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Learning is Constant, Time is the Variable

October 31, 2012

Over 20 years ago Ron Edmunds decried the fact that we had it backward in our public schools: we had time as a constant and learning as a variable. If a student didn’t master the material presented in the allocated time, they failed… time marched on and the information they didn’t grasp in the allotted time was never learned and the skills they didn’t get in the allotted time was never mastered. Over the years, more and more information was unlearned and more skills were not mastered and, of course, the gap between the “fast learners” and the “slow learners” widened.

Off the Clock, a recent article in Education Week echoes this assertions. calling time a false metric. The writer, Kyle Redford, a teacher in Marin Country Day School, recommends that ALL students be afforded the time they need to complete assignments or tests:

How did teachers ever come to rationalize cutting students off before they had ample time to express their understanding of a subject? How did we, as educators, allow a two-tier system to spring up that lets students with parent advocates, enlightened schools, or family means gain access to a basic educational accommodation that is denied students who have the same need but can’t get or afford a diagnosis?

I’m unaware of research that supports the idea that educators learn anything additional about students’ depth or breadth of knowledge by measuring how quickly they can recall answers or express what they have learned. There are many things that cause one student to finish an assessment faster than another, and it is not always influenced by mastery (with the exception of something like a math-facts quiz).

My comment to this suggested that time constraints on assignments are the tip of the iceberg: the biggest time constraint is the one that suggests students of a certain age should be expected to master a body of material within a fixed time frame we called a “grade level”.. . and THIS time frame is reinforced by the standardized testing we do year in and year out. The reason for this “grade level” paradigm is that it was efficient in the day and age when schools were designed to sort the fast learners from the slow learners— but that day is over and HAS been over for decades. If we expect ALL students to learn, we need to recall that Edmund’s aphorism was ALL children can learn given sufficient time and appropriate instruction…. unfortunately the qualifying phrases have been dropped from this in our mania to test children using the easiest and cheapest means possible.

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