A New School Schedule that Promotes Well-Being and Engagement

By Dean Van Doleweerd Assistant Head: Academics

As we work to finalize a new schedule for Lakefield College School for 2020/21, there are a number of important changes we will make to ensure we have a design which places our students at its centre. A student-centred learning schedule must help deliver the learning outcomes outlined in our strategic plan by maximizing engaged learning time, facilitating student well-being, adding flexibility and choice, and providing more opportunities for authentic learning. 

One important change in accomplishing these goals is to reduce the number of subjects being studied at any one time. Currently, our students rotate their study among up to eight courses at once; the new schedule will see that number significantly reduced. Coupled with the reduced number of subjects being studied at one time is the general lengthening of class periods from 70 minutes to 90-95 minute sessions.  

Why make these changes? No academic schedule is perfect, but several key improvements are achieved by such a shift.

Student Well-Being.  

As rising levels of adolescent stress continue to be documented,  Lakefield must strive for a schedule that makes learning less fragmented and less stressful, issues students identified with our current schedule when interviewed by our ISM consultants. Currently, students divide their attention among up to eight subjects, and report that they have waves of stress when assignments and tests in all eight subjects come due in close succession. While positive stress can improve performance, we know that high levels of negative stress actually impede higher level understanding and memory. Reducing student course load to, for example, three subjects at a time, allows for more focus and less superficial and scattered learning. This in turn should lead to fewer late nights studying. Better sleep habits improve consolidation and understanding of material, a happy cycle that we want to perpetuate. 

A new schedule for LCS would also intentionally include unstructured time between each class – an important feature that gives students the opportunity to re-group, get outside for a breather or some exercise, interact socially, or take a nutrition break, thus allowing them to enter their next class physically, mentally, and emotionally able to learn. According to our ISM consultants, the ideal schedule has significant amounts of unstructured time during the academic day. The research suggests “breaks are an essential part of learning.”

Effective Use of Academic Time

Each time students make a transition from one class to another, valuable engaged learning time is lost.  In fact, ISM research notes that every time classes change, it takes at least 13 minutes for students to re-group and shift focus to the new subject.  Fewer periods during the day allows us to regain that lost time and keep students more engaged in their learning, especially when a period of unstructured time is available between each class.

Increased Potential for Authentic Learning Experiences.  

Ensuring that there are hands-on, experiential opportunities in our courses, particularly opportunities that allow our students to get outside and off-campus to encounter real-world problems and applications, has a significant number of pedagogical advantages—and it takes time.  Longer classes allow for more flexibility when students need to be connected to the outside world to undertake research, or work to develop a product or service (for example, our student-developed Chicago App). In Outdoor Education, we have scheduled longer classes for this reason for years.

Authentic Learning

Increased Flexibility in Courses Taken.  

Currently, our students must move in lock-step with their grade, as taking eight courses simultaneously does not allow them to earn prerequisite credits for more senior courses until year-end.  With the new schedule, our students will be able to move forward in some areas: for example, should a student complete Grade 10 History prior to January, she could choose to take a Grade 11 social science course in the winter/spring term.  Students will be able to see these opportunities when they receive their schedules and make changes, if appropriate, prior to September or in the opening few days of any module start period.

The schedule shift will not only reduce the number of courses a student is studying. It will also, in the period from January to June, introduce a schedule pattern of studying a subject, shifting away from that subject for a module, and then returning to it–a cycled learning pattern.  In this way, the new schedule is quite different from the semestered system used at most Ontario public high schools.  Stay tuned for more on the advantages of cycled learning and of a schedule that rotates through courses.