I’m writing this while sitting next to two students who are editing a short film. One just turned to the other, and in an expression of pure joy, exclaimed, “OMG! I literally have goosebumps right now!”, in reference to her creation. More on this later…
Currently, the vast majority of my students are engaged in creative endeavours. My MYP Media students are finalizing short films to share with their peers, enter in film festivals and use as provocations for filmmaking workshops. My MYP Language and Literature students are crafting short stories – many of which students hope they can submit for publication. Even my DP Language and Literature students are engaging in a written task assessment – which, if you know DP Lang and Lit, is about as creative they are “allowed” to be over the duration of the two year course (kidding…sort of).
Perhaps the convergence of all of this creative energy is making this issue more apparent, but right now, my students are definitely victims of a timetabling system that is an antiquated practice and certainly an enemy of creativity and deep learning.
Would a real filmmaker, preparing her work for submission to her production company say to herself, “Ok…today I will work on my film from 9:00-10:30, but then at 10:30 I have to stop because then it’s time to do some math”? For that matter, would a real mathematician say, “I’m going to gather insights into this data, but only for ninety minutes because then I have to go edit a film”?
Of course not.
This is the inauthentic world of timetabled learning that we have created in schools. A world where creativity – a slow process in any discipline – is cut short because…because a piece of paper you got on the first day of school says it has to.
So when children are trying to write a story that they have invested themselves in emotionally, or are completing a film that they are planning to show to a wide audience of peers and community members, they are forced to do so in these arbitrary, predetermined chunks of time – whether they want to or not, whether they feel like it or not. Have a great idea during a time not designated for that type of thinking? Too bad, you have a schedule to keep.
This type of traditional school-driven timetabling is as old as schools itself and is designed for logistical ease – not for student learning.
What are the side effects of school-driven timetabling when students are involved in deep learning? On one hand, it forces children into the ridiculous need to shift their ability to be analytical, be creative, be physically active, at the snap of a finger. It perpetuates a, “good enough” attitude from students who end up creating not what they really wanted to, but a reasonable facsimile that satisfies the requirements of the time constraints that have been determined for them. It doesn’t allow for slow thinking of any kind – reflection, adjustment, seeking feedback and fine tuning – that all creators would say are integral aspects of high-quality products.
The good news about timetables? We’ve created them, so we can destroy them. We can leverage technology to offload the need for a lot of traditional “lessons”, which would free up time for teachers to move more towards the role of consultant, mentor and coach. We can create environments like this one, or this one where students create their own timetables based on need and interest, not based on arbitrary decisions from the timetabling robot that spits out a schedule for them.
What would the side effects of a student-driven timetable be? First of all, learning how to manage time. We often lament that time-management is a skill that is lacking in many students – of course it is, we manage the majority of their time on their behalf. Turning the timetable over to the students would allow them to take ownership over this process and free up teachers to support students with strategies on how to manage their short and long-term goals. Secondly, a student-driven timetable would support students in learning the key skill of prioritization. There are literally endless books and blogs dedicated to the art of prioritizing and managing one’s daily list of “to-do’s”; perhaps this wouldn’t be such a common stressor if we learned and used these skills as we were growing up. A student-driven timetable would give children the space and freedom to go deep, to truly sink their teeth into their learning, to “get it”, to have those moments of wonder and accomplishment and to learn that, often, the things we are the most proud of are the things that we really put our heart and soul into – often for more than 60-90 minutes two to three times a week. Finally and most importantly, a student-driven timetable says to children, “you matter”. It says, “you are able to be the driver of your own learning”. It says “your time belongs to you”. Empowering students to manage their time and projects is a kinder, more humane, more authentic approach to learning and creating – one that we should be advocating for on behalf of our learners.
This brings me back to where I started…the two students I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They are still sitting beside me, completely in flow and completely content. One just said to another, “Wow, we’ve been here for hours…it’s nearly six o’clock”. They want to keep going, but they have to go home to eat dinner. I’m sure if they had the choice, they would have spent their entire school day perfecting their creation, so they didn’t have to spend their after school time doing so. If they were only given the time.