For the last few years, the trend of "Flipped Classrooms" has been at the forefront of many educational discussions. But, what seems to really be at the crux of this discussion is the question of time allocation. Flipped classrooms emphasize the traditional classwork at home and the homework/practice in the classroom. But, I would argue that we need to take this discussion a step further and think about when/where/why would students really need a teacher, and when don't they to meet the learning objective.
Of course, this first starts with us as teachers clearly defining what our learning objectives are. This is an area in which I feel that my thinking has really evolved over the last few years. I have had "I can" statements for my units, but they always just used to be focused on the science content I was expected to teach. In the last few years, I started examining my learning targets and thinking about what would a kid actually have to do skills/thinking/behavior-wise to meet that target. It was this examination that ultimately challenged me to think about time allocation. Here's an example.
In science classes, students are expected to be able to draw conclusions from their data in an experiment and explain their experimental results using scientific reasoning. In other words, they are expected to match their results with existing theories/facts/research and then talk about these connections in paragraph form in a lab report. The "lab report" is the classic science class assignment and I can still remember in high school and college science classes where I would do an experiment and be expected to write it up but have no idea what my results actually meant or what bigger idea they connected to. Part of this was because our experiments were never contextualized and were merely cookie-cutter type experiences where you followed directions and then got certain results. Also, I was never actually taught to make these connections- it was one of those things where teachers assumed students could just do it.
I was one of these teachers myself until about 3 years ago and I started looking at the process of supporting experimental results with scientific reasoning and at the same time, was introduced to a routine called C-E-R (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) that breaks down the process so that scientific understanding is what actually shows in a student's work instead of their writing abilities or lack thereof. To me, this was the main problem. I wasn't actually able to measure their scientific understanding because the writing process itself got in the way. C-E-R itself is not the purpose of this post (though I could write about a million words on it because it has changed my classroom immensely) but the way C-E-R changed my instructional time allocation gets me back to my original point.
Teaching this routine is time-consuming if I really want students to internalize it. But, the time is worth it because this is a foundational skill in all science classes. Spending a huge amount of time on it at the beginning pays off because in subsequent assignments and across grade levels and subject areas, students are able to apply it with minimal prompting. The foundational skill of supporting a claim with evidence (whether scientific or evidence from another type of class/source) is important across content areas.
When I think about what students need me for versus what they can do independently, learning how to structure a scientific argument is definitely something they can't magically do on their own. Nobody is born with a gene for this- it has to be taught- and taught explicitly. The science content is still important in my class, but some aspects of it are things that students do not need me physically present to learn about. They need me to put it in a bigger context, help them make connections between different ideas, and to pose questions that make them look at things from different angles. What they often don't need me for is just content "delivery" in the traditional sense. If I was going to just show a video to learn something- why do they need me there for that? If we are just going to read an article- and I've already created a graphic organizer for the reading- they don't need me (most times) watching them read.
Even if they aren't going to be passively absorbing the material through video (I'm not a huge video teaching person, unless it is Friday last period or the few days before break!), time allocation is still critically important to consider in terms of content learning. I need to make sure we are spending the most time on the big ideas and the least time on those "nice to know" kind of details on the fringes of what is important**. Yet again, an argument for really identify the learning targets in a unit.
**When I taught in England, it was so interesting, because the content that was tested on the national exam was ALL the "nice to know." And, by "nice to know," I mean who the heck really ever wanted to know the molecular structure of wrought iron vs. cast iron? There were NO big ideas- just a random collection of facts and that system really needed some examination of time allocation, among other things.
This has really pushed me to think about other things I do in class where students need me there. What are those other "foundational" processes, skills, or pieces of content that I can elucidate for kids by spending the time where it matters most? This is the question I will keep pondering and discussing with my colleagues. (After the holidays!)