Switching Places – seeing school from the student perspective

A colleague recently posted a video from Burr and Burton Academy, a Vermont High School in the US called Student For A Day Project.  It was an unusual experiment where teachers became a student for a day. Each teacher was assigned a timetable for the day, including their student parking space and what time they should arrive at school. The results are cause for discussion and an exercise that I believe merits replicating in schools all around the world.

What if you put yourself in your learners shoes for a day? What might be some of the learnings and insights you might gain? Some of the insights gained at Burr and Burton Academy include: class size, length of classes, engagement levels, time between classes, length of food breaks, carrying resources, the social aspects of the 21st century generation, homework levels and maintaining energy levels throughout the day.

One interesting reflection from this experiment was the fact that one teacher (aka student) realised, in the middle of science class, that he did not have his maths book for his next class. His dilemma was how to solve this, while still participating in the current class. His solution? Go to the bathroom and rush off to his locker to get the book. Whilst in the bigger scheme, he is planning forward ensuring he is prepared (arguable this should have been done before school) this caused him not only to miss a significant part of the science class by leaving the room, but also in the thinking and planning of the retrieval.

Many brain researchers, including Eric Jensen and Dr John Medina, clearly state the brain is unable to focus on two thoughts simultaneously. While planning the retrieval, the information being taught is being lost, or at best the student will only have picked up what is known as ‘gist’ – a rough guide of the information, but not the complete picture or understanding.

How many students might this be the reality for? Not only the possible lack of planning what is needed each day (how many of your students turn up to class without books and pens? – perhaps another topic for a future post) but also the seemly never-ending demand on their attention in a busy and social world. I wonder, in such a connected social world that our students live in, what happens when we un-connect them in class? How much time are they really paying attention as opposed to thinking about alternative topics.

Another topic highlighted in this experiment, was the time for students to move between classes. It has always puzzled me on countless timetables I see one class finishing at 10am and the next commencing at 10am. How does a student move from one class to another in no time? So how long do students have to get to class? What happens if a teacher goes overtime or asks a student to stay behind to answer a question or share ideas? What about book retrieval or connecting socially with friends?  Are there clear guidelines for students to know when the next class starts? Is there enough time for students to be ready for the next class?

As I reflected earlier I do believe this would be a very eye opening experiment for every teacher to participate in. I conclude the lessons learned would be invaluable, causing a change in teacher effectiveness in the classroom.

Let me know if you give this a go and what the outcomes are.





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Published on Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014, under Teacher Effectiveness, Transformational Learning

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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