Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.


Scheduling Experiments: Open Periods Make Me Seethe

I blame the psychology of classes and grading. How can you expect anything but a union mindset in a system borrowed from the meat-packing industry?

Our school has a balcony. It gets used for all sorts of awesomeness. However, some days, when I’m wearing my cape and monocle, I can’t help but look down with vitriol at the writhing mass of students enjoying what I consider to be one of the most egregious symptoms of academic atrophy:

The Open Period

Like Mt Diabetes on the poor, the Open Period preys on the most marginalized students. Those that are having an impossible time carving a narrative out of required courses and electives. They have no hope when the freedom of choice waves a media-center couch in front them.

It hit me hard at a parent conference: the parent said, “Oh, he’ll do anything to keep his open block.” I laughed. Then I got that feeling like when you go over a speed bump you had no idea was there at bout 33 mph. Did my rear axle just drop out? How do I even get my alignment checked? What does a slipped disk feel like? WHYISTHEREASPEEDBUMPONTHISROADNOONEBUTMEDRIVESHERE.

Yes, I started to photoshop a monocle. Yes, I have better things to do.

I composed myself, which is a much practice talent of mine, and I continued the conference.

Think about it. Sure the open period is for studying, but what I see is a whole lot of youtube. Not good educational youtube, mostly just people getting hit in the nuts.

What does it mean for someone to want an open period? It means that time has become, like grades, more important than learning. This makes me crazy. I’ve already gone crazy one in this post DONOTMAKEMETYPEINALLCAPSWITHNOSPACESAGAIN (woah, that’s like meta-conniption)

Let’s face it, the American Teenager has become the American Teenager. The seat-time thing is unacceptable. No matter how you cut it, an open period means getting away with something. Is that really the environment we want to foster? Do we really mean to tacitly imply veiled under cords of null curriculum, that being at school somehow matters? Shit. No.

This scheduling experiment has become my new mission. I’m not talking about fancy private schools in New York. I’m talking about rural public high schools in Iowa, y’all.

Classes are out. Competencies are in. You want open time? I bet, we all need some, but do you really need 84 minutes per day from 9:46-11:13? Really? How about learning Japanese? How about making some art just for the hell of it? How about learning to spell the word “beautiful?” Shoot, I’ll settle with just using affect/effect correctly.

I don’t blame the students. I blame the psychology of classes and grading. How can you expect anything but a union mindset in a system borrowed from the meat-packing industry?

You Want Solutions? Yea, That’s Why You Come Here.

Screw classes. Screw prep time. Screw credits. Let’s get kids’ hands on some lists of standards. Let’s have them help us author them. Then, we’ll help them generate ways to get good, master, and demonstrate how they just owned some European history, cooking, and chemistry by making some hella-good sauerbraten without a refrigerator.

No timing. No classes. That project happened at random times throughout a day interspersed with 4 other projects. They came to me when they needed me. I came to them because I was interested, too.

Microphone dropped.

Shawn Cornally • March 21, 2012

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  1. Matt March 23, 2012 - 11:00 am

    First time commenter, long-time reader and fanboy.

    I have recently been on a kick off planning how my school could use digital portfolios to start migrating away from the direction of producing a lot of uninspiring assignments based on the standards and criteria that we are expecting to meet. I have looked into using Blue Harvest a bit, but never committed to it because it felt like it did most of the work of making a digital portfolio but without directly producing a result that I would want to display to a wider audience. I get that it is a gradebook, but I am wondering if there is anything you are using to systematically organize the type of open-ended learning and discovery that you are talking about here.

    Do your students have a means of showing what they know within and beyond your schools walls? Of course they can put it on YouTube themselves (and maybe temporarily displace some eyeballs from the groin hit), but do you think there is a need for us as educators to create a space for them to do it that is more structured? Can BlueHarvest do that?

    • Shawn March 24, 2012 - 7:54 am

      BlueHarvest does indeed produce a public facing portfolio of artifacts related to their proficient skills. I will email you about specifics and getting you hooked up with the newest version!

  2. Evan March 22, 2012 - 9:11 pm

    Hi Shawn,

    It’s really great reading about your putting your ideas into action and making school less, well, school. I went to a Montessori school until middle school, and then saw the pros/cons of a more traditional program from middle school through high. The idea of turning the classroom (and school in general) into a lab for learning ANYTHING you want to learn is the dream, and it’s what I think we all really would love to do within our schools. I work to try to make what we MUST learn (read: curriculum) as necessary as possible so that my students are driven to learn it. The crutch that I have is that my current students are fairly forgiving if I fail at doing so. I think they appreciate my efforts, however.

    I’ve been doing some work getting my students to see what things I am learning on my own ( has been a really great way to fill in the extra time that I don’t have) and we’ve been able to do some work in class to understand the higher level concepts I’ve been learning. I’ve also done some work this year on getting students to publish/reflect on their work as often as possible, and I really like what these do to students raising the quality of what they do. I haven’t succeeded in getting them to see this as a natural process of how we as adults learn, but I’m closer to that goal than before.

    It’s awesome to imagine what might happen if we spent a day getting the students to work on things that they find exciting, share with each other, get off topic with random things, but then bring THEMSELVES back on track because the work they are doing is compelling enough to them. Another way to think about it (and I am doing a presentation next week on this) is to offload the rote learning they need to do to develop skills to homework, assess them with competency quizzes in class, and then spend the rest of class doing the more personal questions on interesting content. If they need help with the skills, they can get it. Otherwise, we focus on the more meaningful work when we are all in one place.

    There’s a lot going on in my head right now – just know that I appreciate your going the next step to make your vision become real.



  3. Paul Salomon March 22, 2012 - 8:06 am

    Awesome post! Facebook shared.

  4. Adam James March 22, 2012 - 4:20 am

    So I’ve been reading Wiggins and McTighe and Marzano for grad school, but I want the book list you’ve got. Are there academics out there writing about schools or programs like what you describe? Are you consuming some kind of subversive teacher subculture literature? Or is this all straight up original thinking?

    • jsb16 March 22, 2012 - 5:27 am

      Check out Steve Miranda’s blog for an example of a school that does something similar to what Shawn is suggesting.

      • Paul Salomon March 22, 2012 - 8:06 am

        Was going to say the same! The blog is on hiatus, but the backposts will fuel change, I’m sure.

  5. Timon Piccini (@MrPicc112) March 22, 2012 - 12:04 am

    If you ever start a teacher Jedi Council, can I be your first padawan?! Seriously awesome stuff. I can’t wait till I have the stuff to pull off this kind of awesome.

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