By Jen Frickey, Director of Student Success and Dean Van Doleweerd, Assistant Head: Learning
In a year full of global reactive changes, it’s been exciting to see the results of a change we’ve been planning to implement at LCS over the past few years — the rollout of our new daily and annual schedule which came together after years of researching the best model for student learning. We are just about to enter December and we have been actively collecting feedback on our new schedule from students and staff.
We made some significant changes to our days to manifest the opportunities our research found in module schedules and spaced learning, and to protect students and teachers from potential interruptions as a result of the pandemic. We sought to create opportunities for more authentic learning experiences, striving to engage our students in more frequent opportunities for deep learning immersed in the incredible LCS community. This idea of deep learning focuses on students building complex understanding of ideas that lasts over time, as opposed to the learning of superficial knowledge.
Feedback matters, and we have spent the past three weeks listening to students and staff. What we have discovered is the reinforcement that change is difficult, our community is resilient and grateful, and our attention to well-being is vital during a time where our energy is being consumed when we are not even aware of it. Students are excited for what is happening, teachers are being innovative in how they are teaching, and everyone is working together through the ups and downs of change.
In response to our new daily model, a Grade 9 teacher says, "More time in class allows for more depth with material and more time for one-on-one support of my students. Only having three classes at a given time allows students to really focus and go deeper on their course work."
This is also true in our senior academic courses, as noted by a senior social science teacher, who is experiencing "massive impacts on student learning - they are understanding and retaining my lessons which leads to deeper learning day after day." Students report they are less stressed as they focus on only three classes at a time, and feel less tension than when they were trying to track the learning across eight classes at the same time.
Having fewer courses at one time has the benefit of each teacher supporting fewer students at any given time. Rather than supporting between 80 and 100 students, teachers now focus on an average of under 30 students during any one module. One LCS math teacher noted "it means that each student gets more of my time. I can give much more feedback in class than I could before."
The proximity of classes also has the benefit of consistency. Connecting each day’s learning is easier with classes happening regularly. One of our science teachers noted, “My [Grade 12] students make much better use of the "after lesson" time to work independently and ask questions. They have a greater chunk of time to do the work so there is a feeling that meaningful work can be accomplished and with the next class being only a few hours away, they have a greater sense of urgency/motivation.” We are also hearing the flip side of this feedback as students sometimes feel this daily reality can feel like a faster pace that can lead to stress, and teachers are working with classes to find the right pacing and support in this new model.
When we return to school in January, we will separate classes across modules and have many courses experience spaced learning. A course will begin in a module that will last four weeks, then students will take a break from that as they study other classes, only to return to the study in a later module to reinforce knowledge. In a recent article on spaced learning by Melody Weisart, she notes, "To date, hundreds of studies have demonstrated that spaced learning reliably and robustly improves long-term retention across a wide variety of laboratory-based memory tasks." This model of spaced learning and modular schedules is being used in high school and post-secondary learning institutions in various ways around the world. LCS continues to follow brain-based research and best practice to design the best learning experiences for our students.
Students are telling us that they are really enjoying the daily rhythm of seeing the same classes each day and the connectivity of their learning through each week. The dependability of classes occurring daily has raised questions about when we return to a life that has more daily intrusions. When students travel for sports or curricular field trips and miss classes, there is a sense that more will be missed. While it is important to note that we do not have traveling sports right now due to COVID 19, we will return to that reality when it is safe to do so. When students are absent from class due to sports, this schedule will be even better for them because they know they will see that same class the day before and after the event. In our previous schedule, a student missing class for a co-curricular activity may have 5-6 days between their other classes with the absence, which often caused greater detachment and increased catch up time to reconnect with the material. The new schedule’s level of consistency promotes more aligned and connected learning in a natural way that better supports student learning.
“When professional educators combine their energies and reinforce the same deep learning, the stream of information is clearer for the student, the learning activities are more fluid, and the student's reservoir of knowledge and skill fills faster.
Our new schedule is focused on promoting meaning and understanding, on making connections and building relationships between important information and ideas, and on promoting advanced analysis, interpretation, and application. We know from our experience and our research that these are the skills our students need to be successful in their lives after Lakefield. We know that pushing them to go further and deeper, and to critically play with learning and ideas in new ways will solidify and deepen their learning in ways they didn’t know was possible. While we know change is hard and there are still modifications to be made to make it better, we are already seeing the benefits of our new daily and annual schedule and we are excited for what is possible moving forward.
We thank all students, staff and parents for their support and flexibility as we transitioned into our new schedule, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as we proceed to make it even better!