The structure of the school day can make a big difference in learning, according to Daniel Pink, author of the best seller When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In “How Schools Can Spend Time More Wisely: 4 Big Tips From Daniel Pink,” Education Week reporter Alyson Klein describes several of Pink’s recommendations. Two of them connect learning to the time of day, but the other two are more unexpected, as Pink offered an argument for recess and choral singing.
Pink believes scheduling is a science, not an art: “When we make our timing decisions, we tend to make them based on intuition.... That’s the wrong way to do it. We should be making them based on evidence.”
According to Pink, 15 percent of people are “larks,” or morning people, and another 15 percent are “owls,” who perform best later in the day. When schools are scheduling classes, they should do what’s best for the 70 percent of people in the middle, letting the age of the students determine the ideal schedule.
For elementary students, Pink says, that means critical thinking and analytical activities should happen early in the day and creative work like brainstorming in the afternoon. “If you’re scheduling classes for elementary school children, try to front-load the analytical tasks, like math or report writing, anything that requires kids to put their heads down and concentrate,” Klein writes.
But the schedule should look different for teenagers, who tend to “peak later in the day and be sluggish in the morning,” Klein writes, adding that “the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” Pink acknowledges pain points in reconfiguring the schedule, such as busing logistics, sports practice times, and parents’ schedules, but he says the gains make starting the high school day later worthwhile.
Confirming a point that many educators have made, Pink also stresses the importance of recess as a means of boosting academic outcomes. “We should fight for recess not as a nicety, but as necessity,” he said. Research shows that providing breaks improves students’ performance—and the impact is greatest for low-performing students.
Pink’s other argument for what to include in schools’ already packed schedules is, like recess, notably not academic. He thinks children, especially those ages 4 to 6, should be doing choral singing: “There’s this incredible thing that goes on, that after synchronized activity kids engage in more prosocial behavior. Kinder. More open,” he said. Schools can tie this into social and emotional learning programs as they work to foster students’ sense of empathy and community.
Some of Pink’s recommendations may be a heavy lift for schools to implement, but they’re worth considering since, as he points out, solid research supports each one.