Need Extra Study Time? You’ve Got It

‘Flex Time’ Helps Struggling Students Catch Up

Senior Hailey Zandbergen works on a piece for her advanced art class during Flex Time

With the end of the semester approaching, nine students in English teacher Trevor Muir’s classes had unfinished essays or quizzes. Without a last-minute push Muir knew the students would fail the class. He required them to spend a session of Flex Time – an extra half-hour built into the school day – getting stuff done in his classroom.

“There were some kids really on the fringe or below it,” said Muir. He knew they would benefit from one-on-one attention and a less stressful quiz-taking environment.

Flex Time was implemented at the high school at the end of November as part of the district’s Professional Learning Community process. It adds 30 minutes, twice a week, by carving five minutes off class periods in order to meet students’ needs, said Assistant Principal Jeff Dykhouse.

It was implemented, he said, after staff members considered, “How do we reach all kids? How do we intervene with all kids? We know not all kids learn at the same pace.”

So, they decided to flip the script.

“The old-school model of high school was: Time was a constant and learning was a variable,” Dykhouse said. “Every class is an hour and if you don’t learn it in the hour, then too bad, so sad, tomorrow we move on. The new mind of thinking is to flip those: time is the variable and learning is a constant.

“One hour of science a day may not reach all kids. We need to build in time within our school day to reach kids.”

To do that, Muir welcomes students who struggle with the subject and don’t tend to put in extra time outside of class. “I’ve done this a long time and this is the first time I’ve had a Flex Time like this, and it’s awesome,” he said.

Kayla Armock adds to her painting during Flex Time

Something for Every Student

But Flex Time reaches more than just students who need extra help. It provides time for enrichment opportunities for those who already “get it.”

Students not handpicked for intervention attend special offerings with any of their teachers, such as a movie related to class, guest speakers, informational sessions or activities. Students also have the option to work quietly, or read in the school’s spacious Van Singel Fine Arts Center.

“It’s really just trying to provide a time and place for ‘What do you need?'” Dykhouse said. On any given day, about 25 percent of students are scheduled for intervention and 75 percent choose where they want to go. “It’s a lot of different things to a lot of different kids, and what’s cool is they get some choice in that.”

For sophomore Hannah Lang, it’s a great time to get work done for her dual-enrollment Kendall College of Art and Design class.

“This gives me extra time to go through my thought process,” Hannah said. “The more extra time the better.”

Senior Nick Stambaugh likes it too. “I think we need more time in our day to get things done so we don’t have a heavy workload at home,” he said. “If you miss a day and miss a test you can make it up without missing class.”

In visual arts teacher Greg Reinstein’s class, students spend Flex Time working on drawing, painting and graphic design. Reinstein said he sees the option as a sign of things to come in education.

It not only gives him time to collaborate with students individually, but students can assist each other as well. He helps students in their core classes on projects that can be enhanced by art and technology. He also sees potential to use the time for project-based learning.

“It challenges me as a teacher because I can work independently with whatever the need of that kid is,” Reinstein said. “This half hour is built in for us to really assist the needs of kids, which needs to be our priority in education.”

CONNECT

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Learning, Not Time, Drives New Approach to Teaching

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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