The normal school day at present includes approximately three hours of class time in core subject areas. We would make it much easier for students to focus on meeting basic academic requirements if we were to concentrate instructional activities related to the “core” subject areas of Social Studies, Science, Language Arts, and Mathematics in a three-hour block and offer students a choice of several blocks per day. (For example, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) The morning time frame should be the standard. For most people these are the most productive hours of the day. On the other hand, older students attempting to juggle school and work, younger students with working parents, or adults who would like to return to school should be free to select another time frame, if that works best for them.
During each three-hour block we should offer a variety of educational activities, including lectures, demonstrations, presentations, videos, and reading discussion groups. The time frame for each of these activities should be flexible. A lecture, demonstration, presentation or video should be as long, but only as long, as necessary to convey the relevant information effectively and efficiently. A discussion should be free to find its natural length. It is absurd to divide the school day into periods of equal length regardless of the nature of various lessons or the time required to master a particular objective. The clock may be a necessary task-master in factories and offices, but it need not dictate the length of instructional activities within our schools.
The “elective” portion of a student’s schedule should actually be elective. Throughout each day and evening we should provide opportunities for additional activities that would essentially supplant the “elective” portion of a student’s schedule. Instruction should be available in art, music, sports, and other fine and performing arts, but students should also be free to engage in these types of activities without being coached or graded. We do not need to make recess a required course. We should facilitate participation in these activities and let students who are interested in participating do so. Research has shown that students who participate in extracurricular activities typically have a more positive attitude toward school and perform better academically. Treating electives in this manner would turn a much larger portion of the school day into extracurricular activities for the entire student body.
Those students who need extra help or who want to go beyond the basics in the core academic areas could use this time to work with a tutor, take elective classes, work in the library, access the Internet, read, or do homework. Students who stay all day would receive all of the benefits of a full school day within the present system but would have a great deal more freedom to decide when to receive basic instruction and when to engage in other activities. Concentrating core instruction in three-hour blocks would also make it easier to offer flexible scheduling.
This relatively simple reform would alter students’ perception of schooling in a very dramatic way because it would fundamentally alter the nature of the schooling experience. There is a world of difference between a three-hour school day and a seven or eight-hour day, yet we could include just as much instruction in core subjects. Offering an attractive mix of extra-curricular activities would make it likely that most students would remain at school for a full day. Students would have a more positive attitude toward school and learning, which is essential if we hope to significantly improve student achievement.