Schedules for the Curriculum
Why flexibility is a MUST and how to think differently about time in the classroom.
Like most teachers, I have a schedule, a timeframe for blocks of subjects if you will, and in my situation, my school allows teachers to set their own schedules, as opposed to adhering to a set schedule provided by the administration. Am I grateful for the opportunity to be able to set my own schedule? Yes! Absolutely! But, is it something I follow as strictly as admin would like me to? No. Not at all, and here’s why…
My “schedule” that I set for my Kindergarten curriculum only (not including plan period, recesses, lunch etc) is as follows:
● 7:45-8:00Morning Work
● 8:00- 8:20 Writing
● 8:20-9:00 Reading/Sight Words
● 9:15-10:45 Phonics/New Skills/Spelling
● 11:55-12:25 Catch up on work from the previous hours/Enrichment or Additional Support/Group Work
● 12:25-1:00 Social Studies/Science
● 1:00-1:45 Math
Morning work usually consists of students practicing writing spelling words, sight words, or sentences, and for some it consists of letter and number formation, on their dry erase boards. After they’ve finished, the students show me their work, and I help 2 make any necessary corrections if needed. Then I give them about 5 or so minutes of free time to draw and talk to one another, and this is where the magic happens that may change the course of the schedule on any given day.
If you listen closely to the sort of content within the students’ dialogues between one another, it becomes an almost effortless way to get to know your students better. Some mornings I’ll hear my class discuss what skills we’ve been learning in math (my class this year absolutely loves math). They give each other addition or subtraction problems to work out on their dry erase boards. They offer solutions and strategies, and talk to each other about how they think to solve problems. On other mornings, they may talk about their favorite superheroes, foods, or animals. Sometimes they dive deep into sports or favorite hobbies. No matter what they are discussing, they are discovering new things about themselves as well as their peers, and curiosity then, usually ensues, especially if I engage in their conversations, which I almost always do. By this time however, my schedule says it’s time to move on from morning work to writing. But, as teachers we have the unique ability to think on our feet, and so somedays I do just that. For example, If my students were talking about superheroes that morning, and chances are that superheroes were not a part of what I had planned for writing, I’m going to hold off on what I had planned, and try to incorporate the skills I was going to teach in writing about superheroes instead. So, I open up a discussion with my students about some of the traits and superpowers their favorite superheroes have, and I ask them “Would you rather have laser beam eyes or the ability to fly if you were a superhero, and why?” More discussion happens, and if I was going to teach about writing complete sentences, I can still do that, but now I’m teaching it in a way I know they will be interested and engaged in, right then in that moment. Now, I can have them begin to write about it, but my only problem is that because I decided to throw out what I had already planned to incorporate student interest instead, so much more time has already passed than my schedule allows for writing. Instead of worrying about the time, I allow flexibility in my schedule.
Being flexible with the schedule includes allowing yourself to skip over a subject every now and then to make room for meaningful student engagement in other content areas. 3 It even allows you to switch time blocks around, like teaching math during your reading block, and reading during your math block for instance. For example, I mentioned earlier in this read about how sometimes my students will chat about math during their free time after they finish their morning work. If I sense that my students are really trying to get in deep with it, then I’m not going to let the opportunity to catch them while they’re independently developing their critical or logical thinking skills slip away and hope that I can stimulate the same mindset again later on in the day. I’m going to take advantage of what their brains are doing, what they’re geared up for, right then and there at that moment in time. Instead of stopping them dead in their tracks, and then trying to reset their brains to get ready for the next subject like reading, just jump right into math! Reading can wait until later in the day and replace that math block of time. I can also skip reading altogether for that day, and instead plug those reading skills I had planned on teaching into different subject areas. Learning is still happening. Skills are still being taught.
Now, what if the math the students are discussing in the morning doesn’t have anything to do with the skills we are working that week? Maybe we’ve been working on solving addition equations using a number line, but here they are talking about multiplication because some of them have older siblings and they hear them talk about it at home. In Kindergarten, clearly they’re not going to be ready for me to even begin to teach multiplication. That’s a third grade skill, and a couple of my students are still learning how to be fluent with counting. Still, I can take the time to show them sets of groups of objects in relation to addition, which is a skill we learn and have been working on. Can I plug in the words “multiplication”, “multiply”, or “multiples” while I’m showing them these groups of objects? Sure I can! I’m not actually “teaching” a “lesson” here. I’m simply taking the time to engage in their conversation and expand their thoughts and curiosities. It’s not a waste of time in that sense by any means. It’s spending time meaningfully.
The idea that a schedule is set and needs to be strictly adhered to is an old school method for structure designed to encourage teachers to crunch in teaching as many skill sets as possible throughout the day, and help prevent teachers from going off 4 topic. While it is true that we have so much to teach in so little time, it’s also true that students learn better when they feel like they can personally and individually relate to what is being taught. They need to feel validated and acknowledged in their interests also. We have the ability to incorporate all of that through the power of flexibility. In order to engage students this way, teachers cannot be afraid of the clock, or afraid to sway off topic every once in a while too. The ability to allow flexibility with schedules and routines may be unconventional, but it is key for giving our students maximum support, encouragement, and engagement, while also making connections, nurturing relationships and bonds, and it helps to foster a sense of community in the classroom.
Think about how much your schedule dictates your every move in the classroom. Now think about all there is to gain with being open to the concept of flexibility. Have fun with your and your students’ time and own every second of it.
Special Thanks to Amber Burkett for contributing this article as a guest author for An Unconventional Teacher