Image by hazelowendmc via FlickrLinda Ojala posted a comment on a blog post where she gives an overview of an observation at a Montessori school she had done. She describes some of what she saw as follows: “The students are creating their own ‘learning pathways’ – this centred around interests and strengths. There are no bells or interruptions to their learning times. The teacher sets up the environment, offers support but the students are encouraged to be in charge of their own learning (very strong managing self). Reflection, knowledge of the students and assessment guides the teachers in terms of which students they need to engage with and when”.
The whole notion of the tyranny of the timetable and how it can stifle learning is quite a popular one – see for example Enslaved by timetable tyranny. There are many ideas discussed in the article, a couple of which included:
A primary head said to me recently: “Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we could do the daily literacy and numeracy hours Monday to Thursday, and then have Fridays free for more flexible approaches?” One of the best literacy activities I do involves children acting as radio journalists and compiling a radio news bulletin. It needs a whole day, however, if a visit to the local radio station is to be included.
A newly-appointed geography teacher in a very academic grammar once persuaded his head to suspend the timetable for two days so the whole school could do Project Africa. It was a knockout, and he went on to be one of the best heads of his generation.
There is also the negative effects that timetables can have on the teachers. For example, in this paper Living by the clock: the tyranny of the secondary school timetable, Kathy Brady quotes:
Bells ring to signal the passing of classes, each of which will spend some parcel of time with the teacher in his or her classroom. Though students may move throughout the building, high school teachers often never leave their rooms in the course of a day. For every ‘period’ or ‘hour’, there is a routine: taking attendance, continuing from yesterday, introducing today’s material, winding down. Repeated five times a day. (Johnson, 1990, p.6)
I wonder if some of the notions about organisation and standardised assessment tend to go hand-in-hand with timetables. I know, from a personal point of view, when I am learning something it can take ages to get my head down and ‘into it’, and sometimes it’s really frustrating to have the flow broken. And when you get back, sometimes those good ideas will have dissipated…along with some of the motivation to continue.
I would say, though, that in my experiences with working with students, there needs to be quite a lot of support and guidance up front…and skills to be taken on board such as time-management, digital literacy, research skills, self-reflection etc. A continuum where you move from a relatively teacher-led approach at the beginning of a year, to a student-led/directed one by the end of the year seems to be fairly effective, and helps ensure that differentiation can be built into a programme…especially if a blended approach is used. (This is a paper – Meeting diverse learner needs through blended learning – about one of the programmes I developed – it’s tertiary but it describes the general approach. We did have an extremely supportive department management though, who were really happy to have a way more flexible view of what comprised the what, why, when and how of learning).