Grant Wiggins, on his blog, shared the experiences of a high school teacher turned coach who shadowed 2 high school students for 2 days, with surprising results. The coach went to every class with a 10th grade student and did everything the student did. Then the coach did the same thing all over again with the 12th grade student. Her four main takeaways were:
1) Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting. She suggests teachers offer stretch breaks and other activities that offer an opportunity to move around.
2) Students spend 90% of their day passively sitting and listening. She suggests that teachers only lecture in “mini-lessons,” followed by small group work and sharing. She also suggests starting every day with a period for student questions (about the reading, homework, etc.).
3) Students hear teachers telling them over and over to be quiet and pay attention. Given that students are sitting and listening all day, teachers should be more understanding and patient with students.
Some, but certainly not all, of the teacher’s experiences reflect what I see in classrooms every day. I agree that students sit all day, which makes them lethargic. I think it would be an excellent idea to have a stretch break in the middle of class, particularly in block classes that exceed 70 minutes.
Regarding the percentage of time students spend passively listening, I don’t believe it is anywhere near 90% at my school, or at the one where I previously taught. Typically, teachers “lecture” for maybe 20 minutes, and then students do a significant amount of small group or pair work where they have an opportunity—indeed, an obligation—to discuss the content with their peers. Even during whole group instruction, teachers check for understanding and take student questions frequently. Although there are exceptions, the typical classroom is laid out to facilitate collaboration, and classrooms are noisy places where many people are talking at once.
Finally, there is the issue of students being told to sit quietly and pay attention. I have to admit that this happens in classrooms a lot. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to students who may have entered my classroom desperate to talk, after a class in which they were forced to sit silently for an hour or more. On the other hand, I am sympathetic to teachers’ need to manage classroom behavior, maintain class discipline, and use class time efficiently. I think the answer may be a classroom “contract,” where students promise to sit quietly and listen during the “lecture” portion of the class, if and only if teachers promise to keep the “lecture” portion short (15-20 minutes max) and follow it up with student small group discussion and work.