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  • Writer's pictureolivershearman

A change in the schedule! 3 ways to improve school timetabling

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Off goes the bell and students get up, move around, make noise and move off onto their next class. This happens so often in middle schools and high schools it is simply business as usual. Schools with students of this age are usually bustling busy places with plenty of movement at certain periods of the day.

But is it productive? and will it lead to better learning than an alternative solution?

Let's dig into some of the research on how students learn best to find out.

The first and simplest research to understand is that students in middle and high school should start later than they currently are. Getting up at perhaps 7am to be in class and seated by 8.15am, perhaps even earlier than that is not good for student health and well-being. Research has shown that this is not the way to approach teenage learning, yet it is still done in so many schools. It is truly incredible that the school day just hasn't shifted later on. While I can see the problems it would lead to for parents, it is also not ideal for teachers as students do not want to and are not geared to learn so early in the morning.

This is not particularly riveting news as we likely all know the very well established research that most 13 - 18 year olds need 8 - 10 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. This have been debaten often in recent years, for example it was debated in the UK parliament back in 2019 (in the pre-covid times).

Further in 2019, in the USA, California legislators passed a law requiring that public high schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m and that middle schools start no earlier than 8 a.m. The law officially went into effect on July 1 in 2022. Now we need to await the results and see if the outcomes of such a move across an entire state will back-up what research has been saying for years on end.

The second change which would be welcome and backed by research is fewer consecutive classes. Giving students more breaks throughout the day in order to decompress, lower their cognitive load and prepare for the next lesson allows students the opportunity to learn more and be more productive in their classes.Whether students have less subjects to take, more freedom in their timetable or a greater frequency of breaks, all of these options would give students the space they need to bring their focus and attention to learning to the best of their abilities.

The third and final timetable change that could help students with their learning is allowing teachers to focus more heavily on fewer subjects and grade levels. Where possible if teachers are allowed to teach the same content and to the same grade levels, they can improve and enhance their content, methods and experiences for students. I have some personal experience with this. During my time at an international school, this was a constant issue. For example, during my first year at the school I had to teach grade 6,7, 8, 10 and 11 science and physics. This led me to only teach each of these grades once a week and led to me doing work for only a singular purpose rather than being able to improve and teach it again that year. This was a waste of my energy and talents as having my focus be on fewer grades I would have been able to bring better focus and support for students. This was effectively spreading me too thin and increasing my workload for no particular benefit as far as I can see.

While there are problems to implementing the changes I have mention above such as:

  • Teacher reluctance to change

  • Parental objections

  • Athletics and extracurricular activities

These can be dealt with on an individual basis as these problems arise. Teachers will almost always be willing to try a change if they believe it will be better for their students. Parents are fearful of change, but also just want what is best for their kids and if homework is stopping a timetable change - I may be controversial here - but why not get rid of the homework?! Throw it away and let students just learn in school instead.

In summary, while there are obstacles to changing time-tabling and scheduling, to do nothing is costing us far more. The three key changes that should occur in the near future in middle and high schools around the world are:

  1. Later start times, particularly for high school students

  2. Fewer consecutive classes

  3. Teacher focus rather than overloading teachers with variety

Thanks for reading.

Cheers and stay curious

Oliver - The Teaching Astrophysicist

(Note: This blog post was NOT generated by AI and is conceived, typed and uploaded by a real person.)

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