Last semester, class time was substantially cut as a result of the GDS distance learning schedule. In total, there were 136 fewer hours in class over the course of the semester compared to in the fall semester of 2019, or 17 fewer hours total per period, according to an analysis of the past and current schedules by The Augur Bit.
During the fall of 2020, students were in class for only 60 percent of the total time they were in class during the fall of 2019. This school year, although class lengths have changed only slightly, each period meets only twice, rather than three times, per week.
This massive reduction in time in class has posed challenges to teachers both in engaging their classes and in effectively teaching the advanced material which students and parents have come to expect from GDS.
The main reason for the substantial time cut is the virtual format of school. In the fall, before there were in-person classes, both students and teachers were on Zoom for every class, as well as for extracurricular activities, assemblies and school events. The schedule was designed to “help students not be on a screen all day,” according to Assistant Principal for Academics Chris Levy, while still allowing teachers to get through necessary class material.
Math teacher Jason Aigen, who helped the administration design the distance learning schedule over the summer, has felt the impacts of reduced time in his own classes. “This schedule was a lot tougher on teachers,” he said. The combination of reduced class time and not being in the building makes it more difficult for teachers to with students and to catch students who are falling behind, he said.
Aigen said he has to limit his classes to the most essential content. “They’ll hit everything they need for the next course, which to me is the key,” he said. “Anything over that is icing on the cake.”
History teacher Richard Avidon has had to modify his teaching style in order to communicate all of his content. He has coped with the reduction in class time by increasing the amount of reading assigned each class. In order to make sure that his students understand the material, Avidon has also had to cut in-class activities and spend more time lecturing. He said that in his class, “I don’t leave things out; I think I move more quickly.”
Spanish and French teacher Nicole Sade has felt the opposite effect. She said that in her Spanish and French classes, “we are working slower than in a regular year.” Rather than try to increase the pressure on students and rush through material, she has cut activities and spent more time in class making sure that her students understand the activities they do get through.
The reduced time in class also has negative impacts on student engagement. Senior Annie Rosenman, a head of the Academic Committee, said, “It’s much easier to get in the swing of things when you have class more regularly.”
Sade said that the difficulty to engage had especially affected her foundations-level Spanish students. For students in introductory language classes, she said, “The impact is even worse because they are just starting to speak, so taking one hour from them is really impacting the level of proficiency.” Even so, based on their progress during the fall semester, Sade is confident her students will learn enough content to proceed to the next level at the end of the year.
Aigen mentioned that flexibility was a necessity for the current design. “The point of the schedule was so it could go back and forth between distance learning and hybrid,” he said. “Some kids are there and some aren’t but in terms of schedule it’s the same: classes still meet for the same lengths of time and they still meet the same number of times,” he added.
That flexibility was reflected this fall: When early COVID scares prevented cohort B from meeting in-person before Thanksgiving, the amount of class time did not change.
This year’s reduction in class time is not an isolated event, however, and isn’t exclusively because of COVID. Comparing the schedule for the fall of 2019 with the schedule from the fall of 2018 yields some slight differences. A week that met every day without schedule changes for community events or holidays would have 40 fewer total minutes in class in 2019 than in 2018. This change was a result of slightly shorter class times introduced in 2019 to allow for late starts on Mondays and Fridays.
During the fall of 2019, the administration also proposed a six-day rotation schedule for the 2020-2021 school year. Although the pandemic meant that schedule could not go into effect this year, it is likely to be the schedule GDS uses once the school returns to full in-person learning.
A comparison of the schedule for the fall of 2019 and the planned six-day rotation schedule shows that in weeks where all classes meet and there are no assemblies, total time in class would be two hours less per week, to accommodate later starts and longer passing periods between classes.
Levy claimed reducing class time was one of the goals of the administration when designing the six-day rotation schedule. He said that “a big driver was, How do we slow the pace down for kids?” He added that “the [6-day rotation] schedule allows you to plan a little more strategically while not feeling as stressed.” The schedule was meant to benefit the mental health of the student body by creating a more relaxed environment.
As a senior, Rosenman has seen the trend of class time reduction from its outset. She expressed concern about the continuation of this trend. She mentioned that parents “would be pretty unhappy with us losing more class time than we’ve already lost.” She added that “it’s pretty expensive to come to this school.”
Nonetheless, Rosenman said that given the circumstances, she believes the distance learning schedule has been an effective model for distance learning. “Obviously, we do lose class time, but I think that we’re at a more important moment in the world,” she said, referring to the pandemic, and losing “a class a week is not the end of the world.”