Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Collaborative Time in the Timetable for Teachers Pt. 2- How it Works

Recently, I posted a method to create collaborative time within the timetable that we currently use at our school in Kamloops.  I was astonished at the positive response that I got through Twitter and email, and with that response came some questions on the logistics of what we have done.  Specifically, people wanted some more information on how we carved our collaborative time out of the day and what the students were doing during that time.  This post is to shed some more light on how our timetable works so that people may get some ideas on how to tweak their own schedule to find time for teacher collaboration.

Collaborative Time takes place during our Connections Block on Wednesdays from 2:20-3:00PM.  We called this block "Connections" because it was an opportunity for students to connect with their own and other teachers to get targeted tutorial assistance in a specific subject area such as Math or English.  On a given Wednesday, a teacher from a department (ie. Math) would be hosting the Connections Tutorial while the rest of their colleagues collaborate. Each of our departments has their own Connections Block Room, and each department creates a schedule of coverage for that room that rotates each of the department members through the Connections block. The following is an example from our Math department (Math is so busy that we actually have two Connections rooms).

Over a five week span, each teacher hosts Connections Tutorial once, and collaborates the other four weeks.
 Our core course areas tend to be large enough to have teachers collaborate at least 4 out of every 5 weeks.  We combine some of our elective areas (ie. Home Ec and Tech Ed) together, and students know that some weeks they can go into the shops to get help, and other weeks, they can go to a foods or textiles lab.  Computer labs and gyms are supervision is also assisted by support workers.

So what about the students?  We have more than 1400 students at our school, and nearly 1000 are bus students.  The time from 2:20-3:00 is 'self-directed', in that students may choose to go to one of the tutorial areas (English, Socials, Math, Science, Languages, Fine Arts/Tech Ed), to the library, computer labs or gyms.  However, at any point, a teacher can assign a student to tutorial should they feel that a student is not meeting the outcomes of that course.  By giving some students self-directed time, it has allowed us to artificially create smaller groups of students for our staff to work with to truly give tutorial support.  It also provides a reward system for those students who are caught up--as Douglas Reeves says, "the price for freedom is proficiency"!

The Connections Block serves a dual-purpose:  it allows our teachers to work together on curriculum, instructional practice, and assessment while giving our students opportunities to work with subject-specific "tutors" (our staff) in smaller group or individual learning situations.  Each year, we have polled our teachers, and we have found the following anecdotal results about the impact of collaborative time on improving instructional practice and improving student achievement:

While we would never claim that collaboration time is the sole cause of our improved student achievement and instructional practices (clearly these are multivariate), we are seeing consistent gains in areas that are critical to school success in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.

In my next post, I would like to share our Academic Intervention Program that is built into this timetable:  this is another way that we have found to improve student success rates without a financial hit to the school.

Again, if you have any suggestions for us, or for how you have done something similar, I believe there are many educators (including myself) that would be interested!

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