On top of the social rigors that already can make adjusting to middle school life a trying endeavor, Fair Lawn’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders have had to take on an additional academic challenge this school year: more classes per day.
Beginning this fall, all of transitioned from a 7- to an 8-period instructional day. The school day’s length has remained the same, but individual classes and the time in-between classes has been shortened to carve out an additional period. Classes now run for 40 minutes rather than 44 minutes.
Among other things, Superintendent Bruce Watson said the move was made to provide more focused instruction time via double-blocked periods for students who are lagging behind academically.
“Kids that really need literacy support can go to a double block,” Watson said. “And they can still get all their other requirements in because we’ve actually shortened down the other periods.”
For example, Watson said, students who need it might now receive Social Studies and English classes back-to-back, with literacy and writing infused into the Social Studies course to provide more practice.
The teachers of each double-blocked class work together to create an interdisciplinary opportunity for the students.
“It’s a team approach,” Watson said. “If they want to work on a particular project, they could work that project for two periods in a row, because they’re actually designing it in their time and now the kids are now working on it together.”
The extra periods aren’t always used to tie classes together, however. In some cases, having an additional period has made it possible to offer new classes entirely.
Middle school students now receive a full world language class daily, rather than two half-hour sessions per week, and the district’s dynamic math classes are now tiered.
Previously, the dynamic math opportunity afforded all students six to eight weeks of high-level mathematics training in subjects like geometry and algebra with the aid of computer software. But not all the students were picking it up.
“We realized that kids that weren’t ready for it really struggled,” Watson said. “Maybe we were reaching 50 percent or 60 percent of the kids the way we wanted to.”
Now that the class is offered in two tiers, it can be tailored more appropriately to the needs of the specific students.
“Those kids that are really pretty comfortable with math and math concepts will go on one level,” Watson said, “and those that need extra direction can go on another level, but they’re going to be getting dynamic math.”
Watson said the new 8-period instructional day initially received mixed reviews from teachers, some of whom were concerned about the impact the change would have on their daily schedules.
“Some like it, some don’t like it, but they’ve got to get used to it,” Watson said. “Because change is part of the implementation of anything, there’s resistance, there’s misunderstanding, no matter how hard you work.”
To ameliorate the transition and allow teachers to take more ownership over their new schedules and the implementation of the program, a committee has been formed to gather input from teachers on what works, what doesn’t work and what can be done differently to make the 8-period day run smoothly.
Watson said the district will also be collecting copious amounts data to determine whether the new approach has been successful.
“Whether we think this is totally successful or not, we’re probably not going to know until May or June,” he said.