In the mid-1990s, the administration of the school in which I taught decided to change from using 40 minute teaching periods to 70 minute periods. It allowed the administration to gain extra teaching time from each teacher within the industrial award provisions. In fact, it allowed the administration to have English, Science and Mathematics teachers teach an extra class without having more time in the classroom.
My school became one of the first to do this and became an example for other schools to follow in the following years. As a result of this, I was asked to present a workshop to a nearby high school Mathematics Department explaining how my Mathematics Department had gone about adjusting to this major change.
Below is a synopsis of what I spoke about during this workshop.
For the teachers, personally:
- It is hard work.
- The class time must be regarded as “untouchable” and you must fight to prevent it being “borrowed” even by the administration.
- Detailed planning is essential. It is easy for the teacher to waste/lose time without realising it is happening.
- They need to develop a strategy to cope with absent students as even one period missed is a great chunk of their learning time.
- Additionally, teachers need to develop a strategy for any absences they may have. In fact, teachers would be tempted to teach on even when they are not well so as to not lose valuable teaching time.
- Their lessons must become a series of mini lessons to cover the course and to survive physically.
- It is possible to teach a whole unit in one period.
- They need to work smart. They must use every available tool or pedagogue to get the message across to the students.
- Group planning by teachers will improve the quality of lessons presented to the students.
For the teachers and students:
- There is a lack of continuity created by less teaching periods spread over the week. (In some schools, there was a two week rotation of periods.)
- It is difficult to create a work ethic when you see the class less frequently.
- Learnings skills must be taught more thoroughly because students must become more accountable for their learning, homework and study.
- Learning to think mathematically must become a priority to help the students accept more accountability for their learning.
- Mentoring becomes a useful tool to consolidate learning.
- Learning the basic skills and procedures is paramount to gaining worthwhile success in their learning.
- There is time to pursue problem solving in unfamiliar contexts provided the teacher’s planning covers the mandated learning.
Many of the ideas raised above had become part and parcel of Mathematics teaching since the late 1980s brought about by the introduction of new syllabuses in Mathematics that opened up the teaching of Mathematics moving away from the traditional “Chalk and Talk” Maths lesson to lessons using a variety of pedagogue.
Personally, I found teaching with 70 minute periods challenged me to use a greater degree of teaching pedagogue. Initially, I found I was rushing to cover the course. I did find that teaching had become more stimulating.
As head of Mathematics in my school, I did not see any significant change in the standard of the work produced by teachers and students. It just goes to show how adaptable teachers and students can be.