By Dean VanDoleweerd, Assistant Head: Academics and Jen Frickey, Director of Learning Success
Experience and science continue to show us that our daily rhythm has a dramatic effect on our mood, our learning, and our outcomes. Our experience and research into the very best educational models reveals that the daily schedule our students live by has a huge impact on their learning and well-being. This year has been very exciting for Lakefield College School. We were able to merge brain-based science about learning with other measures to ensure we could meet our Safety First COVID protocols while providing our students with a dynamic and flexible schedule to accommodate current needs. As we look ahead to September 2021, we are even more excited to offer an enhanced year-long modular schedule that is designed to maximize opportunities for creating the transformative learning experiences our students deserve.
Following two years of consultation with Independent School Management, we have developed a schedule that supports student well-being and engagement and permits a well-rounded and personalized program that is grounded in a connection with the outdoors. We have extended the length of class periods to create opportunities for students to dive deeper into complex issues and authentic problems, and to create flexibility when they need to be connected to the world beyond Lakefield for research, or to develop a product or service. Most importantly, our enhanced schedule allows for spaced learning, which supports the learning cycle through continuously embedding and retrieving important information across time and contexts. Our commitment to authentic learning challenges students to move beyond memorizing information, to tackling complex topics and refining their long-term learning skills. Our modular schedule creates a learning cycle in which “intermittently returning to material, after time away, leads to more durable retention of the knowledge and incorporation into long term memory” (Schnapp, Nateson, Kok 2018). Leading brain researchers and cutting edge schools around the world are picking up on the importance of this aspect of learning, and our schedule gives LCS students the leverage they need to have an incredible experience now, and to be able to carry it with them into the future.
With a commitment to upholding our LCS values and strategic vision, we have prioritized the following three goals in our schedule:
1) Finding More Time for Authentic Learning Opportunities
95-minute classes have a number of positive outcomes that help us better achieve our goals of authentic learning and deep engagement—strengthening the student experience. Extended time for classes permit teachers to broaden the scope of their lessons. They can cover more each day, dive more deeply into subjects, and give time each day for students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways. Classes of this length insist that teachers organize their lessons into different kinds of learning and instruction, requiring students to think differently and engage in a variety of ways in each class. For teachers finding opportunities to have students engage in authentic experiences outdoors, in a science lab, on stage, or in the creation of a new app, longer class times permit deeper engagement on a daily basis.
Our 2021/22 schedule has 8 modules (Mods) over the course of one year. In each Mod, students may have up to four courses. Each course will be delivered across four Mods, spreading the learning over the entire year. Adding a fourth course into a three-periods-per-day week, allows a slower rotation of courses and provides students with the time to process and reflect on new ideas and information, and get the support or enrichment they need before they proceed to the next topic. Students have more time between classes for homework and to meet with teachers/mentors as needed. The modular design ensures that students in various practice-based courses like languages, math and the arts are consistently exposed to practice and repetition and that learning in these areas is spaced and not stopped.
2) Prioritizing Student Well-Being and Offering a Well-Rounded Experience
Our schedule goes a long way to supporting student well-being. While the challenge of our academic program continues to be demanding, carrying three courses each day allows for greater focus on fewer courses and less frenetic movement around campus. Brain research and experience shows us that we can better dive into engaging learning when we’re not trying to switch between eight different topics on short time frames.
By adding a fourth course to each module, we intentionally slow the pace of courses, creating a break in the week where a course rests for a day. Our longer class periods provide teachers with the opportunity to take their students outside and to learn in different contexts and environments, across content areas, keeping both their brains and their bodies active. Intermixing community time (Chapel, House, Advisor, Grove and WIN times) between classes allows for more meaningful interpersonal connection and an increased sense of purpose. These opportunities to deepen personal connections and understanding across the school help students feel more connected within the community, which translates into a greater sense of belonging, fulfilment and academic success. By having longer periods, and creating a mechanism to help moderate the pace of courses, we are keeping student well-being at the centre of our planning.
At LCS we are committed to experiencing the full benefits of our beautiful natural environment, and ensuring our students get outdoors every day. Lakefield has long been a leader in Outdoor Education, and providing a schedule that supports this vital program was essential in our planning. Beyond this, we have designed a schedule that intermixes co-curricular arts and athletics in a meaningful way throughout the week. This permits extended blocks of time for wellness activities and for all of our students and teachers to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible through both formal and informal activities.
3) Offering Personalised Learning Through Enrichment and Support
Our schedule vastly improves our ability to provide personalised experiences for each of our students by providing more time to create meaningful connections between students and teachers. We continue to ensure that we know every one of our students well so that we can best respond to their individual learning needs. With students engaged in just 3 classes each day and carrying only four courses each module, the teaching and learning relationship is more focussed for both students and teachers. In a traditional schedule, teachers might commonly focus on as many as 100 students at a time. Under this plan, our teachers will work with between 30 or 40 students at any one time. This allows teachers to know and engage with students more completely, developing trusting relationships that are so central to an LCS education. We have also broadened our course array. We have added new Advanced Placement, social justice and gender courses for our senior students, and we have made a significant effort to reduce our overall class sizes. While we do not want our classes to get too small to interrupt vital discourse and the sharing of diverse opinions, we do want teachers to be engaged with individuals to understand their strengths and needs.
The LCS academic schedule has been carefully researched, and we have used it this year (albeit modified to accommodate the pandemic) to find ways to build on this research, understand the experience of others, and to enhance it to help support the unique experience of our students. We are excited to offer our students the best learning experience possible, and next year’s enhanced schedule brings our values and beliefs about learning to life in the details.