and how I could design pages better to help elicit deeper thinking and higher-quality work from the students. 

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