In the zone

| June 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Kyle Lauf

High school teachers know how difficult the last few weeks of an examination term are.

In some subjects, teachers rush to complete the syllabus on time, while others contemplate how many revision lessons are needed to help learners prepare themselves adequately for the forthcoming examinations while also maintaining classroom engagement.

From my own classroom experience, I have noticed that some revision time keeps pupils focused and motivated, but after a certain point interest and energy levels start to fade. Learners become more and more anxious about the impending exams, but at the same time they might be uninterested in working or studying in the classroom setting. This leads to unproductive and wasteful class time.

Teachers might also feel at a loss. An increasing number of students stay home from school to “study”, but is this worthwhile and productive for them? Those who come to school also seem to be in “wait mode” – they’re tired and really want time to study for their finals in peace.

Time for a rethink

I propose “study zones”. The idea is inspired by the experiences of willing and innovative schools to rethink the spatial and timetable frameworks of traditional school environments.

Such innovation takes the form of re-dividing learning spaces and times for a week or two leading up to the exams. Schools allocate available spaces such as libraries, learning centres, halls or larger classrooms into various “zones”, where learners choose to go for a period of time. Learners commit to the zone and its unique rules of behaviour for a specified time period, e.g. 40 minutes. Then they can choose to stay, or move to another study zone.

In my experience of teaching high school girls in an independent school setting, the following zones could be implemented, although this is not an exhaustive set of alternatives.

Quiet self-study zone:

Individuals study, revise or make notes alone, without talking at all. It is totally silent space. If this is a popular option, the school must provide multiple quiet zones.

Small group study zone:

Small groups of two or perhaps three can study together, calmly and purposefully discussing their work. In these zones, silence need not be mandatory, but the atmosphere must remain focused and calm.

Peer tutoring zone:

These could be subject-specific areas, where “top” academic pupils are available to explain difficult concepts and “tutor” individuals or small groups of their peers. This could take place in the relevant teacher’s class.

Free zone:

This is possibly a controversial option. In this zone, pupils are permitted to “not-study”. But this zone also allows learners to gather their thoughts, talk about their concerns and anxieties among their peers in a no-pressure environment.

Teacher tutoring times:

Teachers are available in their classrooms if needed forappointments with individuals or small groups of learners.

Kinetic learning zone:

Walking and moving around is permitted and encouraged for individuals who are kinaesthetic learners (i.e. who learning best while moving). This is still very much a learning zone.

Extra teaching or practice zones:

In subjects where learners voluntarily desire more actual teaching time or practice.

The advantages of study zones:

• Learners have a range of self-empowering choices inviting productive learning.
• Limited “freedom” allows learners to pace themselves.
• Study zones accommodate different styles of learning.
• Highly motivated and productive learners self-separate from less productive ones.
• The school creates spaces for group and peer studying – many learners do not otherwise have this opportunity.
• In the last two weeks of term, many learners will be able to revise and study large portions of work at school, while maintaining some balance in the late afternoons and evenings at home.
• Time-wasters must at least confront their habit. If they want “free time” they may choose it, but they will have to be upfront and conscious about this themselves.

No harm in trying

Study zones can re-energise learners and teachers. If we think about it, the idea already exists and works. A perfect example of productive learner-directed time is a typical weekday afternoon after school, where learners each go about their own business – going to extra lessons, extramurals and cultural activities, or even just doing homework by themselves or in small groups all around the school.

Reference:

1. Study zone systems are used, for example, at Bryanston School in the UK (see: http://www.bryanston.co.uk/) and Northern Beaches Christian School, Australia (see: http://www.nbcs.nsw.edu.au/).

Category: Winter 2016

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