The American education system is designed for a singular purpose — to help improve the lives of the country’s students. When it comes to the structure of the school year, however, many older learners are left tired and overwhelmed.
The educational landscape is an ever-changing one — just ask any teacher. Yearly initiatives are introduced at the national, state, and local levels with the aim of better accommodating the changing needs of the American student body. Surprisingly, the public school year schedule — 170 to 180 days per year, five days per week, six-and-a-half hours per day with a long break in the summer — remains the one aspect of the education system that hasn’t changed since the 1960s.
What’s more, a day structured around a bell schedule, in which students move from subject to subject after short blocks of time, has existed since the Industrial Revolution.
The antiquated structure of the high school schedule hasn’t kept up with what we know about how students function and learn best.
Consider these four ways to make the school day more functional for you:
1. Start Time
It shouldn’t be news to anyone that, for most teenagers, the school day begins too early. A survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics between 2011 and 2012 found that the average high school start time was 7:59 a.m. The problem, according to the National Sleep Foundation, is that, while “it is natural [for teens] not be able to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m.,” the average teen needs “9-1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best.” That is, if a student went to sleep at the earliest his brain allowed, he would need to sleep until 8:15 a.m. to feel fully charged.
How should you deal with the discrepancy? Even though you may not feel tired, begin powering down around 9:30 p.m. Shut off your electronics, avoid stimuli, and grab a book. This way, you can prepare yourself for bed, so when you do feel tired, you’re no longer engaged in activities that are more likely to keep you awake.
Check out f.lux, an app that dims your screen to adjust the time of day and one of Noodle's 32 Online Tools to Use in 2015.
2. The Bell Schedule
Bell schedules that ask students to endure 45-minute periods for core subjects pose a particular problem. Meaningful learning rarely happens in a single hour, and when a student spends multiple periods in a row in classes of this duration, retention can become an issue. Some schools try to mitigate this problem by introducing block scheduling, or a schedule composed of fewer but lengthier class periods, and have had mixed results.
To better manage the quantity of information thrown at you on any given day, it helps to be organized. Use different notebooks for each class. Be sure the information that you jot down during class reflects your words and ideas, rather than simply copying what the teacher has on the board. Doing so will ensure the information is meaningful and easier to remember.
3. The Workload
Much of the stress students experience has to do with having multiple classes per day, each of which has its own homework assignments, essays, and projects. In any given night, a student can have an hour of reading for English, twenty problems in geometry, and a lab report in biology. This workload is then compounded if the student has any extracurricular activities after school.
At times, keeping your head above water can seem impossible. Still, there are ways to make this manageable. First, use an agenda to keep track of what’s due and when; prioritize assignments based on the most pressing due date. If you still feel as though you’re sinking under the workload, talk to your teachers. They can help you figure out a way to get it all done.
4. Summer Break
If there’s anyone who enjoys summer vacation more than the students, it’s the teachers. Still, research has found that an extended break during the summer months hurts students more than helps them. A study published in the journal “Review of Educational Research” found that during summer vacation, students lose “about one month on a grade-level equivalent scale” and that those losses were “more detrimental for math than for reading.” So, not only are students not learning over the summer, but they’re losing what they’ve already learned.
To mitigate these losses, keep yourself engaged academically and physically. Challenge yourself to read new books, to tackle new hobbies, and to remove yourself from static activities, such as playing video games or going on Netflix binges. This way, when September rolls around, your mind is primed for a new year of learning.
Cooper, Harris, Nye, Barbara, Charlton, Kelly, Lindsay, James, and Greathouse, Scott. "The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review." Review of Educational Research 66.3 (1996): 227-68. Retrieved from Review of Educational Research
Knight, Cecily, Knight, Bruce Alen, and Teghe Daniel. “Releasing the pedagogical power of information and communication technology for learners: A case study” International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 2006, Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp. 2734. Web. 19 Dec. 2014
Silva, Elena. “On the clock: Rethinking the way schools use time”. Education Sector, 1-22 (2007).
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), "Public School Data File," 2011–12. Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics