Exploring Expanded Learning

Today’s blog is written by Chelsea Murphy, the new Digital Media Associate at NCTL.

What does expanded learning time look like?

As a new member of the team at the National Center on Time & Learning, I realize this is a weighted question. Now a month into working here, I have spent time visiting  a few high-performing expanded learning time schools in Massachusetts: Guilmette Elementary School and Wetherbee Middle School in Lawrence and the Martin Luther King, Jr. K-5 Elementary in Cambridge, and I have found that there can be a wide range of answers to this question. 

The most important take-a-way for me  is that you can’t simply see ‘what an expanded-time school looks like’. Expanded time looks different for each school, and you can’t always point to the part on the schedule where the added time sits. Expanded time is the tool to help catalyze improvements in the instructional quality and educational programming and result in better outcomes for K-12 students.

Expanded time becomes embedded in the schedule as a longer lunchtime,  more time for core classes, or additional opportunities like art, music, and physical education that might be cut otherwise. Through implementing a change like adding more time on to a school day or year, it has helped schools start other reform conversations and support an atmosphere of positive change.  Schools may expand 200, 250, or 300  hours a year, but they all will use that time differently to fill their own students’ individual needs.  To keep up with the fast paced 21st century world expectations, learning can become more personalized for the specific needs of students.

Guilmette Elementary School and Wetherbee both added really cool targeted “intervention” class periods where students have more time with teachers in  specific core subjects where students are struggling  as well as  classes to explore further interests like guitar, cheerleading, and cooking to name a few.  Using specific student data, Wetherbee has arranged their schedule to support high need students while adding fun learning opportunities, all with small manageable class sizes.  Martin Luther King, Jr. K-5 Elementary School in Cambridge has been able to add similar type classes called “explorations” to the schedule in addition to a Mandarin Chinese immersion program.  These are only three examples of many awesome classes schools can create when there is more time for learning.

One thing is clear from my site visits is that these schools all have strong school cultures and positive atmospheres.  More time has helped both teachers and students get the resources they need. More time has enabled individualized instruction, deeper curricula, innovative and creative learning, and countless more choice and opportunities for the students. 

What does expanded learning look like to you?