Friday, August 4, 2017

The Challenges & Opportunities of a Two-Period Class

One of the greatest blessings of my teaching career has been the flexibility to teach U.S. History and American Literature as a two-period Humanities block, instead of teaching them as separate subjects.

The challenge is to use that time wisely; to make the most of it; to ensure that there's a rhyme and reason to the way in which the time is allotted.

Sometimes, it makes sense to have several completely different activities in a single day, for the sake of variety.  Other times, it makes sense to focus on completing one single lesson.  I've long-since learned that two full periods of lecture (heck, even one full period of lecture) is not a good use of the time available to me.  Even within a single lesson, there needs to be some level of variety.  The two periods a day are a gift, and this summer, I want to be more intentional about structuring the time as best I can.

My schedule for the coming year looks like this:

1st period: Prep
2nd period: Prep
3rd period: Humanities A
4th period: Humanities B
5th period: Humanities B
6th period: Humanities A
7th period: Prep

To clarify, it's the same group of students 3rd and 6th period, and the same group of students 4th and 5th period. The Humanities A group doesn't quite get a block class in the way that the Humanities B group does, but scheduling has its limits.  It worked fine last year, so I'm not worried!

Here are a few things I have been thinking about as I have planned this week, including something I tried last year, and a few new things I'd like to try this year!

Something I tried last year:
Last year, for the first time, I set aside one class period each week for silent, sustained reading.  I did this every Friday, during 5th period for one of my Humanities sections, and 6th period for the other.  While there was something I really liked about ending the week with quiet reading time, it did mean that Friday basically became a one-period day, and regardless of what we were working on during 3rd or 4th period, respectively, we'd drop what we were doing and head down to the library for our weekly reading time.

Meanwhile, due to the late-start schedule each Wednesday, the fact that Wednesday classes are only 35 minutes long, and the fact that 4th and 5th period are separated by lunch that day, Wednesdays always felt a little too choppy; a little too start-and-stop to carry on a single lesson through both periods.

My idea for Wednesdays this year:
3rd and 4th period will serve as a weekly news circle--students will come prepared to discuss current events from different regions in the world in order to stay informed about global issues.  This was something I was planning to try anyway, and it just happened that Wednesday emerged as the natural day for it!

5th and 6th period will serve as our silent, sustained reading time, just as they had been on Fridays last year.  While this means that I will lose the relaxing feeling of closing out the school-week with reading time, this shift will make Wednesdays far more worthwhile than they ever were in the past.

Plus, this will give the students a weekly routine--something they can count on every week.

Another routine I want to try out:
Rhetoric has been a big part of my curriculum, at least on paper.  In practice, however, teaching rhetorical analysis skills has tended to take a back-seat to my unit themes and understandings.  Plus, it has always felt forced and awkward to try and include a different rhetorical analysis skill in each unit map, and justify why that skill fit with the themes and focus of that particular unit.  To remedy this, I'm creating an ongoing year-long unit dedicated entirely to rhetoric, to helping the students grow as critical consumers and effective communicators.  I am planning to set aside at least one period each Monday, at the start of the week, to teaching and practicing rhetorical analysis skills.  While each rhetoric lesson will be distinct from the unit we are studying in class at any given time, we will look for ways to use readings and materials based on the themes we are studying as we practice and apply rhetorical analysis skills.

This leaves me with Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for substantive lessons that will take advantage of the two-period arrangement.  I am going to try to plan each lesson more consciously around the 90-100 minutes I will have on those days to make sure all of that time is well used.

Three days each week may not sound like a lot of time, but this will force me to focus my curriculum more than I have in the past--to make sure my lessons are concise and easy to follow, and that they are accomplishing what I want them to accomplish.

It may be that I'll emerge on the other side of this school year resolved never to try this again, but the only way I can grow as a teacher is to be willing to try new things!

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