Everyone Needs to Go Back to the Classroom:
My Experience as a Student at Kirby Schools
By: Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
When I contacted the superintendent of Kirby, I told him that I wanted to experience this new trend in education, the flex mod schedule, through the perspective of a student. I wanted a true, authentic experience inside of the flex mod schedule. Kirby welcomed me as a new student with my very own Chrome Book, email account, Google Classroom (with assignments already posted), and a job as the library aid. What I learned was priceless, and I wish everyone, including parents, teachers, principals, government officials, and policy makers, could go back to the classroom as a student for a day. The school we once knew is no longer, and seeing what it is now from the lens of a 21st century student is extremely thought-provoking.
9:00 a.m. After getting my schedule and telling myself over and over there was not going to be a bell to remind me when to leave, I set off to my first flight of the day, Pre AP Biology. (Classes are called flights in the flex mod schedule.) I was excited to see that we were going to be “doing something” versus sitting down to a lecture. We immediately started our collaborative activity of identifying each other’s finger print style. After identifying each person’s style, the class rotated to groups with others who had the same style. We recorded data on the class and compared it to the other classes. Thank goodness my new friend, Elizabeth, was in my group and reminded me when it was time to go to the next class.
9:45 a.m. Then it was off to volunteer in the library at the elementary school. During a student’s ILT (independent learning time) there are several options in which to choose. Some students go to the student lounge to just take a break and hang out with their friends. Some students go to the library or other quiet zones to do work. Other students go to the outdoor classroom or go meet with a teacher for one-on-one help (if that teacher is also on ILT time). The program on my computer had an option for me to search my schedule compared to my teachers’ schedules to see when we had common ILT time. This was great because I could plan to go see a specific teacher during those matching time slots. Several students volunteer to be helpers—from library aides to music assistants, these students get to do what interests them, what they are passionate about.
On this specific day, my ILT time was only 25 minutes. This barely gave me enough time to check my email, respond to my email, check for any assignments due on Google Classroom, mark my calendar with new assignments that had been posted, and get a drink. I felt like I was expected to handle my business with the time I was given. On other days of my schedule, I would have around 40 minutes of ILT time. Every student I met, talked about how they liked being treated as grownups. While it was an adjustment for them at first, the other students said it didn’t take long to realize it was their responsibility to check due dates and submit work online.
10:15 a.m. My third flight for the day was Comp III or junior/senior English for concurrent credit. We were reading a short story and discussing it during class. I noticed that I already had a couple of assignments due for that class. My teacher reminded the class to turn in their writing prompt online and check their other assignments. (I thought to myself…no papers to tote around?) The teacher related the story to her own life and built our suspense of what might happen next. I read aloud when I was called on and looked around to see what others were doing. Some had their story pulled up on the Chrome Books while others were using the traditional text books. Just as the story was getting juicy, it was time to go to PRO.
11:30 a.m. PRO (Personal Readiness Outreach) is on every students’ schedule every day of the week. We meet with the same teacher all year and review grades and do some sort of group lesson. Each day has a different theme for us to learn specific skills. Mondays are for checking grades, Tuesdays are for lessons on character, Wednesdays are for soft skills, Thursdays are for technology, and Fridays are for current events. I attended on a Friday, so I was able to sit with students and watch the Presidential Inauguration. Some days students will have assignments via Google Classroom for their PRO class.
At this point in my day, I was starving and had already had three new assignments posted to Google Classroom. I had to create a to-do list for the following day, and I was hoping I would not have a random “Chrome check” (the principal will check the history on student’s computer to make sure it is being used for learning purposes only). I double checked my afternoon classes to see if any of my teachers were absent. If teachers are absent, students go to automatic ILT time but must log on to Google Classroom to do their sub work for the day. (As a teacher, can you imagine the convenience of being able to upload assignments and not prep your room for a substitute?? As an administrator can you imagine not having to arrange for a substitute?) That was a teacher ah-ha moment for me.
11:45 a.m. Walking into the cafeteria was a little intimidating. Thank goodness the students were so helpful and pointed towards the food line. I grabbed my milk, my tray, and stepped out not knowing where to sit. Where to sit? What a major decision for a new student! I looked around and found the tallest kids in the room (I assumed they would be basketball players). I sat down and talked sports in the flex mod schedule. We talked about how much better it is that they don’t miss class to travel to away games. They told me that sometimes they can go over and work out during ILT time. I asked them if they thought a really large school with some discipline issues could handle a schedule like theirs. Their answers surprised me. They all agreed that they though the students would behave better because they would be treated like grownups and have higher expectations.
12:15 Junior High art class….ahhhhh. I could feel my creative juices flowing. The teacher welcomed all of us GIRLS into class. (In the younger grades, the girls and boys are split for some of the classes). We grabbed our aprons and prepared to paint. I loved having class with just the girls. It was so carefree and some of the girls even sang together as they painted. The class felt so comfortable. One high school girl came in to work on her project because it was her ILT time. She was very helpful to the younger girls in the class. The girl next to me asked, “Have you seen our music room? You have to see it. We love it there. Our music teacher is the best.” It definitely wasn’t the first time I heard about their beloved music teacher. He is one popular man…..
1:00 I’m walking into a music room to be greeted by rows of guitars. My jaw dropped. There were chairs, music stands, a full drum set, a piano, and pictures of students performing at the capital this past Christmas. An article on the wall showed the dedication of the infamous music teacher. My tour guide explained that so many students came to the music room during ILT time to help teach the younger students or play the instruments while the teacher conducted the lesson. I hated that I didn’t get to meet this amazing man, but his students were making him proud by continuing to play and challenge each other’s musical abilities. I have never seen students so proud of a music program or a teacher.
1:30 I walk into science class and see that today is the day all of the girls are testing their hand-built boats. The science teacher was incorporating STEM into her lesson by having the girls use cardboard and tape only to build a boat that must hold weight and float. I think to myself, “This should be easy…” So I immediately ask if I can build one too. (I am very competitive by nature, so I needed to see if I could build one as well as theirs.) I thought that since I only had about 10 minutes to build, I would make a raft that had raised seats for the weights. I worked frantically. I watched and cheered as the other girls tested their boats. But, I didn’t plan mine out very well because it sank straight to the bottom of the tub. We all laughed, but then the magic happened. “You should have built a wall to keep the water out,” one girl said. “You should have made it bigger so the weight could have been spread out,” another said. These girls impressed me! I may just have to build one at home for the fun of it.
2:30 I go down to debrief with the principal. What a great day. What amazing kids. If I was to teach in this school, I would never want to leave. Teachers have time to plan and work with students because of the flexibility in this schedule. Teachers aren’t staying as late each day to work because they can sit in the lounge and grade papers during ILT time. Teachers are working together to master Google Classroom; they are sharing tips and tricks with each other. Teachers have more opportunity for intervention with those students who desperately need it. Teachers can model lessons during class then send extension and practice via internet. The district does not have to hire substitutes (except for computer lab or music). From a teacher’s perspective, the flex mod is ideal. In a typical schedule, teachers are doing back-to-back lessons, but in the flex mod, there will be small breaks through the day.
From a student’s perspective, the flex mod is more responsibility and more accountability. My getting to class on time was my responsibility. It was more work for me to log in and find out what assignments were due each week. I would need a calendar to keep up with everything! I had to check my email frequently. I had to set up appointments with my teachers when I missed class or didn’t understand. I got breaks when I needed them or more time to work when I wasn’t finished with class work or home work. I knew that if my grades slipped below a 70%, I would be assigned SLT (structured learning time) to get me back on track. I felt like a college student in a high school. I would definitely be ready for college after this experience.
Overall, I saw a school with students who felt less stressed and trusted more by the staff. I saw teachers who felt they had time to get a drink or heaven forbid, go to the bathroom. I saw students relaxed and enjoying their break during ILT time, but I also saw students working together to complete projects. I saw students creating music during ILT time, and others sitting outside in the sun. I heard students talking about helping others, assisting teachers, and volunteering. I believe this type of creative scheduling is a positive change for our schools and students. As teachers, we work so hard to prepare students academically for their future, but what about socially and emotionally? I think this type of schedule helps to hit all of those student needs. Now, it’s time to get to my homework…