Time, Relationships, and Learning

This week, I was working with one group of high school teachers looking at the need to differentiate teaching strategies. I was working with another exploring how to make the most effective use of a 90 minute block schedule. I also worked with an entire K-12 district looking at learning communities. During the entire week, the structure of schedules and groupings of learners was a constant focus.
So, as often happens, my quick reading of headlines and online postings caused me to ponder connections.


An article in the Washington Post,
Quality Time Stacked in Favor of Firstborns, explores a report by Joseph Price, “Parent-Child Quality Time: Does Birth Order Matter” in the Journal of Human Resources. I recalled that several years ago at a conference on the brain I had heard scientist list things that occur prior to birth and in our early years that influence how our brain forms helping me understand why a class of 23 students was really 23 unique brains. One point they mentioned was birth order; as firstborns are disproportionately represented in the enrollments at Ivy League universities. The suggestion was that parents responded differently to firstborns. This is highlighted in the definition of to sterilize: If it’s your first child, put in boiling water for 5 minutes. If its your third child, pick it up an blow on it.

“Price found that in two-child families, firstborn children got about 30 percent more quality time from their parents. Birth-order differences were largest in activities Price considered most important, such as reading and playing together. Secondborns prevailed in one category: watching television with parents. Price did not count this as quality time.” Why parents spend less time with children as a family ages was not studied, but Price offered some reasons, including fatigue, age and a waning novelty. In his family, he recalled, the firstborn had an elaborate scrapbook right away, but the scrapbook for his fourth child, 14 months old, has not been started”.1

I am a firstborn and am pretty sure my 4th born sister wouldn’t be surprised by the scrap book example.
The second article I found in USA Today-
Size alone makes small classes better for kids.
“New findings from four nations, including the USA, tell a curious story. Small classes work for children, but that’s less because of how teachers teach than because of what students feel they can do: Get more face time with their teacher, for instance, or work in small groups with classmates”.
“Small classes are more engaging places for students because they’re able to have a more personal connection with teachers, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer kids in the classroom competing for that teacher’s attention,”2


This article reinforced other studies I’ve read, identifying that frequently teachers did not take advantage of smaller class size to change instruction. What is different is that it suggested that students still gained from the smaller size. My guess is connected to relationships… being better known …maybe receiving more attention.

What structures should we be considering to best capitalize on time and relationships for learning? Looping, Small Learning Communities, Block Schedules, House Structures for multiple year relationships, Advisories…I recently worked with an alternative high school in Idaho where students are scheduled to take one course at a time-all day.
Lots to ponder.

1 Washington Post, Quality Time Seems Stacked in Favor of Firstborns, Donna St. George,Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, March 22, 2008; Page A01
2 USA Today, Size Alone Makes Small Classes Better for Kids, Gregg Toppo

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2 Responses to “ Time, Relationships, and Learning ”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    One class for a whole day–now that is something to thing about–hopefully we are all thinking about this and how we would address a certain portion of our curriculum for an entire day. . .

    I also often wonder when school district personnel–administrators from the superintendent down–want us to account for each minute in the day and attribute class time to productive learning (which I support) why in the world they will allow us at the middle school level to have classes every 45 minutes with 5 minute passing periods–that means 5 minutes between 8 classes (including lunch) which tallies to an entire instructional period! Why not use the block system with no more than four classes per day–thus eliminating much of the time waste. Our school also has a 12 minute break in addition to all of this mid morning. I am aware of the necessity to have the kids mobile and moving during the day, but most of us do a fair amount of this with collaborative learning strategies and other methods. It has been years and years (I believe and hope) since kids were expected to sit in a chair and not move for 45 minutes. We have listened to the brain research and other pedagogy which tells us what helps learning. Yet here I sit in Idaho hoping for a paradigm change that is long overdue. Thanks for this article–Sandi L.

  2. sandi.teaches Says:

    With the attention being given in the global world to learning and thinking, why are we not on a block schedule where we gain at least one full class period per day. The milling around every 45 minutes between classes and additional time for other breaks is unnecessary with modern pedagogy in place in addition to the attention and response we are giving current brain research. I am amazed that administrators do not balk at this loss of instructional time, knowing we all work movement and varied activities into a work period. I would very much like to see more study and results from block scheduling. I have worked with this type of instruction and found it successful and enjoyable even for students.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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