"If you want something you've never had, you've got to do something you've never done."
How many of us remember that last class of the day? As students, we all zoned out by that time, and it always seemed to be our meanest teacher and worst class of the day. As teachers, it was the class with the most discipline issues or our most boring class because we were all so tired by that time. Time of day research tells us that teenagers should start school later for optimal success in their school day, but little research has been done on the optimal learning time within a school day. In fact, I could find no research on the subject of this article.
What Do We Know?
We know that we all learn best at different times of the day. I am not a morning person, but my husband is at his best in the morning. So as teachers, our first period classes were very different. He was bright and energetic with his A-game every morning, whereas, it took me until second period to wake up completely! We know that as teachers we refine our lessons throughout the day so that they are perfected by the final class of the day. Math teacher April Jacob said, "Every child should have a day once a week to get me at my very best." I have often wished that I could get a do-over for first period's lesson! We know that the same kids who are angels for us early in the day may turn into monsters by afternoon. So what's the answer to this age old question of teachers everywhere?
Five years ago a team of teachers at South Middle School in Lancaster, South Carolina, devised a daring plan. After hearing of a school that utilized a rotating schedule by the month, they approached Principal Joyce Crimminger with a bold idea. They wished to pilot a trial run of a rotating schedule on their team with one big difference. Instead of changing the rotation each month, they wanted to change each day. With a little bit of skepticism and a whole lot of support, the administration gave their blessing to the pilot.
The schedule was designed to only rotate the four core content classes. Elective classes and lunchtimes remain the same each day. Mondays and Fridays have the same rotation in order to keep things as simple as possible.
||1st period, 2nd period, 3rd period, 4th period
||2nd period, 3rd period, 4th period, 1st period
||3rd period, 4th period, 1st period, 2nd period
||4th period, 1st period, 2nd period, 3rd period
||1st period, 2nd period, 3rd period, 4th period
The beauty of the rotating schedule is that it addresses all of the issues with human personalities we previously mentioned as they relate to the time of day, but it also has a few other benefits. Classes that have split periods due to lunch or electives rotate daily so the same students don't always have the difficult schedule with lost time. History and ELA teacher, Hannah Merrill, explains it this way: "Before we had a rotating schedule, our students after lunch tended to not do as well as those before lunch. By switching up the schedule, students are given an equal opportunity because they are never pigeonholed by the time of day they have a teacher." The classes that always seem to get cut short because of alternative schedules such as Pep Rally day rotate as well allowing for more equitable class time throughout the year. In our experience, it also positively affects discipline. In the five years since we began rotating our schedule our discipline referrals have shown a positive trend. The following chart shows the total number of days spent in ISS and OSS by students. The blue numbers reflect males and the pink numbers reflect females.
SMS 5 Year Data Review
The first year of implementation one team piloted the program. Results were so favorable that the rest of the school was intrigued. The following years show what happened when the entire school took on the challenge. The schedule has evolved over the years to the daily rotation we have today. We have tried variations such as a monthly rotation and a weekly rotation, but found the daily schedule works best. Each year we discuss whether or not this still works for us, and each year our faculty overwhelmingly agree that we love how this benefits our students and staff. We also make sure to include a question on our student survey about their feelings on the schedule. Students agree that they love the benefits of a rotating schedule.
It sounds wonderful, but what about the confusion caused by this schedule? Don't the kids become confused and bring the wrong textbooks every day? Teachers have come up with some creative solutions. All around the school you will see posters of the daily rotation as well as signs posted by teacher's doors telling students the order of classes for the day. Students quickly learn to consult the signs before going to their lockers. Some creative students have even posted the rotation inside their lockers for ease of access.
As one teacher said, when all is said and done, we do what is best for students. We believe that this schedule helps students perform at their optimum levels. Our students will tell you which teachers they prefer early in the day versus last period, and our teachers will do the same. The benefits far outweigh any inconvenience in scheduling. Not only have we seen a serious decline in discipline referrals, we also have seen an increase in positive behavior—from both the students and the teachers!
Liz James is an assistant principal at South Middle School in Lancaster, South Carolina. As a first generation college graduate, her passion is for encouraging children of poverty to believe in a better future for themselves and their families.
Published in AMLE Magazine
, August 2017.