As fall term comes to an end, Deerfield’s students, teachers, and administrators have begun to reflect on the 2020-21 block schedule. The new academic model involves each student taking two courses per term, with class meeting times extended from 45 minutes to 125 minutes.
“Our primary rationale for the schedule was to limit the number of close contacts in the event of positive COVID tests,” explained Academic Dean Ivory Hills.
Some teachers responded enthusiastically to the change. Science Teacher Rich Calhoun feels that the quality of student work has improved as there are fewer classes to focus on.
“The work that [students] are doing on projects in group work is like a different group of students than in past years. The project work is so much better because they have the ability to focus,” Mr. Calhoun said.
Science teacher Jennifer Taylor also felt the block schedule is conducive to hands-on learning. She explained that in her Molecular Biology Research class, labs often involve cell culture. Because it is a time-consuming process, in previous years the seven-period schedule had often hindered students’ ability to complete their research. She added that the pace of life at Deerfield feels much more “sane” this year.
For discussion-based classes such as English and History courses, the longer class time allows students to delve deeper into course material with their conversations. “45 minutes often isn’t enough time for a discussion to feel like it’s gotten somewhere really meaningful,” English teacher Eliza Mott said.
However, other teachers have had trouble with making such substantial changes to their curriculum and teaching styles. “There is no way we can cover the same amount of material in the same way, so we’ve had to pick and choose what we want to cover. That was a huge adjustment.” French Teacher Yanik Nichols said. The condensed block schedule was most difficult for AP courses because of the extensive amount of material required by the College Board.
Another challenge seems to be that students are more tired and likely to lose concentration. To help refocus her students, Ms. Mott used ten minute breaks in the middle of every class.
Angela Osei-Ampadu ’21 said, “I think the ten minute break is essential for classes because it gives me something to look forward to during the first half. Then, during the second half, I’m ready and energized for the next hour. Classes without a break can be very tough sometimes.”
In addition, with the new schedule, the vast majority of courses end at the conclusion of each term, so students and teachers will have to say goodbye much sooner than in previous years.
“In English class, getting comfortable with sharing your writing is so important, and I remember feeling like I witnessed so much growth in tenth graders in the spring term last year. For some students, none of it clicks until then,” Ms. Mott said.
As well as adjusting to a new academic schedule, teachers have had to grapple with teaching both remote and in-person students.
“The most difficult adjustment is having one student remote at just about any given time,” English Teacher Andy Stallings said. “There is no way to make it so that the person remote is having the same experience as the people in the classroom.”
Nichols, who has had all but one of her students remote at one point or another since in-person teaching resumed, wanted to thank her students for helping her deal with these technical challenges.
“I’m glad we’re able to do it, but it doesn’t replace in person teaching,” she said.
Over winter break, students and teachers will receive a survey where they can offer feedback about the new class schedule. Dr. Hills explained that there are multiple schedules being considered for next year, but there will always be clear baselines to adhere to.
“We can’t adopt an academic schedule or calendar that doesn’t exist harmoniously with co-curriculars, residential life, and the ability for students to have their own clubs or alliances. Whenever I think of the schedule, it’s not just what’s best for a class,” Dr. Hills said.
The circumstances of COVID-19 have required teachers to adjust their methods of teaching in previously unimaginable ways. Teaching a course in one term, moving to a hybrid model, and having to teach outdoors are just some of the changes teachers have made this year. With winter around the corner, only time will tell if teachers need to make further adjustments.