A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

The Uses of Time for Teaching and Learning - October 1996


I. Introduction

The study reported on in this volume and its companions began in the fall of 1991. In response to a Request for Proposals from the U.S. Department of Education (ED), two of the authors of this report submitted a proposal to conduct one of 12, multiple-year Studies of Education Reform that ED intended to sponsor. The themes of the studies had been determined through a process that solicited ideas from a broad spectrum of leaders in the education field. One theme in particular intrigued us: the uses of time for teaching and learning. Time is pervasive. Time lends itself to cliches. Time, as an issue, crops up when you thought that you were focusing on other things. In short, time is potentially a key element in reform efforts of any kind. In addition, the amount of time that American students spend in school--widely perceived to be less than in other industrialized nations and therefore a potential cause of disappointing results for U.S. students in international assessments of achievement--was about to become the focus of a congressionally-mandated Commission on Time and Learning. Time, it appeared, was coming into its own as an educational research variable.

The ED statement of work for the Uses of Time study laid out three very broad areas where research should focus: (1) quantity of time in school; (2) quality of time in school; and (3) the uses of out-of-school time to supplement school-based learning. Because of the potential scope of the subject, we needed to set some limits. Our first task was to define the parameters of what quantity and quality of time in and out of school would mean for our study and examine the existing research base within these parameters. Ultimately, this research review would influence our own research design, including the criteria that we would apply in selecting sites for case studies. In this chapter, we summarize what we found in the literature and lay out the research questions that we decided to pursue as our own contribution to the body of knowledge on teaching, learning, and time.

Quantity of Time in School

We began our research review with an examination of the research on (1) extending the school day or year; (2) year-round school schedules; and (3) extended school careers. Because of keen public and professional interest in comparisons between our own educational system and Japan's, we also paid particular attention to the research basis for the widely held belief that Japanese students do better because they attend school for more days per year. The key findings that we derived from the literature include the following:

These key findings led us to the conclusion that our own field research on quantity of time issues should focus on some sites that had actually added time to the school day or year for all students--assuming that we could find any. We also decided to include at least one site where teenagers at risk of not completing high school can trade off shorter school day for a longer school career. Finally, we determined that we should conduct a census of districts operating on year-round schedules to solicit the results of any research--whether rigorously designed or not--showing positive or negative impacts on student outcome indicators. The results of this latter search are presented in a paper available from Policy Studies Associates and currently seeking a home in a professional journal.

Quality of Time in School

While time issues are a consistent thread running through the literature documenting educational reform (not enough time, time is of the essence, if we only had more time, etc.), time- related reforms that actually change the quality of students' educational experiences are more limited. We sought to identify a small number of strategies that altered school-based timeframes for students and had a research history.

In the end, we settled on two basic quality of time strategies with the potential to make a significant difference in students experience of schooling: grouping practices and scheduling practices. The specific reforms that interested us were (1) multi-age groupings that break the graded lock-step of traditional schools and (2) flexibility in school schedules that encourages varied approaches to curriculum and instruction. These variables became selection criteria for some our case study sites. The existing research literature on grouping and scheduling strategies, which is quite extensive, yielded the following findings:

While ungraded structure and scheduling flexibility became official site selection criteria for our study, these two quality of time indicators never occurred in isolation from other kinds of reforms of curriculum, instruction, and student assessment. Thus, for example, at an elementary school with multi-age classrooms, teachers were also likely to be working on development of curricula since grade-level textbooks were a poor fit with the organizational structure. Chapter III of this report describes the many kinds of innovative strategies that we found in schools where graded structures and rigid schedules had been abandoned.

Students' Uses of Nonschool Time

Our mandate to examine what American children and youth do when they are not in schools was arguably the most daunting part of our assignment. As a former Assistant Secretary of Education often pointed out, time in school actually represents only 9 percent of a child's life from birth to age 18. In "the other 91 percent" of their time, children, of course, do many things, and we could not seriously study them all. The research review, therefore, offered an opportunity to read widely with an eye to determining a realistic contribution that our study might make to the field. The chapter of the research review that covers out-of-school time is itself a major contribution because of its synthesis of a wide array of separate research streams. Key findings about the ways in which nonschool time is used include the following:

The research literature that we examined on potential ways that students may use their out-of- school time was vast and diffuse. As we moved into the research design stage of the study, the issue for the study team was whether and how we could select schools on the basis of factors related to quantity and quality of instructional time and at the same time do justice to the many important issues associated with how students use the larger amount of daily time when they are not in the classroom.

We dealt with this dilemma in several ways. First, we decided to sponsor an invitational conference where formal and nonformal educators could explore ways in which they might cooperate more closely to support the education and development of young adolescents. This conference, held in April 1994, resulted in a short volume entitled Making the Most of Their Time: Timely Ideas on Coordinated Learning Opportunities for Young Adolescents, which is available from Policy Studies Associates.

Second, on the advice of our technical review group, we broadened our ideas about selection of case study sites to include residential schools and extended day programs. If we could not do family ethnographies or shadow students for extensive periods of time, we reasoned that we could at least attempt to verify some of the research findings about uses of out-of-school time by learning about institutions that serve in loco parentis for more than the conventional five or six hour school day.

Third, we developed a student time diary data collection instrument and invited individual teachers at all of our sites to use these with their classes as a learning activity. Students kept track of what they were doing from the end of school until bedtime for a week. Classes then aggregated their "data" and created graphs to summarize their use of out-of-school time. When teachers were done with this activity, they sent the completed time diaries for inclusion in our internal case reports.

Finally, we developed research questions about out-of-school time use and employed them to structure focus group discussions with students at all of the sites that we visited. The focus group interviews also covered student perceptions of their classroom experiences during the regular school day.

Research Questions

The research questions for our study fall into two groups: (1) quantity and quality of uses of time in school and (2) educative uses of out-of-school time. The full list of questions governing the study can be found in Volume III of this technical report. Many of the questions were posed in the government's original statement of work and applied to all 12 of the Studies of Educational Reform. Core questions included the following:

Quantity and Quality of Uses of Time in School
What was the context for adoption of time-related reforms in individual sites?
What are the key characteristics or components of the reform?
How did the reform evolve over time?
What were the incentives or barriers to full implementation of the reform strategy?
How were the barriers overcome?
How could similar reform strategies be reproduced elsewhere?
What impact have the time-related reforms had on student outcomes?
What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of the reform strategy?


Educative Uses of Out-of-School Time

What educative options are available to students outside of the regular school day? Who sponsors them? What are the goals?
What options do students take advantage of, and why?
What is the relationship, intended or unintended, between student learning that occurs in school and out of school?
What impacts do the out-of-school activities have on the participants?

We do not claim that we have fully answered all of these questions in the course of our study, or that we have addressed all of the issues raised by our research review. We have, however, learned a great deal about 14 very interesting sites where the experience of time for both students and adults is quite different from the norm in American schools in a variety of ways. In the next chapter, we introduce the schools and programs that are at the core of our study of the uses of time for teaching and learning.
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[Acknowledgments]  [Table of Contents]  [Restructuring Time to Create Effective Conditions for Teaching and Learning: An Introduction to the Study Sites]