Willamette Promise Week Five

Chapter Eleven: A Closer Look At Schools

We have reached the point whereby we have sufficient understanding of the way that artifacts and methods come into being that we can take a look at schooling environments and practices and make reasonable judgements about those environments. With every schooling environment, artifact, method, and situation we can ask ourselves if we are witnessing something that is helping students develop a depth and breadth of understanding.

Clearly we have only scratched the surface in our story but as you will see you already know a great deal because you understand some of the underlying background contexts that underpin much of our modern schooling.

Let’s look at a number of schooling practices and see if we can tell why they are as they are.


In the last chapter we looked at the influence of ‘clock time’ on our experience. We considered the difference between ‘time’ and ‘duration’. Duration is the way we might describe our experience of time without an external mechanical mechanism in the background structuring our actions and experiences. ‘Time’ on the other hand is the structured format imposed on our experience.

Schooling has long been influenced by ‘clock time’. For much of our schooling history, and still today, ‘time’ has been, and remains, foundational. When we start thinking about how time constraints and pressures structure our school days and activities we find many examples of how the materials, purposes and forms can be transformed to accommodate time. What does this do to the school experience? How have different institutions addressed ‘time’? Does an emphasis on clock time help students develop a depth and breadth of understanding?

In the ‘learn more’ block below I list 85 different ways ‘time’ and schedules influence our work in schools. Before you open the list, can you easily think of 15?


Top 85 Time Constraints in School

Instructional Time

Time influences the length of the school year.

The amount of months and days required to spend at school each year.

Length of school day

Length of each subject taught (at any grade level)

Classes are divided as equally as possible so that the classes are around the same duration.

How much homework is given-a target of roughly X:XX amount of time spent working at home

Students are expected to focus on one subject for a certain amount of time

Lessons are often stretched or compressed to fit in a certain amount of time

How long we spend in a lesson. In my class that I interpret in, typically we spend the morning with language/reading and afternoon is math. But what is stopping us from doing language/reading all day?

Time can influence semesters. Some schools use trimesters, quarters, or semesters.

Time teaching vs. exploration. Traditionally there is more time where the teacher is speaking or directing students to do something instead of students leading the learning

Teachers estimate how long it take for students to learn something or to do an activity?

Time influences whether teachers will start a new lesson or not. Even though the next lesson may go with the flow of the previous lesson, if our time is ending soon teachers will cut short from teaching the lesson and not begin a new lesson.

Classes are deemed to be ahead or behind based on a time schedule.

Students are deemed to be ahead or behind based on a time schedule.

Teachers are expected to monitor ‘on-task’ time.

Many classes use lectures or presentations due to being able to cover the most amount of content in the time they have.

Students are expected to learn a concept and remember that in 5 weeks for the midterm with little review due to only having so much time to teach the content that will be on the test.

Common saying: “The time you spend in the classroom should also be the same amount of time you spend studying for the class.”

Students expected to know certain subjects according to our grade (time).

Students are given a set time for homework and are expected to hand it in the next day.

Homework should be done at home after school hours and it should not be turned in past the due time.

Due to the limited set of periods schools have, teachers may feel pressured into lecturing as much material as possible to students. As a result, students may feel overwhelmed by the amount of material that is being thrown at them in “a short amount of time”.

The perception of ‘time’ influences the structure of how schools arrange the curriculum for students. School might prioritize having students take taking classes, such as economics, over others like art if there is limited time availability in the school’s schedule.

Students may be preoccupied by the clock more than learning a subject Students may be forced to consume and regurgitate information within the span of a school year Student schedules are often centered around their classes (periods).


Time influences the amount of time for electives.

Student Start/End Times

School start times are coordinated with parent working schedules. Kindergarten may have different start times. Policies are in place for start time when there is inclement weather. Students are expected to remain in school for a certain number of years before they can quit.

A Bachelor’s degree will be about four years, A Master’s degree about two years A Doctorate degree from approximately three to seven years.

Certain times learning subjects for all schooling. Some subjects are thought to be better for students in the morning, or right after lunch, or at the end of the day.

Graduating in a certain amount of years — class of 2020.

Curricular Sequencing

Most curriculums have a “timeline” for how long each subject and lesson “should” take. Textbooks often contain sequenced timelines.


In a preschool setting, time is allotted before the classroom day starts to setting up the environment, preparing snacks/bottles, organizing paperwork, and planning activities.

Small group rotations that are broken down evenly so students can have an equal opportunity to engage in the activities for the same amount of time.

How long classwork/group assignments take.

What an appropriate amount of time it is for students to have reading time. How long it takes for the class to quiet down/get their attention


Bus schedules Student drop-off times by parents.


Attendance times monitored Attendance taken by teacher at beginning of class


When we eat . How long we get to eat Time for breaks-snack, recess, lunch How many breaks do children need to feel rejuvenated?


Transitions between topics within class are often timed. Bell schedules (time between bells) How much learning time is lost as a result of transitions. Students in sports and the arts are often given time in and after class. Students walk halls at carefully designed and executed intervals. Students have a certain number of minutes to gather their things, get to their next class, go to the restroom, get water, get their new books, and be in their seats. Sometimes, if break times are not complied with or conformed to this timed experience, teachers and students may be penalized and experience consequences.


Words read per minute (can qualify a student for Sp. Ed.) Speeches or sharing of ideas/presentations Time limits for tests? Some students work faster than others. Quick/timed math assignments. Timed math tests Standardized Testing (time limits) PE Class uses time for fitness testing Taking tests at a certain time. For standardized testing in school you are required to take it whether or not you have covered all the material yet in your schooling.


Time as an incentive — oftentimes teachers will gives students “extra recess” time for a reward to doing what we have asked of them or for being engaged in the subject. As a reward, students may be given time at the computer. Time can change depending on a student’s punishment.

Student Support

Time schedules for life skills program, Time schedules for support specialists and times to connect with and work with students Pulling students out of the classroom for 20-30 minutes of individualized instruction, leaving them to miss out on the opportunity to participate in the group instruction of the class.

Teacher Preparation

Prep time, teachers are only allotted a specific amount of paid prep time. Teachers must complete all other prep where we can squeeze it in throughout our day, or complete outside of school. Teachers will monitor the time they are expected to work during their time away from school.

Student Interactions

Students dawdling between classes, needing the bathroom right at the start of class because they were talking with friends instead. “Turn and talk to your neighbor for XX seconds” and then students are either left waiting, because their conversation was too short, or cut off because their conversation was too long

Parent Interaction

Planned meeting times for parent or student conferences

Extra Curricular

Dances and games Plays and concerts Sports


When we think of the ‘educational’ experience, we would be more likely to think of our experiences as being a series of flowing durations. When we think of schooling, we find that mechanical clock structures and schedules become prominent. And, as you know, when a background catalyst such as time imposes its forces on the Purpose, all of the causal modalities will be transformed. The causal modalities are transformed, the sensory modalities are transformed, and the contextual modalities are transformed. When we impose time structures on an environment we might begin to notice how teaching practices change as well. Time controls the teacher, and the teacher controls students so that they meet the imposed time constraints.

Let’s have a look at what might be considered a typical public school class on the first day of school. We will see evidence of how time structures can predominate the teacher’s actions and the student experience. Try to note, as you view this first clip, how the teacher’s actions, the students’ actions, and the activities taking place in the classroom are influenced by ‘time.’

I have included some time stamps of examples below the clip.

Classroom management – Week 1, Day 1

Time Stamps

1:52 “Period Three, it is great to see you.”

1:55 “I need about three and a half more minutes.”

2:00 clicking timer

2:05 “You can see the amount of time left.”

3:15 “If you finish with the survey early . . ”

3:21 Notice on white board Period Time Schedule

3:24 Notice clock on wall

4:05 It is okay if you don’t finish everything. Take another minute . . .

4:20 Notice Home work schedule on white board

4:49 finished with the survey. Twenty more silent seconds . . .

5:54 Notice timer on wall above schedule.

6:00 We’re going to rip it on four.  . . . one, two, three  . . .etc.

6:55 “We can’t waste time.”

7:44 “When I say go.”

7:56 “right now.”

8:16 “When I say go. . ”

8:20 “Period One today, 23 seconds the first time . . Period Two did it in 24 seconds, . . ” etc/

8:47 “We’ve got to beat them . ”

9:08 Notice recording time.

11:20 Homework for tonight, due on Tuesday.

12:00 “You have two things due Tuesday.”

13:55 “That as to be to me by Wednesday.”

14:05 “You have to have this binder by Tuesday.”

17:00 “You’ll get homework center on Tuesday.”

24:50 ‘In total silence for 10 seconds.”

25:05 “Now for the next one minute . . ”

26:00 “We have about 27 more seconds.”

26:10 “If you’re finished early, think about the next column.”

26:15 “Take eight more seconds, stay silently writing.”

26:27 Notice timer.

That’s enough. I am sure you get the idea.

What do you notice here? Is there a narrative playing out? Do you think that there is a narrative that has become so imposing that many people won’t even recognize the imposition of mechanical time? Is the narrative incomplete?

There is a narrative here that is oriented toward time. The narrative is a classroom management narrative that uses adherence to time as a necessary component of structuring what is done in class.


Question Chapter Ten

1.The teacher is obviously focussed on time. How do you think this focus on time has influenced how he teaches his class and treats his students?


What happens when ‘time’ recedes into the background

Let’s look at some other examples of classroom environments that have deliberately removed the focus away from time and placed individual exploration and project work at the forefront of what is being done.

What happens to school when the focus on time is loosened? What is the result when we loosen the regimentation and loosen the scheduling?


Big Picture Learning


Innovations High School and Big Picture Learning



Learning Through Internships: Connecting Students’ Passions to the Real World



How does Big Picture Learning define personalization?



Advisory: Building Relationships for Student Success



Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning at High Tech High




2. Mechanical time seems to play a less significant role in High-Tech High than it does in the first Classroom Management video. What do you notice about the way teachers interact with students? Give some specific examples of background context that influences these interactions either positively or negatively.


Projects and Project-Based Learning: What’s The Difference?


Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning

Time Stamp

3:14 “We would never put four kids together at a table and say, ‘Here’s a task, get it done during this time period.”


Notice how the teacher has given up some control, becoming more of a facilitator rather than a director or manipulator. Students take more control.

Think for a moment what would happen in each of these previous project-based video clips if we imposed a strict time regimen onto the environments.

This is not to say that we lose all sense of time. But, you will notice that the emphasis is different. Projects draw students into the educational durations, the flow of experience. Neuronal cell assemblies are given time to be nurtured.

Projects and explorations can not be formatted to fit the same ridged set time constraints we saw in the previous video.


Learning Requires Attention and Duration

Learning requires focus and attention. The neurons we are hoping will wire together won’t fire and wire together without our being focused on that which we are trying to learn. So we might wonder, what happens when our lived durations are continually disrupted? What happens to student learning when a teacher continually expects that we turn our focus toward a mechanical time experience? This rather rapid succession of ‘do-this” and now ‘do-that’ is a form of task switching. “Do-this, do-that, follow me with your eyes, do-this, do-that, look up here, do-this, look at me, do-that, do-this, in one minute do-this, now ‘do-that.’ ” Task-switching at its finest.


3. How might a focus on mechanical time structures negatively impact neuronal web development?




Organizational Structures

Our modern schools are our build on hierarchies of expertise, supervision, and surveillance. Here is an organizational ‘authority’ chart that is quite typical of many school districts. Do you have any idea why structures such as this might exist? Think back to the factory management system. You already have an understanding why this sort of organizational structure came into existence.



4. Historically, what might account for the form of school administrative hierarchies? (Clue: Shop Floor Manager)

5. How might the ideas of efficiency and productivity play into the development of such hierarchies?




School Mission Statements

One thing you will come to find is that schools and school districts usually have mission statements. A mission statement is a statement that declares the values and the aims of the organization.

I have compiled a number of school mission statements for you to look at. I have deliberately divided the mission statements into two groups. The first reflects and emphasis on student as ‘worker.’ The second set emphasizes care and a love of learning. Now that you are familiar with the industrial influence on schooling practices, you will notice immediately how industry, productivity, scientific management and efficiency remain important background influences.

Mission Statements that emphasize work:

Yokayo Elementary School: Productive Workers who perform collaboratively and independently to create quality products and services that reflect personal pride and responsibilility.

Kimball Elementary School Mission Statement and Goals: Every student differs and must be challenged to work to his/her greatest capacity.

Tiskelwah Elementary: To be encouraged to work to optimum potential in reaching the academic skills outlined in the school curriculum.

Silver Oak Elementary School: to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.

Knowlton Elementary: We provide experiences for students which build the real work world skills required for the future.

Crescentwood School: Practice a positive work ethic.

Shaffer Elementary: We are committed to educating students so that they have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be effective communicators, complex thinkers. responsible citizens, self directed learners, ethical persons, and quality workers. Establish standards that demand excellence and build a solid foundation for lifelong learning, workplace skills and citizenship

Cherokee Elementary School Mission Statement: Our mission is preparing our Cherokee students to become successful citizens and workers in the twenty-first century.

Silver Oak Elementary School is to develop the intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities of each child to the fullest extent possible so that each can lead a productive worker, citizen, and individual in our society.


Mission Statements that emphasize love and care:

Westridge School Community, where children are treasured, is to foster a love of learning in an innovative, cooperative climate which empowers all students to be competent, productive, caring and responsible citizens.

Jamieson Elementary we are committed to each and every child. We are committed to encouraging our children to possess the following qualities: A mastery of academic skills and a love for learning.

At Pine Tree Elementary, we believe that each child is a valued and unique individual. We believe that our educational process should be student-centered and that Pine Tree Elementary’s mission is best achieved by an active partnership involving students, parents, and staff. Furthermore, we want each child to embrace the love, joy
and value of education. The following emphasize our beliefs: We want each child to embrace the love, joy and value of education.

William Penn Elementary School: to provide an environment where each child is treated with respect and love.

Rosemont Elementary: The culmination of our efforts is to instill in our students a lifelong love of learning.


Have a look at your school mission statement. What are the background contextual influences?


6. What does language reveal to us about school mission statements?







Evolution (We didn’t get a chance to look into this, but it is relevant)

There is an underlying foundation in schooling that suggests that some people are naturally better than others — some superior; some inferior.  Fortunately we have removed the statement “more evolved” from our discourse, but the foundational ideas of cultural or racial superiority are still lurking in the background.

You are already very familiar with the foundation of time and the way that time has been represented linearly (as in a time-line). This linear time foundation, along with the idea that human beings evolve from primitive to cultured, lays the foundation for the evolutionary beliefs inherent in schooling practices. We see it in schools today when some students are thought to be culturally inferior to what the school standards expect of students. There are beliefs that some groups are inherently ‘better’ than others. Unfortunately these beliefs are so powerful that you will hear many teachers determined to “raise up the lower classes.” We see it playing out in the racial inequities in those students deemed to be appropriate or inappropriate candidates for future career aspirations. We see it in the insidious messaging some students receive suggesting that they are less capable learners the culturally dominant groups. In our not too distant past, we saw extreme examples of children having their own cultures violently expunged from their lives  — whether prevented from speaking their own language or whether taken from their families and placed in boarding schools to have their own cultures eradicated.

Historically we can look back to Herbert Spencer, whose ideas on evolution predated Darwin, and whose writings influenced some of the philosophers and educators we consider to be important in our own American experience. I am speaking of the popular philosopher John Dewey and psychologist William James here.

Ask yourself as you reflect on this evolutionary idea who it is that determines curriculum content. Then ask yourself why certain groups (people) in very influential in making the curricular decisions? Ask yourself who it is that benefits most from the curricular decisions being made? Ask yourself this: What would happen by those groups in power, if curriculum and tests were designed in such a way that the minority groups outperformed the ‘dominant’ culture? We can be quite certain that there would be an adjustment to the curriculum and tests to shift the content and results to show the dominant culture excelling.

Finally, think back to our vocabulary game. Inequitable access to the vocabulary being used in schools creates a discriminatory environment.


Now, let’s toss in some background context that I think you will find very interesting.

Grades. Whose perspective anyway?

Let me share with you a perspective about grading. You have probably grown up with the perspective that grading is so important. You have heard stories about getting good grades. Some of you have been made to feel good if you received good grades; and, some of you have been made to feel bad if you didn’t receive good grades. These are the stories. These are the narratives. And, as you know, relying on a single narrative can be dangerous.

But were did grades (or at least grade point averages) even come from?



A short history on shoes?
(From Grade point average: what’s wrong and what’s the alternative? Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management K.C. Soh Kay Cheng Soh)

The GPA system is attributed to William Farish (1759–1837), a British tutor in chemistry and natural philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He was well-known for his developments of the method of isometric projection and the first written university examination system. Isometrics and examinations have one thing in common: ‘metric’ or the standard or method of measuring. When a tutor with expertise of complex isometrics handles a simple educational assessment problem, most people, past and present, will agree that nothing can go wrong. However, it definitely is a surprise that Farish borrowed this idea from the shoe industry where workers were paid by the number of shoes they made graded on acceptability (Hartman, Jaksa, & Pallandino, 2000).

The grading system Farish invented was first implemented in 1792. When an institution of Cambridge’s stature implemented the system, other lesser universities would naturally follow. Against such an illustrious background, it is not a surprise that the grading system attracted a lot of attention and got adopted by other professors in other lesser universities and later by secondary school teachers. Its wide adaptation, and with modifications, at the institutions of higher learning soon enshrined it with awe of a sacred cow. Thence, it perpetuated itself and took on various façades and became almost religious. (Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management Vol. 33, No. 1, February 2011, 27–36)


Interesting, right?


Let’s listen to another perspective–another narrative (or story).

To continue this questioning, we might ask, “why do we grade our students?” Once again we find ourselves giving grades to our students because that is what has been done in the past. It seems to make sense. Why would we even question such an activity. But then when we ask about the origin of grading and begin digging a little deeper, finding that a lazy professor from the 18th century created the practice of grading from the way shoe factories were grading the quality of shoes, we begin to get a sense of the strangeness of all of this. We begin to get a sense that a lot of what we do was just a made up practice by someone. Furthermore, we might begin to wonder why we follow a practice that really does have questionable beginnings. What is it that makes these ‘questionable activities’ a part of our school lives? Why have we adopted an institutional practice that insists on ranking students?  Well, I suppose narratives have a lot to do with that. While we are on the topic, let’s take a brief trip to a conference and listen to Ben Zander, a teacher and conductor who has spend quite some time unraveling the narratives of grading.

As you listen to this, imagine your causal modality and sensory modality frames. What sorts of background context would be in play in Zander’s rendition?

Benjamin Zander – Work (How to give an A)


Questions (Response Set Three)

7. What sorts of background contexts play into Zander’s rendition?

8. What does Mr. Zander mean when he says, “The relationship is transformed”?

9. Do you think there is value in this perspective?


Let’s listen to Alfie Kohn sharing some research regarding grades. How are the background contexts being challenged?


Why Grades Shouldn’t Exist – Alfie Kohn

Questions (Third Set Continued)

10. What are the three effects grades have on students according to Alfie Kohn?

11. According to Alfie Kohn who should we blame when we become grade-grubbers?


Now, I am getting a bit off track here, but let me share with you a few short statements by Alfie Kohn. We can already hear two different narratives being examined.


I have to share one more here with you.


If Kohn is right about the research, which he is — that there is plenty of research that shows the problem with grades — then there must be another story being told (another narrative) that is preventing an honest consideration of the research. That is not to say that some schools don’t challenge grading, but who has control of the narrative here?

Let’s look at one of our frames here to see how that Purpose, along with the background might inform our understanding.

Using Letter Grades


Of course grades, as you know, are used for many reasons: to simplify teacher-to-student responses; to encourage students to comply with teacher expectations;  to act as a form of punishment; to try to keep students ‘on task.’ At what point does grading discriminatory? Some of the background contexts give it away: a belief that some students deserve better grades; that there is an inferior/superior hierarchy; that some students naturally belong; that some students are simply living out their future potentials; that all students have access to (or experience) the same culturally dominant realities.

Notice the similarity to standardized testing:






The Hobart Shakespeareans

I would like to end by sharing an example of a teacher who emphasizes understanding while still fulfilling the necessary school expectations. We witness the way that students are drawn in to understand rich contexts through reading, performing Shakespeare, participating in money management practices, and having the opportunity for travel. While grades are given, they take a back seat to the development of understanding. In addition, you will see that students are not objectified or humiliated but rather encouraged to take on the a good part of the responsibility of educating themselves. By refusing to objectify students, and to ensure that all students have an understanding of the language being used, we can sense that many of the discriminatory issues playing out in public schools don’t seem to be as apparent. Furthermore, Mr. Esquith’s adoption and incorporation of Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development shifts the contextual language emphasis toward responsibility and authenticity rather than obedience and production.

I hope you enjoy the documentary.

The Hobart Shakespeareans: A Case Study in Exceptional Teaching Full Video (52:37)


“There are no shortcuts,” says the banner at the front of Rafe Esquith’s fifth-grade classroom. Most of Esquith’s students come from low-income Mexican and Korean households in the neighborhood surrounding Hobart Boulevard Elementary, in Central Los Angeles—and his warning about shortcuts applies not just to young learners but to lazy teachers who can’t see a future for marginalized children. Esquith is so committed to his mission that he transforms his class into a yearlong adventure—empowering the kids to perform Hamlet and undergo countless other out-of-the-box experiences while still excelling on standardized tests. Filmed over several months among the Hobart Shakespeareans, as Esquith’s pupils have come to be known, this documentary explores their learning process and Esquith’s award-winning teaching methods. Disciplinary and security incidents, an extended field trip to Washington, DC, and visits from actors Michael York and Ian McKellan are only a few of the unforgettable passages on this grand educational voyage. (53 minutes)


Questions (Third Set Continued)

12: What are five things you could do as a future teacher to help create a classroom environment that is kind, just, and would help students develop a depth and breadth of understanding in school?</p


Let me share that with you here in a keynote address Mr. Esquith gives to administrators. Within the first 20 minutes you will hear how Mr. Esquith incorporates Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development.

Before I share the talk with you, let me give you the question:


You will be able to answer the following question by watching the first 20 minutes.

Questions (Third Set Continued)

13: What are Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development and how does Mr. Esquith incorporate Kohlberg’s theory into his own classroom?


Rafe Esquith @ NAESP 2012



Where does that leave us? What do we now know about the foundations of education and schooling?

We should have a better idea now as to what is necessary to become educated. We have a sense of the importance of understanding the causal modalities. We know the importance of using all of our senses. We recognize, also, the importance of recognizing different contexts when trying to understand anything. We know that our bodies are organisms and not machines and need to experience the world in many ways to develop the neuronal web assemblies that account for our ability to dwell within situations. We also know some of the historical influences that have created background contexts that have significantly influenced what we do in schools.

Perhaps most importantly, you have the skills now to question any schooling situation based on the causal, sensory and situational frames I shared with you. While there is much to learn, you do have enough understanding of some of the salient background contexts that influence what we do in schools. Also, and this is very important, we have some ideas as to how we can make schooling environments better for students by focussing on ways to authentically develop a depth and breadth of understanding. For many teachers, focussing on understanding and the well being of students is the most important aspect of all.