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Educators today have been given a great responsibility making sure no child gets left behind. In addition to this responsibility, teachers are also expected to be a role model, keep students from talking when it's not appropriate, manage bathroom breaks, take care of injuries, maintain a managed classroom, and have bell to bell instruction. This sounds like a big job. While teachers are doing their best managing procedures, interruptions such as announcements, computer labs, assemblies and other activities are pulling the student's attention elsewhere (Capacity building series). As teachers work hard to maintain a standards-base learning environment, they have to compete with interruptions that tend to break the rhythm of the classroom. A study performed by Joseph K. Torgesen found the prime learning time for younger children is during the morning. (Improving the Effectiveness of Reading Instruction) However, due to lack of time in the school schedule, activities such as physical education, music and art have been forced to the beginning of the day already interrupting the student's learning time. Young students need to time strengthen their skills and reflect on their accomplishments. Research on cognitive functioning (how the brain works) supports this notion and recognizes that significant learning takes major investments of time (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Davis , 2005). As time is needed for students to analyze information, educators need to ensure students are given ample time through learning blocks to process information without interruptions disrupting their thoughts and behavior.
Research shows learning takes time and cannot be rushed.(capacity building series) Students need adequate amounts of time to process information and apply these skills to their every day problems. Some students need more time than others to grasp a concept and fully understand it. King and Ray found that "the students needing additional learning time spent much of their day in "transition." A great deal of instructional time was lost in travel as well as transitional points among classrooms" (2006). Therefore teachers should construct their schedule to implement a set time for learning blocks to offer opportunities such as combining subjects that were previously taught in smaller units of time, exploring innovative instructional practices, and spending less time transitioning from subject to subject.
Kraemer and Overhlot states "how time is used within the learning block is key." (2009) For younger grades, research has found literacy blocks should be at least 90 minutes (Reading First). During this time frame, teachers are expected to split the time into three different subjects: whole class opening, small group and whole class reflection. If in fact the time frame is interrupted with school activities, teachers are being forced to break the small subjects apart, leaving the students small amounts of time to engage in the literacy. With learning blocks, teachers would be able to combine all three subjects offering students time to explore a topic and develop a sense of self direction and independence.
Along with combining smaller units, learning blocks would also allow time for teachers to explore innovative instructional practices such as shared reading, small groups and guided reading. Teachers are constantly hearing of new researched based practices that are effective and helpful. New data is constantly being thrown at teacher. "Using this data provides time for thinking, for reflecting, for new ideas, and for making meaning. (Earl & Katz, 2006, p.64) However, if teachers are not given enough time, they cannot engage in such practices and continue to follow their previous way of teaching. They are not given enough time in the individual subjects to try to new techniques with their teaching.
Learning blocks offer many different opportunities to teachers and students. Combing smaller subjects and exploring new techniques, learning blocks also offer less time for students transitioning from subject to subject. Teachers of developing reading and writers will do anything in their power to assist children make connections. They will take whatever time allotted to them to create a schedule that permits as much integrated learning as possible. (Cunningham & Allington, 1999). When this time frame is interrupted with transitions from activities to subjects, children will lose focus and fall away from their higher order thinking. Transitions are disturbing to the rhythm of learning and classroom management. When well-managed classrooms are interrupted, students tend to forget the rules of the classroom Teachers need set blocks of time to ensure student involvement and participation.
Reading First of Pennsylvania defines uninterrupted as "not to break the continuity or uniformity of something, in this case 90 minute reading block" (2005). Interruptions could include lunch, special subjects, counseling, recess, special education pull-outs, field trips, computer lab, school assemblies, call announcements or student appointments (Kingery & Thompson, 2005). Learning and developing skills takes time, especially for younger students. Oklahoma State Department of Education defined uninterrupted instructional time as "bell-to-bell instruction, activities are related to appropriate grade level standards and concepts, and procedures are established and reinforced" (
Schools should convey the message to their students that class time is important and should only be interrupted for special activities only. Marzano offers three ideas in which "the sanctity of instructional time might be communicated" (2003, p.31). First, teachers should be provided with a sign they can put up when they want an uninterrupted learning block. Second, schools should refrain from making school announcements throughout the school day. Finally, labeling certain learning times as 'academic learning time' in order for students to understand these times require more attention than others (Marzano, 2003). Students should not have to be told how important education is to them. They should see the importance education is by the example the school is demonstrating.
Schools in Ontario, Canada have committed to uninterrupted learning blocks for their elementary classrooms. They have heavily relied on research that states "most effective school districts are demonstrating a commitment to uninterrupted time for learning" (Campbell, Fullan & Glaze, 2006, p.23). St. Gregory School in Powssan dedicate five years to ensuring uninterrupted learning blocks to their students. Teachers and students were amazed at how quickly the day went by and how discipline problems ceased. They were able to chart their progress using their standardized testing results from 2003-2008.