Opinion

Experiment with lab conferences

Breezing through the hasty transition from two weeks of relaxation to a 70-minute class is no easy task. Last month The Vanguard noticed students recovering from this transition, grumbling about the use of lab blocks and that much-needed time they could instead devote to catching up on schoolwork or meeting with teachers.

Lab blocks are no doubt useful—they allot an extra 20 minutes for added learning—but students’ own time is also useful and in high demand. Lab blocks are more beneficial for both students and teachers when students remain fully engaged in the lesson, not worrying about other tasks they could be completing instead. In order to maximize the productivity of each lab and student’s school day, The Vanguard suggests that teachers consider the following questions before deciding to keep students after the 50-minute mark.

First, have students been warned of this extension? For planning purposes, it’s useful for students to know at the beginning of the school year if a teacher intends to use lab blocks consistently. If teachers anticipate shifting the usual lab schedule on a certain week, it’s also helpful if they alert their students days prior to class. If a teacher must use lab unexpectedly, dedicating it to students looking for additional practice or yearning to continue an exciting discussion—and then granting those who have something else planned the option to leave if necessary, knowing they may miss out—might be a best practice.

Second, will the long block be used for experiential learning or interactive activities such as test preparation, labs, or discussions? The Vanguard believes students can stay engaged in these longer than in presentations or lectures, where passive listening is the norm. If a teacher must continue lecturing, including a water or stretch break after 50 minutes might be a good idea. Studies referred to in the Huffington Post tell us that after around 45 minutes of continuous focus, humans’ ability to maintain attention and retain information deteriorates. Breaks actually do help us stay engaged!

Finally, do the students tend to be in “screensaver mode” at 50 minutes down on their designated long-block day? By that point have their eyes glazed over and their expressions blanked? Every once in a while—especially toward the end of the school day—the class may feel worn out or lack the brainpower needed to devote full attention to their teacher. In this case, reconsidering whether using lab block is worthwhile may make sense.

Teachers and students, let’s make this last month productive and focus on how we utilize our time.

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