Flex vs. Fixed Schedules and TIM

As I work through Flex vs. Fixed scheduling, I have to say I could not have found a better place to layout my thoughts then the edblogosphere. I can’t think of another place where I would have the opportunity to bounce ideas off of Doug Johnson, Christopher Harris, and Michael Arsenault (especially being in Shanghai) and have them respond to my thinking. I thank you for responding to my original post on Flex vs. Fixed schedules.

Taking the advice of Doug Johnson and Christopher Harris I read (3 times in fact) Doug’s article “True Flexibility”. That led to the comments people left on the article and also to another document by Christine A. Hurley entitled: Fixed vs. Flexible Scheduling In Elementary School Library Media Centers: A Continuing Debate. I’ve taken all this information along with the comment Michael left and with my personal beliefs (which seem to always be changing) and have tried to find how flex and fixed schedules work into my technology schedule and into the library schedule as well.

The first thing I believe is that my technology position and the librarian position need to be look at and reevaluated as to what our purpose is and what is it we want students to learn. In her paper Christine writes the following:

Within the flexible scheduling environment, teaching in the library occurs when a student needs to know, so that the moment of teaching and the moment of student application are concurrent. There is, according to van Deusen, “no point in teaching search strategies or note-taking or evaluation of sources or locational skills if there is no information need (223).”

If we agree that one of the skills students of the 21st century need is being able to learn skills when they are needed, then this makes sense to me. The future will demand students to be an ‘untouchable’ as Friedman puts it in his book The World is Flat. Friedman lists the following as untouchables:

• Special — Michael Jordon, Robert Redford, Katherine Hepburn
• Specialized — Know things or can do things that others can’t
• Adaptive — able to learn and relearn easily and quickly
• Anchored — direct services

I agree with this list and with Friedman that the one ‘untouchable’ that stands out from the rest is the adaptive. This person will hold many jobs, will be able to learn and relearn easily and quickly, and be able to locate the information they need to adapt when they need it, also known as ‘on-time learning’. Where learning something because you need to know it is the way of life. If you think about it, on-time learning is what we do as professionals. I learn to do things not because someone (like a teacher) tells me to, but because I need that skill or knowledge at that moment in time.

This is way I don’t have all 7 of the 5th grade classes learning the same thing. They learn what they need to know based on what is happening in the classroom. One class might be learning PowerPoint, while another class is learning Internet research skills, and yet another class is practicing typing. The students are learning the skills they need on-time when they are relevant to them and to what they need to know based on the lessons and projects assigned to them in the classroom.
In Doug’s article “True Flexibility” he asks this question:

Granted those students whose teacher is cooperative get a superior learning experience. But what about the kids whose teachers are so isolationist that they don’t even get to the library for book checkout, let alone to learn media skills?

Doug brings up a good point that in a flex schedule you are laying your trust in the teacher to make time in their schedule for library time and tech time in my case. This is difficult as teachers already feel pressured to teach more with less time, and to ask them to create their own time is ‘just one more thing’ they have to do. It goes back to the old saying “What is scheduled gets done” and I would say that’s true. If your library and tech time are scheduled then you have to go because someone on the other end is expecting you, but if it is solely up to you the teacher to ‘make room’ in your schedule for tech and library, well then, it sometimes doesn’t get done. I taught in the classroom for 6 years and know this first hand.

I would also say that this looks at tech teachers and librarians as ‘another person’ and not as a part of the ‘teaching team’. In his comment to my original post Michael explains how flex scheduling looks at his school.

Jeff,
I would look to change the position of the “tech teacher”. In my district we have never had a tech teacher. Instead we have “tech integrators” (I am one of them). Instead of being locked into a teaching schedule I have full flexibility to be available to teachers as needed.
I provide professional development to the teachers of my building by appointment, afterschool open sessions, and occasional days when the principal gets subs for teachers to release them. Most importantly, I am available to team teach with the teachers of my building in their classroom. The classroom teacher will cover the content and I cover the technology. This provides a great professional development opportunity for that teacher (it’s not a special where they leave to correct papers). Typically, teachers will use me for the first (sometimes second) time they do such an assignment. After that they take it on their own.
This arrangement creates an atmosphere where technology is integrated into the curriculum (not divorced from it) and empowers teachers to teach with technology. I do this in the middle level, but it has been successfully done in our elementary schools as well.

UM…can changing the name from tech teacher to tech integrator make that much difference? I love this set up as it goes with my belief of on time learning. The way Michael is used when the teachers and/or the students need to learn a technology skill that will be used in their classroom is awesome. Michael’s time is fully integrated into what is happing in the classroom supporting both the teachers and the students in an on time learning environment. Furthermore, Michael’s schedule allows him to empower teachers to integrate technology on their own. He is able to incorporated professional development into his schedule making the on time learning not only happen for students, but for teachers as well.

So, taking in all of this knowledge along with the discussions in the blogosphere about learning is conversation and focusing on information and contemporary literacy rather then technology here is my conclusion.

In the new media center that my school is building the technology and the library will be ‘seamless’ (the word we are using to describe the area) therefore I believe it’s time we rethink our approach to 21st century information.

What if both the librarian and I were called TIMs: Teachers of Information and Media? (OK, so the name needs a little work)

What if students had a scheduled library time to check out books, therefore still encouraging independent reading practice; maybe 30 minutes a week? What if the rest of the time the TIMs were available in a flex format where they could sit in on grade level meetings, plan integrated lessons and team teach lessons with teachers. The TIMs would be used based on the lesson being taught. The TIMs could work together with the classroom teacher to teach the information and media skills needed in the lesson. This might include team teaching a lesson in the classroom, or a trip to the media center where the TIMs could teach skills that will be needed to complete the assignment or project.

Here’s what it kind of looks like in my head:

After a long day of teaching 5th grade Jenna sits down to look at what is on schedule to be taught next month in science. Space is a unit that she needs to cover and it fits perfectly into her lesson plans for next month on a book they will be reading in language arts.

During their next scheduled meeting later that week one of the TIM teachers sits down with Jenna to brain storm the space unit. They remember using a webquest the year before and decide that using the webquest again this year with some modifications would be a fun activity for the students. Together they make a rough sketch of how the unit might look and what skills the students will need to complete the project. They come up with the following list:

Skills students need to know:
o Use PowerPoint effectively to give a presentation
o Research information about a given planet (both in books and on the Internet)
o Use Word to write a story about a space mission to the planet the student is studying.
o Prepare a blog article to connect learning and information found on the web.

The TIM teacher then takes these skills back and with the other TIMs they discuss how best to teach these skills, whether in the classroom with Jenna or in the lab with everyone at their own computer. The TIMs meet with Jenna the next week to come up with a teaching plan that includes both team teaching in the classroom and time in the media center learning research skills and how to successfully create PowerPoint presentations.

For this above scenario to work two things must be in place:
1. All parties must feel comfortable enough to team teach with one another.
2. That time is built into both the classroom teachers and the TIM teachers schedule to meet once a week.

The above still allows for students to have their “Media Time” to check out books, surf the Internet for information, etc. once a week and allows for on-time learning within the context of the classroom as the TIMs plan with the classroom teacher, all the while focusing on contemporary literacy and information.

I encourage your feedback!

3 Comments

  1. Hey Jeff,
    I like the model that you have proposed and in theory, this is how my current school claims to be doing things. However, in practice we are no where near this model because they have hired 1 “TIM” for the entire middle school (me), there are over 30 other staff members, my own teaching responsibilities is only 20% less then that of a regular teacher and there are only 9 blocks of lab time available for every 2 days that must be shared by everyone: Not only that, but I am often teaching during the free lab time in one of the two labs. In short, limited resources and time to coordinate between teachers has ensured that we do not have a truely “integrated program.” I’m pushing for a second IT teacher for next year and a third lab (baby steps) but even at that, it would be tough.
    I don’t really expect to get any answers other than the school needs to hire more TIMs and buy more computers but if I’m over looking something, I’m all ears.
    One other thought; is this model even possible with anything less then a 1 to 1 ratio of students and computers? Is a laptop program necessary?

  2. The key to success of a “TIM” position is availability. You must be available when teachers need you for assistance. My school is in its fourth year of having a 1:1 student/teacher to computer ratio (5th year of having my technology integrator position). 1:1 access really makes a difference in the need to integrate. Some teachers could hide in the first year, but very few can now. The laptops are not seen as a big deal any longer. Teachers use them regularly. It’s a long slow process but we are getting there.

    A key point that must be considered is need. Teachers need to see the importance of using these tools. I relate it to a student who starts using a computer and the importance of keyboarding skills. As they begin to produce more and more digital work, they quickly become frustrated with their keyboarding skills. Because there is a need to improve they really want to. Teachers need to be shown ways that using technology will benefit them and their students. Once they see this need they really start to realize the need to improve their knowledge.

    I’d like to relate a story…

    One of the teachers in my building sat down with me last week because she was interested in learning about del.icio.us and RSS (bloglines) based on a newsletter I published on our email system. She was excited about being able to share her bookmarks with her students and other teachers. I realize that this is not that big of a deal (many teachers are using these tools already). This teacher is different. This teacher, who is only a few years away from retirement, was part of a small faction in my building that was trying to sabotage our laptop program in its first year. She now is trying to do more and more to use technology in order to improve student learning in her classroom. The TIM position must be able to convert teachers one at a time to see how technology can improve student learning. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier – change is slow.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Had you not already proposed it, I would have suggested a schedule very much like the one above – a combination of fixed and flexible time. Where staffing levels permit, this is ideal. When I worked for ARAMCO schools in Saudi, I was a full time librarian for a school of only about 300? students. I had time to meet with all the elementary classes for 30-40 minutes a week, but still have about half my work time left for flexible access. I really liked this.

    I heard Bernajean Porter at last week’s TIES conference in Minneapolis say that “as long as technology remains optional, some teachers will choose not to use it.” That really sums up the problem with flexible library use as well. As long as there is no requirement that teachers do projects or units that require library resources and/or encourage independent reading, a fixed schedule is the only way I see of getting all kids at least some library and technology skills.

    All the very best,

    Doug

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