Shorter Fridays and Extra Planning Time Help Teachers “Boost” Student LearningDec 07, 2015 08:55AM ● By Bryan Scott
By Stephanie Lauritzen
Midvale - This year, Canyons School District reinstated early-out Fridays at all elementary schools, a schedule beloved by students, but left parents and teachers wondering if their students were receiving enough in-class instruction. While students may feel like the return to Friday “short days” is simply a way to spend less time at their desks, teachers and school administrators are using the time to plan curriculum, collaborate with coworkers and discover the best ways to help their students learn.
In addition to early-out Fridays, Canyons schools are also adding weekly “Brain Booster” sessions to their student’s schedule, ensuring their students maintain an opportunity to learn a variety of new skills in addition to the standard curriculum. Midvalley Elementary School Principal Jeff Nalwalker believes these schedule changes will “help our teachers provide quality instruction for all our students, and give teachers time to plan curriculum that is truly successful.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, elementary students meet in rotating Brain Booster sessions designed to augment the state core curriculum. The rotations include library time, music instruction, Playworks coaching, and S.T.E.M seminars. Nalwalker believes these rotations benefit students while helping teachers by “allowing students to learn material in new ways, while still providing quality instruction approved by the Board of Education.”
Each rotation offers students extra help in key areas: library time focuses on increasing literacy skills, while a grant from the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program brings highly qualified music specialists to the school to offer music instruction. Nalwalker has also seen “great success” with the Playworks program, which not only helps students during recess, but uses Brain Booster time to teach conflict resolution skills and interpersonal skills like empathy and respect.
According to Nalwalker, one of the “biggest requirements” from the Board of Education in approving the Brain Boosters program involved increased instruction in S.T.E.M skills, which focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Midvalley fulfills these requirements by inviting trained technicians, scientists and engineers into the school to help students learn about robotics and advanced technology.
“We wanted our program to be meaningful, and to truly help students achieve the objectives outlined in the State Core. Increasing S.T.E.M skills allows are students to be more successful in the future,” Nalwalker said.
What are teachers doing while their students attend Brain Boosters? Nalwalker believes this time is critical for teachers, since it represents a rare opportunity for teachers to meet in teams to analyze student data and use their discoveries to improve grade-level curriculums.
“Research shows that as teacher collaboration rises, student performance increases as well. Teachers need time to create common assessments, compare strategies, and to identify students who may need extra help. Analyzing the data together allows teachers to ask each other why a student didn’t do well during a unit, and receive advice on how to help the student improve,” Nalwalker said.
While students enjoy their early-out Fridays, teachers are given the holy grail of lesson planning-individual protected planning time, with no faculty meetings or professional development requirements.
“Some of our teachers were skeptical about the schedule changes at first,” Nalwalker admits, “but as the year has progressed, they’ve seen this extra planning time help them become really successful in improving curriculum. Everyone is satisfied with the results.”