Transition and Entry Time in Scheduling

Simon JeynesThe CACE RoundtableLeave a Comment

School Bell
School Bell

One of the thorny issues in scheduling generally is how much, and whether, to give students any time to transition between classes. There has been generally a move to focus more and more on the amount of teaching time given over the course of the year and so every second seems to have become precious. This has happened at the expense of any other realities faced by the child:

  • The need in all divisions to physically move between classrooms – and at elementary school the time it takes to prepare the children for any kind of recess or outdoor activity
  • The reality that taking away a child’s attention by forcing them to change activities also means that there is time needed to settle down as well

Public schools routinely, and Christian Schools often foolishly follow, the practice of the 3-minute transition as if children can genuinely move from a sitting position in one classroom to a sitting position in another classroom in 180 seconds. This is obviously a bureaucratic maneuver designed to that the right number of minutes are recorded. Other schools, less frequently and yet frequently nonetheless, just ignore the need for transition, even when students stay in the same classroom, a new teacher has to often arrive. But there is not time for either of those things to happen.

At the same time, children’s needs, as Maslow identified, are routinely also ignored. These needs include:

  • Time to go to the bathroom
  • Time to socialize
  • Time to change books / go to the locker
  • Time to eat and drink
  • Time to break up and reconcile

But leaving these out of the schedule doesn’t mean they won’t happen. It just means that they will happen in what is supposed to be teaching time. At whatever level we are scheduling, we must pay attention to transition time.

In a study of the balanced schedule versus the 7/8 period day schedule in 2003, Trisha Woehrle, Susan Fox, and Brenda Hosking of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board counted the number of minutes it took for students to be ready for instruction after a break. Their findings were that the average amount of what they called ‘entry time’ (p. 2) in the balanced day was 4 minutes and 50 seconds, versus 4 minutes and 23 seconds for the traditional day.

It is significant too that the study found that concentration was significantly higher in the Balanced Day schedule: “Teachers were also asked for their perception about student concentration. On a 5-point scale, teachers in BSD schools reported student concentration to be significantly better than teachers following the traditional schedule (3.49 vs. 2.38; t=4.13, p<.05)” (p. 5).

An article on Western Governor’s University website calls class transitions one of the three biggest classroom time management issues. It is talking about in class routines and identifies exactly the same issues as between class routines. Katherine Martinelli at Child Mind Institute calls transitions ‘switching gears’. She says: “being asked to switch gears is a common trigger for problem behavior like whining or tantrums”. Of course, we don’t expect that kind of behavior from high school students – but their behavior is parallel as they also struggle with the demands of a fast-paced day.

What happens cognitively in transitions? If a student is moving, for example, from a mathematics class to a Spanish class, what happens? A report from the National Academy of Sciences has this to offer: “Where mathematical ability comes from is a long-standing question. Our research helps to show that advanced mathematical reasoning relies on dorsal parietal and frontal areas of the brain and totally spares brain regions involved in language skills,” says Marie Amalric, a PhD student who co-authored the paper with Dehaene (Origins of brain networks for advanced mathematics Marie Amalric, Stanislas Dehaene Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences May 2016, 113 (18) 4909-4917; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1603205113). We can replicate this finding in each discipline. In music, for example, “the multiple acoustic dimensions of music are first encoded in the ascending auditory pathways to primary auditory cortex. Perceptual patterns corresponding to these dimensions are extracted by primary and higher auditory cortices, using a modular neural machinery that shows relative selectivity for particular perceptual components” (Warren J. How does the brain process music?. Clin Med (Lond). 2008;8(1):32‐36. doi:10.7861/clinmedicine.8-1-32).

Switching classes requires a student to switch brain use as well. Because each student is different, and because we want every student to be able to succeed, learning time for each / every student is a critical concept that the scheduler must pay deep attention to. Transition and entry time must both be recognized in order for true learning time (not teaching time) to be identified. The following example takes the two configurations above and compares them using the concepts of transition (moving from class to class) and entry (moving from one mode of thinking / being ready for learning) time. Transition and entry time are both calculated as 5 minutes. Transition time is not counted where the student comes from home or a break i.e. it is assumed the student will use the break in order to transition. The first class in the Balanced Day is five minutes longer to account for taking attendance. This is not accounted for in the Traditional Day.

The length of day is the same; teaching time is 5 minutes longer in the Balanced Day; breaks are identical at 80 minutes. However, over a week of teaching, the Balanced Day teacher gets well over 3 hours more of actual learning time (cf. the chapter on Time).

Of course, most schools don’t have nearly this amount of break time. In that case, reducing the breaks in the Traditional Day would allow for 50 minute classes. This improves teaching time and reduces the difference in learning time over a week to 50 minutes – negligible. However, the type of day has dramatically changed with break time being cut almost in half and with three periods in the afternoon that have no break in them.

From an accounting point of view, the ‘traditional’ advocate can now point to equivalent class teaching time – in fact, 30 minutes a day more totaling 150 minutes or 2.5 hours a week. This is a significant improvement over the Balanced Day. The cost is, however, in learning time and in quality of the student experience. Total learning time is still less than in the Balanced Day and the hectic nature of the day now becomes very apparent.

Transition time and entry time are a key component of creating the schedule. While these findings don’t dictate that the school should move to longer periods, the focus on learning time certainly suggest that some form of longer period does mitigate the loss of learning time and improve the student experience. It should be a significant consideration in the discussion.

While the article does not explicitly come down on the side of longer periods, there are many other scheduling factors that Christian School Management believes makes it imperative for Christian schools to move to extended time i.e. periods of 75 minutes or longer. The longest period we know of currently in the United States and Canada (one group of students, one teacher, one subject) is five weeks. There are many options. The short 40-50 minute period is a 20th century invention for another period, another need. We should move away from it.


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