Tag: time management

Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Why Schools Should Rethink the Use of Classroom Time

Before I begin to ruminate on the title of this post- are you familiar with the work of Cal Newport? His book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, changed the way I think about my use of personal time. I highly recommend it. Its premise is simple, we live in the Age of the Knowledge Worker, in which our highest value to society is the ability to apply our understanding to solve problems and think critically.  Our fragmented attention deters us from doing something well, and thus if we want to work at our highest levels, then we must “drain the shallows” of our life and put the focus on developing the skills the understanding that will move us forward in our work and passions through ruthless command of our schedules and excavating frivolous habits that waste our time and do not produce any benefit in our lives.

Since reading this book, I systematically eke out time in which I can do research and reading to improve my craft as an educator. The more I work with the principles of Deep Work, the more I wonder how it can be applied to my classroom.

As an avid fan of his blog, I have to share an excerpt of a recent post:

A Tale of Two Schedules

In 2009, tech investor Paul Graham published an influential essay titled “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.” In this piece, he argued that the best types of schedules for people who makes things are different than the best schedules for those who manage things.

As Graham elaborates:

“The manager’s schedule is…embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour…”

“…But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.”

He then delivers the key conclusion: “When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster.”

Though Graham doesn’t mention it specifically in the essay, we might add that the need to keep up with an inbox or chat channel can be equally disastrous to a maker. The constant context switching, as we now know from research, also prevents the maker’s brain from fully engaging the creative task at hand.

In the years since this essay was published, it has spread widely. The (slightly modified) terms maker schedule and manager schedule are well-known, and most people who deal with both types of workers agree that Graham is speaking the truth: if you want someone to make something valuable, they’ll be most effective if you let them work in long, uninterrupted chunks.

But here’s the thing: almost no organizations support maker schedules.

Speaking of organizations…ahem, let’s talk about schools, shall we? What does your school timetable look like?- Are you creating “makers” or “managers” in your school? And, is one type better than the other, you might ask?–what am I implying here?

This is actually tricky to articulate but I’m wondering about my students’ futures. Managing seems to go with manufacturing, which I believe automation will make so many of those jobs obsolete. So developing their time organization skills seems more relevant as a “maker”.

But I am reminded of the words of Katie Wood Ray, a passionate educator of young writers, who says:

We need to talk about time in our conversations about the teaching of writing. Time is not just when writing instruction happens in school; time must be part of the curriculum, part of what students are learning about as they develop as writing. You see, it doesn’t really matter how many craft lesson or genre studies a teacher plans for students if she doesn’t first teach them how to sit down in chairs, stay there for a long time, and make some work for themselves that leads to writing. With blank paper in front of them, students have to leave how to make something out of nothing, and they must learn to come back the next day and do it again. The curriculum of time is fairly simple: Sit. Stay. Put something on the paper.

Excerpt from her book In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing

As a teacher of young students, I wholeheartedly agree that we must instill in our students’ a desire and curiosity in order for them to develop stamina and elaboration/experimentation in their work.  They must learn how to focus. I think ahead to next school year, I know I want to create habits of critical thinking and deep work, in which students approach their learning with the willingness to engage in the effort to create something. I know that some schools have Genius Hour or have special occasions such as Day of Design, but what if there were more embedded opportunities within a day to do something like this? Not only am I refreshing myself in the workshop model, but I am spending some time this summer considering how I might cultivate this habit and how I might structure it in the classroom. I want them to have the time to think and create artifacts of their learning that matter to them, that communicate who they are and what they care about. I want them to be intentional with their time.

I believe that we owe to our students to analyze our school timetables and consider if we are helping or harming our students in preparing for their future work. Are we bobbing from subject to subject or are we offering them chunks of the day dedicated to learning? Can we cultivate curiosity and carve out long blocks of time in which students can explore ideas and projects that matter to them and yet still move them forward in developing skills and knowledge?

What do you think? How does your school or your classroom develop time management skills in students? Do you think block time is successful in creating a culture of Deep Work? 

Homework Vs. Deep Work

Homework Vs. Deep Work

We had an open house this week, and as I sat down to answer parent questions about our Primary Years Programme, I opened up my Powerpoint, prepared to refer to my laundry list of all the ways the International Baccalaureate is wonderful. But then questions came and my presentation took care of itself. I began to get a clear picture of how truly different we are and how rigid so many schools are in China. One mother pined for her 3rd-grade son’s happiness and felt awful that she had to battle him daily to do 2 hours or more of homework a night. Having 2 hours or more of homework?–a parent’s free time also gets demolished as I’m sure they have to sit there with their student to complete the worksheets. You can imagine that both parties suffer burnout and do not enjoy these nightly sessions. So parents feel equally imprisoned by the idea of doing homework, as what they see as a necessary evil.

Yet, this is endemic of living in Asia–so many of the countries here, with their large populations and competitive job markets, staunchly value education as the only means to have a decent life. School is life for young people, and it is also very normal that children, beginning in Kindergarten, get tutors or attend “academy”–a night school that teachers next year’s math or other content knowledge.

Ever since this meeting, my mind is wandering, thinking about my own child.  I love my little person and I want her to come home eager to tell me her tales of school that day. I don’t want to berate her about doing homework.  So earlier this year, I had her think about creating a homework schedule, which obviously has a fair amount of parent input (my daughter never would put in IXL willingly). You can see the final schedule in this post, which amusingly you can notice that the weekend is “Hannah’s to do list”–meaning that mom and dad leave her to her own devices.

However, I am starting to rethink this concept of homework, which is essentially practicing what the skills that they are in the midst of learning that week. I do think this is important and of value, but I’d also like to cultivate her interests, which lately has been coding and Minecrafting. I’m a big fan of Cal Newport and his treatise on Deep Work which can be summarized here (although I recommend you read the book since there are more nuggets inside). cal newport

In particular,  Cal recommends that one “drains the shallows” and create focused, uninterrupted attention on developing a skill, working on a project or task that is challenging and demands ideation to promote innovation in your area of interest. When looking over one’s schedule, it is vital to quantify the depth of every activity–is it moving you towards a goal or achievement? Is it really helping you to cultivate depth of knowledge and expertise? Once you evaluate your schedule, then you recreate it and reallocate your time to doing this “deep work”. The end goal of these accumulated hours is to bring into fruition new and better ways of doing something, solving a problem or producing a product which will have an overall greater benefit on humanity.

With this idea in mind, I asked my daughter if she had to get rid of something on her schedule, what would it be, draining the shallows, sort of speaking. She told me that she’d get rid of the writing on Tuesday. When I probed to know why she told me that she didn’t like writing, she told me that she likes to draw and she never gets to do that in her writing prompts. She’s in 1st grade, the year when drawings are replaced with words to convey ideas, but I could appreciate her struggle with the transition. (Through this conversation, I gleaned some insights and it gave me an idea for next year to try when I teach 1st grade, as I motivate students into using better word choice rather than pictures to describe their ideas.) I told her to redo her schedule and she readily replaced writing with coding. As you look at her schedule below, it was obvious to me that her interests are emerging.

 

Although I’d like her schedule to be refined to maybe 1 or 2 focused items a day, it is a first step towards managing one’s time and developing readiness for “deep work”.
It got me thinking if all students were to be asked to do this task–creating their own after school schedule, what would it be? How could we instill within our students a desire to pursue their interests?–to redirect their attention to work that is meaningful to them. This idea of time management is one of the Transdisciplinary Skills or Approaches to Learning (ATL) that we seek to create in our IB learners. So as much as I want students to practice skills that they are in the midst of developing, I also want them hungry to learn so that they independently and organically augment their abilities. This is a key distinction of learning in the IB. So, I am just wondering if we were to tweak the idea of homework and teach parents to be partners in their student’s passions if that would make for more fulfilled families, overall. Perhaps introducing this concept of “deep work”, reframing homework in a new light, could not only shift the dynamics of home learning but could also inspire greater student selected inquiries into their passions.

 

I’m definitely interested in anyone else’s experiences with transforming homework into a joy rather than a drudgery. Please connect with me @judyimamudeen or leave comments below.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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