Tag Archives: timing

Dear Ann

Dear Ann,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me about “timing”. That old saying, “Timing is everything”, certainly holds sway when it comes to education. Over the many years of observing my now seventeen year old, I have come to believe that individual development plays one of the larger roles in determining the right “timing” for a student to be able to learn.

One glitch in our education system is that most schools group students by grade levels, and within those grade levels the ages are within a fairly close range. The child who develops at a different cognitive or social pace than the bulk of the other students of the same age will have a more difficult time “learning” at what would be considered the standard pace. In the four schools at which I have taught, only one ever addressed this issue. St. Ann’s, in Brooklyn Heights, organizes its lower school by the amount of time a student needs to be there. There are no lower school grades; a student simply passes through the various classes at a pace that works best for that student. When the student is ready, he or she progresses to the first grade in middle school, which I recollect as being fifth grade.

One benefit of the St. Ann’s style is that since the lower school does not have grade levels, there is little – if any – stigma associated with being in the lower school for any given number of years. Students do not seem aware of how long they are there, and they benefit by being able to learn at the developmental pace that works best for them.

Am not in complete agreement with Montessori, as I believe it is possible to learn even if you are beyond what you mention him calling the “critical periods”. Again, this is based on observation of how my seventeen year old learned to read. If “critical periods” occur at specific times in an individual’s development, what about those individuals who are unable to take advantage of those periods due to learning difficulties, such as that which occurred with my son? With an assortment of supports – learning specialist, occupational therapist – and the determination and desire that come with developmental maturation, it is possible to learn to read past the “critical period” and despite the wiring of the brain.

Ah, when you mentioned pacing in class length and starting time, you touched on topics near and dear to my heart. Research supports both your and my conviction that teenagers would benefit by later school start times. In fact, it is typically around ten in the morning that their systems start to engage. And young children in the kindergarten and early lower school years are often up and about, raring to go, bright and early in the morning. Furthermore, research shows that adolescents would benefit from having several longer blocks during the day even if this means fewer class periods, thus providing adequate time to absorb, reflect, and consolidate the information from one class to the next.

If we could but slow down the pace of the day, I suspect everyone – both students and faculty – would benefit!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me, and for introducing me to some of the educational thinkers of the past. I have read only two educational philosophers: John Dewey’s Experience and Education, and the somewhat more recent author Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. Based on Dewey’s theories, I would add to the issue of timing the equally important thought that relevancy to the student is also a huge piece of the learning process.



Dear Laurie

Dear Laurie,

I always turn to you when pondering conundrums, and today is no exception. I am reading prodigiously for graduate school and one article, “Philosophy of Education Before the Twentieth Century” has me wondering about the importance of timing.

You know how important timing has been in my personal life. Ave and I went to the same college and lived in the same dorm; although our paths may have crossed daily in 1975, we didn’t meet until 25 years later. Everyone’s life has such examples of perfect timing and, alternatively, missed opportunities.

What about timing in education? What makes a child ready to learn? To take advantage of – or miss opportunities? Why are some students sponges and others brick walls?

In the article, it’s clear that many philosophers and educators believe timing is important. Rousseau thought children are ready to learn at certain times and that teachers should take advantage of those “windows”. Montessori believed, more dramatically, that if you miss those “critical periods,” the opportunity is lost forever. Piaget outlined four stages of development and Vygotsky addressed the development of a child’s language, particularly inner language, and its importance to play and social interactions.

They all discuss timing in terms of cognitive development, which is crucial. But timing is also important in pacing, class length, and even starting time.

Pacing and tempo are fine arts that I am still trying to master. I teach slowly and methodically when going over new material, more quickly when reviewing. But being clued in to student’s attention span, mood, and frame of mind often require me to pick up the pace, modulate my voice, or “tap dance” spontaneously in some other way.

Class length is also important. Forty-five minutes may be too long for a kindergartener, but not long enough for a chemistry lab. I’m also convinced that teenagers would learn better at noon than 7 a.m. And is there anything more pointless than trying to teach the last class before a vacation? I guess I’ve answered my own question. Timing is crucial in many different ways!!