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Nico Zijlstra

80 minutes lessons.....

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Our school Sintermeertencollege (Netherlands) is proposing a a new organisational concept.

Problem: our students between 12 and 18 have between 6 and 8 50-minutes lessons a day, 5 days a week. Lessons tend to be short and fragmented.

Now our director has come forward with the idea to organise the schoolyear in 5 periods of 8 weeks.

Six weeks the students will have 'normal' lessons of 80, sometimes 40 minutes. This means less subjects per day. No tests and excursions allowed in these first 6 weeks. Week 7 is a week reserved for tests and week 8 is for excursions and extra curricular activities.

For instance, as a history teacher it means that I've got to teach in period 1, 3, and 4. In Period 2 and 5 students don't have history on their curriculum. :)

Does anyone have any ideas of how this proposal may work out in practice. Anyone with experience in this field? Reactions please!

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Now our director has come forward with the idea to organise the schoolyear in 5 periods of 8 weeks.

This sounds similar to the proposal that is currently being piloted by a number of English education authorities (LEA) to have 6 six week terms, separated by two week breaks and four in the summer. I am not currently in a LEA where this is happening so I have no experience of it myself - however in theory I can see the benefits - it gives the school year a greater balance and allows the work to be completed in a series of (consistent) six week units. I have been in the ridiculous situation of having an 8 week term followed by a five week and then a four week term and it is very hard to teach effectively like this.

Six weeks the students will have 'normal' lessons of 80, sometimes 40 minutes. This means less subjects per day. No tests and excursions allowed in these first 6 weeks. Week 7 is a week reserved for tests and week 8 is for excursions and extra curricular activities.

I can imagine the different lengths of lessons would be very confusing and irritating - personally I think 80 minutes is too long and 40 minutes too short - I prefer 60 minutes myself. How have you ended up with less curriculum time? We have a system of 'weighting' whereby History is given 10% of the curriculum. With regard to the testing does this mean formal testing eg end of unit tests rather than the kind of informal assessment that happens all of the time eg short knowledge and understanding test - I presume it must be the former. I do quite like the idea of having a regular slot for extra curricular activities, but it seems like quite alot of pressure on the organisers.

What kind of opportunities do you have to respond to this? As a new Head of History I had to put in a bid for more curriculum time, for which I was successful, so maybe we could brainstorm any thing you have to do.

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I have been teaching 100 minute lessons for six years and I like it. This year I will have 1x100 and 2 x 50 min. I am going to give it my best. With the 100 min lessons you can do a variety of tasks in one lesson and also finish things off. It menas that if students are absent, they miss a capsule of work but I find it easier to track.

Here in South Australia we used to have 3 x 13 week terms. For 15 years we have had 4 x 10 weeks and this is administrative so that replacement teachers are not paid for the 2 week vacation between terms. I do not like the four term option because we now have one more wind up and wind down towards the end of term. starting.

The school I am at at present has an integrated senior Science, Maths and English curriculum, (no languages, no arts, no Drama). Every yr 11 and 12 students (16 - 17 years old) must take options for one History/ geography load. They will sit external state exams at the end of the year. This is the second year of the school, with the first yr 12s starting next Feb.

In most SA secondary schools, senior students take 5 classes, with 250 minutes for each. One must be a Eng/Humanities subject, and one must be a Maths/Science. This means that senior students have uncommitted time across the week depending on the line structure of the timetable. Depending on the school, they go home, work in the library or go to the public library. In truth, they go shoppping often. Many schools supervise free time for yr 11 students in a common room. Some have a larger library and expect the teacher-lib rarian to supervise. I refuse that option becuase you are usually left with the ones who don't want to do anythng but talk.

All tests are completed within the lesson time, with continuous assessment forming 70% (I think) of the final mark. The final exam is worth 30%. Every subject has at least one state wide moderated task. eg Geog has a major research report, English studies has a reading project with a journal and a considered response or 2500 words. Biol has a social issues report.

There are some subjects that are school assessed. That means no exam, but each assessment task is moderated across the state. I subit examples of my marking and I am told by a central body to lift or lower my marks. It is the height of insult and embarrassment to have to change your marks, so teachers don't "cheat". I submit my program at the beginning of the year along with a rationale that describes my class. Each of my assessment tasks is checked by a central moderator (usually another teacher who is "responsible" for about 6 schools). We all take turns to apply to be a moderator, depending on experience and skill. Students collect their work into a folder, and examples of each grade band are submitted for final moderation. There is always the threat of random moderation, just to keep the troops honest. I have never been randomly moderated (touch wood). Usually a fist year out of teacher new to the cours gets randomly moderated.

Good luck with the 80 minutes. But challenge the five terms. Especially for the younger students. I would not support the four week Summer break as an industrial issue. And I find a two week break is not long enough to unwind, given that there is the temptation to set assignments due so that I can mark in the break. A REALLY dumb idea. Four weeks is too short to justfiy a sabbatical to visit sunny Australia. Actually our long break is in the northern Winter.

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I experienced the variable length lesson time for a few years at a school in which I taught. The day was divided into 20 minute slots but no lesson was ever that short. Timetabled lessons were 40 minutes, 60 minutes and 80 minutes. This allowed science and D&T along with others who wanted the potential for longer tasks, the opportunity to plan/undertake sessions that previously were impossible. It proved easy enough and useful to sometimes have shorter, sharper lessons and the changing pace went down well with the students.

It worked very well but on the downside there were nearly always students moving around the school as the changeovers occured at staggered times.

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