There’s a rhythm to the academic year. A rhythm determined generations ago when more attention was paid to the church’s Holy Days, and when farmers needed all the help they could muster at harvest.
Yet, in a different age, teachers and students alike still strain towards the light of the half term holiday.
There’s probably an optimum length of a term: a balance between the possibility of a substantial amount of knowledge and skills being acquired and tested, and the capacity for the ‘average student’ (and teacher) to cope with any more.
This last half term’s been 4 weeks long! 4 weeks! And in that somewhat
shortened heightened time, the same amount of ‘stuff’ has had to be crammed in.
I’ve also worked in an international environment where the term length could be 13 weeks without a break. It might’ve felt more like the average working environment, but it was a killer, and the zombies – staff and students – were certainly less productive. Students need time to mull; to let everything sink in and marinate, and to recover from the onslaught of learning. Conversely, they don’t need such an inordinately long Summer holiday that they forget what they’ve covered.
I’m wondering if 5 terms of equal length, each separated by a couple of weeks’ break might optimise teaching and learning.
So what about the length of the school day? Well, it’s generally accepted that the average concentration span is about 45 minutes, so lessons of 50 – 55 minutes, including settling down and packing up time, seems sensible. That being the case, most secondary schools have six of these in a day, which appears to be enough to satiate the inquisitive mind. I do wonder if the current vogue of downsizing downtime is detrimental though – especially at lunchtime, when the opportunity to offer co-curricular activities is severely reduced. Perhaps young people are looking for the chance to participate in less formal, supervised activities? Adding extra staff time to the 1,265 hours of directed time is going be costly though.