For the upcoming school year, the Westport Board of Education plans to extend class time from 50 minutes to 80 minutes. in the hopes that students will be able to have “deeper discussions.” While in theory this would be productive, the eighty minute long class periods will ultimately keep students being fully engaged in the entire lesson, especially during Zoom classes.
Many of the BOE members stated during an August 13 that they believed extending class time would be very beneficial for high school students as it would allow for students to learn their material uninterrupted and would help limit the number of students that come in contact with one another.
In a non-pandemic year this change may have made more sense; however, in a school year where at least half of the student body is going to be spending their day looking at their laptop screen, students will be unable to truthfully pay attention. In fact, in a study done by Educators for Excellence, they found that two-thirds of the students they surveyed reported not being able to pay attention during remote learning. Increasing class time would just increase this number.
Students tend to learn better when they are in class for shorter periods of time because it is much harder to keep children engaged for longer amounts of time. A University of Texas at Austin study found that students do better during shorter classes because of the effectiveness of their attention spans.
Shorter classes, with more direct instruction, would create a more productive learning environment. In Colorado, teachers are only allowed to spend thirty minutes per subject each day while teaching online. When the class work is condensed into a shorter time period, students are able to put all of their energy into the one assignment instead of trying to sustain themself for 80 minutes of class work. Westport should follow this model.
Westport teachers also shouldn’t have to worry about changing their curriculum this year, while also having to concern themselves over adherence to CDC reopening guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 54% of Connecticut teachers believe that reopening with the current safety protocols will be a challenging change to the past norms; they don’t need the added stress of trying to change their regularly scheduled work to fit an 80 minute class instead of a 50 minute class. There is already a lot of pressure on the teachers to just handle being safe in their classrooms, without having to handle changing their pre-plan lessons to fit longer class times.
While fewer classes in the day would help prevent the spread of Coronavirus, through less student movement and interaction throughout the school, with proper cleaning protocols, moving throughout classes should not be an issue. The school has already taken extensive measures to protect students and has invested in several thousand dollars in personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves.
Safety is extremely important; however, students should not lose the quality of their education because of an extended class length. Westport is a district that is capable of ensuring safety and education and shouldn’t feel as though they have to sacrifice one for the other.
Keeping class periods to 50 minutes instead of 80 will create a better learning environment, It will allow students to engage fully with their lessons and conversations and teachers will not have to worry about changing their curriculum to fit an 80 minute long class. This school year will be challenging, lets keep the constants to best ensure students and teachers succeed..