Concern about “not enough time in class” is a very real teacher concern.
There is usually so much to teach, so many course objectives, so many students with needs that require special instruction, and so many interruptions and extra non-teaching tasks that sometimes it’s amazing anything is taught at all. However, a less common, but still real, concern is the class with too much time in a session. Such classes do not actually have more instructional hours than others but rather consist of fewer class sessions with more hours crammed into them. For example, I have taught classes that met for a month, once a week, for eight hours a session. Such unusual meeting times are usually created to accommodate student work schedules, for example, creating convenience for the student. However, these schedules can pose real problems in instruction.
4 Problems with Long Classes
The most obvious problem with a long class session is that fatigue can set in if students are in class for hours at a time. Break times should be made frequently enough to allow students to rest and then return able to focus.
A related concern to fatigue is boredom. If students are asked to sit out their desks to read and write for ours at a time, or listen to the instructor lecture for hours at a time, they will quickly become bored, and boredom is an obstacle to learning—students really must be motivated and see the value of the material enough to really learn. Therefore, there should be enough high-interest activities to keep students from falling asleep.
Creating Enough Activities
A major problem with long classes is a concern with having enough to do. Few things are as deadly to a class as boredom and not enough to do. Therefore, the instructor should plan out at least two or three substantial activities for students to engage in during class to engage in during class: reading or writing tasks, group discussions, or presentations.
Transitions Between Activities
When there are numerous activities during a class session, the transitions between those activities can be troublesome. Students can be confused about where to sit, what they’re supposed to do, who they’re supposed to be working with, etc. Often students will also see any kind of transition as an opportunity to check emails, text-message, go to the restroom, and so forth.
All of these concerns of for the students and within the class structure itself are potential barriers to success in the course with the long class sessions. However, there are methods to address these concerns in order for students to excel.
5 Ways to Address Problems with Long Classes
Plan out the Curriculum in Advance. Meet Objectives
The first concern of the course with a few very long class sessions is making sure course objectives are met. In the US, almost all public and most private institutions have a set of curriculum objectives for each course that must be addressed. The teacher should plan in advance which objectives should be addressed in each session. For example, in a typical writing class, narrative essays will be taught early in the semester. Therefore, the day the instructor covers the structure of narrative essays, she should also teach past tense verbs, both regular and irregular, as narratives are typically told in the past tense. In addition, including a variety of sentences in an essay can be taught this session, if it is early in the semester, as the issue of sentence variety will be a concern throughout the term.
Structure the Class. Plan Breaks
Once the entire term has been planned in advance, each class session should also be planned in advance, to include several major activities or points of instruction (e.g., learning and practicing outlining an essay, working in groups to brainstorm ideas, peer editing for verb tense problems, etc.). Several short breaks should also be included in the schedule to allow students to take care of personal needs and relax enough to return to class able to focus.
Not only should there be several activities to meet course objectives, but these activities should vary in type to meet various students’ learning needs as well as break up monotony. For example, an instructor can provide a lecture on correct comma usage, have students practice it in pairs, then read a new essay and discuss it, and so forth.
Finding these activities can be a challenge, of course. Important to remember is that when people say “vary activities,” the teacher is not being asked to design elaborate games or provide a circus act, some of the images that may leapt to mind when we mention “engaging activities” or “variety of activities.” Rather, a few engaging discussions or writing topics, an interesting reading, calling students up for impromptu presentations, for example, are sufficiently engaging, do not require huge time commitment to prepare, and meet curriculum standards.
Vary Time: “Active” with “Down” Time
Along with the idea of varying activities is the concern of varying the level of “energy” required for each activity. Students should not be expected to engage in nonstop, high-energy interaction nor spend the session reading individually at their desks. Rather, they can do some reading, discuss the reading in groups, do some individual writing on a related topic, take a break, come back and read and comment on peers’ drafts, or read their own work aloud, etc. The class session will pass quickly with this kind of activity variety.
Most would agree that few things are as deadly as sitting alone at your desk reading and writing for hours. However, many of us would find constant moving from group to group and interacting also very tiring. Rather, a balance should be provided between whole group, teacher-fronted/lecture, individual, and pair work throughout the session to meet individual learning needs, the needs of all students of a break from one kind of activity, and for the course curriculum—some activities, like discussion, naturally occur in groups; others, like writing an essay draft, should be done individually.
Having too much time in class can be as deep a concern as too little. A number of barriers to learning arise with many hours in the class: student fatigue, boredom, and difficulty in planning enough activities are among the problems that arise. However, with careful planning and balancing activities and groupings, a successful term with few class sessions and long class hours can be achieved.
What are some methods you’ve found to work in the short-term course with long class sessions?
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