Our period six class schedule has evolved over the past 15 years. Originally, our philosophy of period six was based upon teacher interest. I inherited a schedule that gave all teachers a class period (not during their prep time) to teach their passion. This empowered teachers, and they communicated their passion to the kids. It emphasized innovation and place-based education. Classes like mountain biking, windsurfing, rock climbing, and oceanography took advantage of our physical location. Our period six philosophy had significant value, but also some limitations. These classes were ungraded, and most did not have an academic focus. We decided to shift the concept of period six offerings from teacher-based passions to student need, and here's how we did it.
1. Evaluate Students' Needs and Set Goals
The Hood River Middle School (HRMS) Site Council -- a local decision-making body consisting of parents, teachers, classified staff, and administration -- came together in the 2010-11 school year to look at state assessment, classroom performance, and concerns from some students who viewed period six as fluff classes. Staff wanted to create a more learning-focused environment. From our assessment and discussion, we came up with goals for what we wanted students to get from enrichment classes and how we wanted to expand upon sixth period. This is what we came up with:
- Connect enrichment classes to subject area curriculum.
- Grade enrichment classes.
- Switch the focus from teachers' passion-based enrichment classes to student-interest classes.
- Include intervention classes in math and English language arts.
- Offer English language development and special education support during this time.
2. Develop a Process for Approving and Evaluating Enrichment Classes
Initially, teachers created courses based solely on their passions. Now we have a set structure in place for proposing, approving, and getting feedback on enrichment classes. Here's our process:
Teachers submit a new course proposal form.
The course proposal form outlines:
- A brief course description
- The course outline -- including major units of study by quarter
- Student expectations and requirements in relation to academics (late work, makeup work), attendance (excused and unexcused absences, tardy policy), behavior, and classroom furniture
- A communication plan with parents to discuss student progress twice per quarter
- A grading procedure, the method of arriving at the quarter grade, and the weight of each grading method (tests, daily work, student participation, projects, homework, lab work, and other)
The Site Council reviews the proposed courses.
The Site Council reviews the enrichment courses submitted using a form, evaluating whether the proposed course aligns with an existing instructional area (such as oceanography connecting to science) and whether it provides an introduction to the discipline (for example, beginning windsurfing, not windsports). They also rate the course on a one-to-ten scale to determine whether or not it would be a great class, and there’s a space to leave comments.
The Site Council then discusses the courses submitted, and approves them or asks for modifications. Below are examples of this process in action:
- U.S. History Through Film. Approved: No changes.
- Women's Studies: Approved: Please add "Boys are encouraged to sign up."
- Dystopian Vision: Approved: Please closely coordinate with literacy teachers regarding book selection.
- Create a Government: Approved.
- Leadership on the Court: Course Title Change: Leadership Through Sports. Various sports could be included.
- Bicycle Maintenance: Approved: Concerns about bike availability (this should not limit participation). Please make engineering connection explicit and connect with Mt. Biking class if offered during same quarter. A focus on street-bike safety should be included.
Students select their preferred courses.
At the end of the year, students make their choices on forecasting forms, selecting the top three enrichment classes that they want to take for each quarter. This allows us to better develop a master schedule and assign teachers. We discontinue classes if student interest is limited.
3. Support Outside-the-Box Ideas
Enrichment classes are deeper extensions to an existing instructional area at our school. Each class averages 28 students, lasts for nine weeks, and meets twice weekly for 55 minutes. Students have a total of eight enrichment classes over the course of the school year. Below are some examples:
- Museum Studies
- Mountain Biking
- Dystopian Vision
- Green Building and Design
- Cooking Around the World
- Constitutional Law
- Rock Climbing
- Jazz Band
4. Provide the Intervention Support Your Students Need
Students are selected for core support (our name for intervention) based upon classroom assessment, standardized testing information, and student desire. Almost all students who are in core support also receive enrichment classes at HRMS.
We offer support in English language arts and math. We've had topic-specific core supports in the past, including a sixth-grade math class that focused only on understanding fractions, as well as a reading class focused on engaging literature. Other classes are focused on reteaching and support.
5. Advertise the Benefits of Core Support to Your Students
I worried about how students would view core support at our school when we created this change. To my surprise, they overwhelmingly want to be in a core support class. We get frequent student requests for placement in these classes. Why? I believe it's the small class size (12 students on average) and the recognition that it helps them learn.
6. Assess Your Students' Needs for Appropriate Placement
We are very fluid with core support placements. Students easily move into and out of core support if they are deemed ready by teachers, which is discussed twice a month among grade-level teachers, administration, and our counselor during their grade-level, common preparation period.
Teachers make their recommendations to move kids in and out of core support based upon common classroom assessments designed during our professional learning community (PLC) time. These are some of the assessments that our teachers use:
- Common formative and summative assessments
- Scholastic Reading Inventory
- Attendance and behavioral information
7. Make Scheduling a Priority
Scheduling can be tedious and frustrating. A master schedule will never mitigate poor quality or misaligned instruction. Because of this, it has become unfashionable to focus on schedules. However, I strongly believe that administrators need to spend time with their master schedule and ask themselves the following questions:
- What is the focus of your schedule?
- Does it prioritize academic skills, academic content, enrichment, and intervention?
- Can you provide common preparation time for teachers?
- Do you want to departmentalize teachers or provide for cross-curricular planning time?
- How is your schedule intentionally and unintentionally tracking students?
We are still learning about how to best serve kids in core support classes. We are interested in improving ways to identify students for intervention and how to implement research-based strategies that will improve academic skills.