The rhythm of learning, and the progression of time

Standardising ‘the working day’ played a large role in the mobilisation of an industrial work force. It brought with it certain efficiencies without which production at scale would have not have been possible. Not to mention the benefits of local, regional and global synchronisation, which when coupled with the benefits of large scale electrification, broke our ties to an agrarian way of life – framed by the rising and setting of the sun – presenting a moment in which we could redefine the rhythm of our days.

Arguably we are at a similar juncture, ubiquitous computing and the needs of the knowledge economy have changed how we navigate the familiar and our expectations about what is possible. In earlier ramblings I’ve focused on how this changes our use of space. In this post I’d like to begin to lift the lid on the manner in which it changes how we apportion and use our time.

It took me a while to begin to see how the simple act of apportioning time more generously had fundamentally changed everything. It is something that often gets missed amidst the more obvious changes that have been made to pedagogy, place and tools at NBCS. As an observer in the Zone I was asked many questions by visitors to the school. Not once did anyone ask me about the length of a learning session. It was almost always something I volunteered and it was mostly met with mild consternation. For at NBCS the day is divided into to four seventy-five minute learning sessions, across the entire school; and they are referred to by all as learning sessions, not lessons to be delivered or learnt, nor periods of time between moments of freedom, but active learning sessions.

In practice this means that the students in the Zone focus on literacy and numeracy in the first two learning sessions of the day and project work in the last. The third accommodates physical education and Italian, and a school assembly once a week; with the remainder allocated according to need – time for additional literacy, numeracy or project work.

Within this loose structure there were moments where literacy became numeracy and vice versa, and where project work provided an opportunity to master skills practised earlier in the day. There were just as many moments where students deeply engaged in their work had to be prompted more than once to stop what they were doing and go to recess, lunch or the bus. And on one Friday afternoon I watched as a class whose home teacher had been called to the office, failed to notice that not only had their teacher not returned, but that their peers had packed up and left for home.

We are accustomed to thinking about time in discrete units of minutes, hours and days – or weeks, reporting cycles and terms. Our progress through formal education is often measured in time passed, rather than in the growth of skill or knowledge. On some level we know that time expands interminably when we are disengaged and evaporates suddenly when we are engaged. We talk about being time poor and feel the pressure of never managing to complete the things we set out to do.

I still can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is that has changed, with this different apportioning of time. The best I can come up with at present – is to say that they lean into the time they have, they work with it, and they gently adjust activity in a way which allows for learning along an arc – that moves through time.

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2 thoughts on “The rhythm of learning, and the progression of time

  1. This is really interesting.

    I wonder at how we stick, often unquestioningly, to how we frame our days and our thinking about what we (ought to) do within them. I live in the U.S. where there is a relentless and industrial focus on being “productive”….which demands results all the time. Hopeless.

    The very best thinking often comes from slowing down, tuning out, turning off the tech and ignoring the clock. I’ve blogged on this, the tension between being productive (as Seth Godin, business guru would say ‘shipping’) and being creative, which to me means noodling and staring at the sky and moving at your own pace to reach your own conclusion when ready.

    1. Yes, we don’t leave much time for noodling – I like noodling!

      When next I get a gap I’m going to read Daniel Khanenman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. I think he may have something to teach us?

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