Flex time is proving to be useful in the ongoing effort (by teachers, administrators, and parents) to increase student progress and achievement. Using a regularly scheduled flex period, such as a study hall or other period in which students have both free time and access to a helpful teacher, students can accomplish a number of critical tasks. Students who have fallen behind on completing required work, due to illness or another understandable situation, have the opportunity to make good on their promise to complete that work. Students who are current on the completion of their class assignments can use flex time to make progress on the goals established by their advisory committees (which often include the student, subject teachers, and the flex period teacher). There is, in fact, a seemingly limitless number of ways in which flex time can be used effectively. One area that is ripe for exploration is the integration of flex time directly into courses. And so, the question becomes, how can we do this effectively?
Generally, we have a certain vision of what teaching looks like. Students come into classrooms, take their seats, and teachers stand at the front of the classroom and provide direct instruction. They give lectures, assign textbook activities to be completed in class, go over those activities, and assign homework. This style, and similar styles, can still be seen in countless classrooms throughout the country (and the world).
However, we’ve seen a great deal of classroom changes over the past decade. In 2003, for example, most teachers began working with computers and the internet daily. By 2008, nearly all teachers used computer and internet as a part of daily instruction and classroom management (email communications, attendance, etc.), and students were regularly taken to computer labs to work on computers and internet as well. By 2009 districts began (literally and figuratively) rolling out laptop carts which could be used by groups of teachers and classrooms. By 2015, teachers even began relocating to computer labs full time and modifying their methods of instruction to best make use of the technology available to them. And by 2017, many districts had integrated what is called a 1:1 (one to one) program, in which students have their own device to use for digital learning (such as an iPad, Chromebook, or laptop).
Still, in 2017 and the two years following it, many teachers still had the option of relying solely on their traditional instruction methods (namely, direct, synchronous, instruction). But with the entrance of COVID-19, teachers immediately lost the flexibility of being able to adhere to traditional methods. Following the shutdowns of school districts countrywide (and worldwide), the methods once seen as cutting-edge were now required for all teachers. Those teachers who struggled to adapt generally continued to teach using exclusively direct, synchronous, instruction via live streams. However, teachers who had already immersed themselves in methods for teaching digitally were able to see the possibilities associated with digital learning, and adapted their instruction practices to reach for those possibilities.
Examples of methods made possible by learning digitally are plentiful, however, one stands out: Transforming the structure of a course to be asynchronous, rather than synchronous. When teachers provide instruction synchronously, this requires the teacher and students to be together at one time. When in a brick and mortar classroom, this works. However, when teaching online this method tends to become less effective. The pandemic showcased the issues with synchronous online learning. During the pandemic related shutdowns, students and teachers all accessed online lecture halls (via Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc.) from their homes. Some students had superior internet connectivity. Some had inferior connectivity. Some students had consistency with their internet quality, while others did not. Happenings in student homes also varied greatly, and affected students’ ability to attend livestreamed sessions. Suddenly, asynchronous instruction began to look more and more appealing to teachers.
Teachers then began creating and deploying lessons that could be completed by students independently. One example of this is recording a lecture, and uploading that lecture for students to watch (and requiring students to take and submit notes on the lecture). Another is students watching an educational video made by a producer of educational material (that the teacher carefully selects and evaluates), and providing questions for students to answer.
The advent of asynchronous learning brought with it a wide-range of new approaches to teaching and learning online. While the focus has been on online learning, teachers would be wise to realize that these approaches can also be used in brick and mortar classrooms. Perhaps the most notable way that asynchronous learning can improve face-to-face classroom learning is that it allows for the installation of flex time directly into subject classes, rather than just during a scheduled flex period.
If teachers adopt asynchronous instruction for their in-person classrooms as they have done for their online classrooms, they can maintain the accommodating teaching and learning environment that they established while in remote learning. Teachers can publish the week’s work at the beginning of each school week, and allow students to complete the assignments as they see fit (i.e. in the order they choose, at the time choose, etc.) and actively monitor student progress on both the course assignments and their other academic activities (may it be other coursework, or other academic activities). This gives students the flexibility to both successfully complete the subject coursework and make progress on their non-subject related goals. In short, this scenario allows students have the best of both worlds.
Using an asynchronous course design and building flex time into the course period not only support students, but also supports teachers. Digital teaching tools are powerful ones, there is no doubt. However, these tools can take a great deal of time to test and implement. Maintaining the various components of a digital classroom can also be time consuming. However, by adopting an asynchronous course design fused together with flex time, teachers may also gain additional time that can be used to ensure the smooth operation of their face-to-face and digital classrooms.
Are you interested in learning more about using flex time? If so, we think this article by the folks at Enriching Students did a good of explaining how to run a study hall flex period: Effective Study Hall Structures and Practices