Innovation at Mount Vernon: Upper School Schedule 2018-2019
Supporting Research & Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Special thanks and acknowledgements to the MVx Transformation Team, the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation, and members of the Mount Vernon Faculty & Staff. Also, special thanks and acknowledgements to St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, as well as ISM Consultants, Inc. and the Madeira School who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted the research, design, and communication of the new schedule.
Over the past year, Mount Vernon Faculty have worked tirelessly to redesign the Upper School academic schedule for the 2018-2019 school year. Beginning in February 2017, the MVx Transformation Team and Upper School Faculty have gathered input and research to determine how the flow of each school day can maximize student learning and well-being. Informed by the School’s strategic plan MVx, along with feedback from parents and students, and in partnership with national consultants ISM, the team prioritized:
- Lengthening class periods beyond the current 45-minute standard to promote creative teaching and deep learning
- Reducing the number of class periods per day (and therefore the number of homework assignments per evening) to promote focus and moderate the rushed tempo of school life
- Increasing time for students to meet with teachers and their peers during the school day for academic enrichment and healthy socialization
- Minimizing conflicts between class time and other important school activities including chapel, assemblies, expeditions, and athletic competitions.
The result of this work is a new schedule that will continue to provide our students with a vigorous, research-informed education that gives them time to pursue their passions and focus on their well-being.
Research on Schedules
- Block Scheduling (Education Endowment Foundation)
- Julie Aronson, Joy Zimmerman, and Lisa Carlos. "Improving Student Achievement by Extending School: Is It Just a Matter of Time?" (WestEd, 1998)
Well-being and time use
- Denise Pope, Maureen Brown, and Sarah Miles, Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids, 1 edition (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2015).
- Some of the content from this book is summarized here: What Kids Need for Optimal Health and School Engagement (MindShift/KQED News)
Why longer periods can lead to great teaching
- Barak Rosenshine, Principles of Instruction: Research-Based Strategies That All Teachers Should Know (American Educator), 2012
- American Psychological Association, Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning, 2015
A drive to set better homework
The importance of sleep
- Rasch, B. & Born, J. About Sleep's Role in Memory. Physiological Reviews 93, 681-766, doi:10.1152/physrev.00032.2012 (2013).
- Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams. London: Allen Lane an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Why face-to-face time is important for teachers and students
- John A. C. Hattie and Gregory M. Donoghue, "Learning Strategies: A Synthesis and Conceptual Model," Nature, Science of Learning 1 (August 10, 2016): 16013 https://doi.org/10.1038/npjscilearn.2016.13
Why is Mount Vernon implementing a modular schedule?
Mount Vernon’s new strategic plan MVx calls for engaging students in deeper learning and adapting to their curiosities and passions through inquiry-based approaches. Drawing from research in neuroscience and human development, the schedule supports and optimizes how students learn best.
How will the new format benefit Mount Vernon students? Upper School students will:
- Gain more concentrated time to study topics in-depth
- Have fewer courses to manage at a time
- Be afforded greater flexibility to take a variety of courses, including more interdisciplinary courses and connections
- Develop deeper relationships with faculty and peers, with their increased time together
- Receive more personalized feedback from faculty, who will have fewer students during each module
- Be better prepared to manage the balance of school, extracurriculars, and home life
- Experience additional opportunities for authentic, experiential, and expeditionary learning, including greater ability to connect with external experts
What is a modular schedule?
How many modules make up a “course”?
Most courses require the completion of three modules (18 weeks total). Humanities 9 & 10 require more than three because they satisfy two graduation requirements (Language Arts and Social Studies). Courses like Government and Economics can be experienced in one or two modules. The projects and content of many connections courses (formerly electives) can be experienced in one or two modules allowing for greater scheduling flexibility and student exploration.
How will the new schedule impact Mount Vernon’s curriculum? What do I need to graduate?
For 2018-2019, Mount Vernon’s graduation requirements will not change. The same college prep and Advanced Placement (AP) courses will be offered, plus several new courses including a variety of Visual and Performing Arts modules. Students will have more options to take and earn Honors credit, too. Students are still able to choose from the 17 available AP courses and the same credit will be awarded for each course completed.
Will students still a “Get Things Done” (GTD) block?
Yes. Students will still have a rotating GTD block. The GTD block is considered instructional time. A student’s ability to use this time effectively will reduce the amount of time spent on homework beyond the school day, especially valuable for those participating in arts or athletics.
If a student takes a course in Modules 1-3 and not again until the next year, what is the impact on his/her retention of learning? What about AP courses that happen in Modules 1-3 but don’t have an exam until May?
The new schedule is designed to set the conditions for deeper learning. Students tend to forget factual information quickly but have significantly higher retention rates with information they learned through critical thinking because the information is not just memorized but internalized. Additionally, AP teachers and students may schedule times for enrichment and review between modules as needed.
Independent School Management’s (ISM) examination of research on time and observations in many schools supports these findings.
From ISM’s article “How Much Time Is Enough?” Ideas and Perspectives, vol. 32 no.5:
“When teaching in-depth (rather than breadth) takes place in classrooms, students suffer less short-term memory loss and little long-term memory loss.”
“In-depth teaching is typically associated with more intense experiences and varied
teaching approaches carried out in longer class periods.”
From CAL Digest, “Scheduling Foreign Languages on the Block” October 1998:
“Anecdotal accounts of students’ language retention seem to point out that the loss of
language is no greater after a one or two semester break than it would be after the summer recess.”
“After examining qualitative data that were available on the topic of block scheduling and foreign language learning, the researcher conducted a study wherein she administered end-of-course tests in listening, speaking, reading, and writing to 60 classes of students in French I. These students had been instructed according to one of three schedules: the traditional 6- or 7- period day, the 4 X 4 block schedule, and the alternating day block schedule. The researcher found that despite students on the traditional schedule having significantly more time for instruction during the course of the year, they did not perform significantly better than the other groups on any of the skills tests.”
From Canady, R. L. & Rettig, M.D. (1995). Block Scheduling: A Catalyst for change in high school. Princeton, NJ: Eye on Education.
“Students retain 85% of what they had originally learned after 4 months and 80% of what
they had originally learned after 11 months.”
The module schedule will support the deep learning required to find success in AP courses. The entire curriculum supports the growth of a student’s critical thinking skills and sets the conditions for scores to improve as they have at other independent school that offer the modular system.
What professional development have teachers had to teach longer classes?
Mount Vernon faculty and staff regularly engage in professional learning on campus, off campus, with external consultants, through summer learning, and as national presenters and thought leaders. The new schedule allows the continued support and personalized development of faculty. During spring semester 2018, Upper School faculty (and faculty in all divisions), participated in two full day workshops with ISM consultant Barbara Beachley called “How to structure an engaging class and use time effectively in a 70 minute block.” Ongoing training will emphasize differentiation strategies, formative assessment strategies, and pedagogy informed by the most current findings of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) science.
Do other independent schools use a modular format?
Several independent schools utilize and highly endorse this approach. Mount Vernon has consulted with the preeminent national consultant when it comes to school schedules, Independent School Management (ISM), as well as Cambridge School of Weston, a proponent of the modular system for nearly 40 years. Madeira School has recently changed to the Modular system after a tremendous amount of research and vetting. St. Mary’s, Holland Hall, and Colorado College also served as exemplars when considering our approach.
What happens if my student wants to take what is traditionally a year long elective like Band or Yearbook?
Concert Band: Concert Band, like most performing arts experiences, is organized around a public product like a concert or performance tour/trip. With the modular format, Concert band will meet during 3 modules each year to prepare for events like Christmas Arts Showcase and performance tours like the ones we have annually taken to Florida. While the class will not meet all-year (6 mods), the band teacher will provide opportunities for band to continue practicing individually and as a group throughout the year, particularly in mods that Concert Band is not meeting. This could include an occasional before/after school rehearsal or lunch-time/GTD meet up.
Praise Band: We will continue to have a praise band that prepares music for chapels and events our school hosts. This band may look different each module due to the makeup of the students who are able to take it that mod, and will most likely consist of guests artists and student solo/small-group acts throughout the year that do not necessarily meet in the class but would like to contribute/showcase their talents during chapel. Each module will take on a different lens/focus to build a wide variety of skills sets in performance and production arts.
Yearbook: We will continue to produce a high quality yearbook with a class that meets for the 4 interior mods (mods 2-5). Students who wish to be yearbook editors will need to be available for the 1st mod of the school year and an additional 2 mods during they year (total of 3 mods). Other students looking to take yearbook should plan to be enrolled in the class for 2 mods. Yearbook will not be offered during the 6th mod as the publication will have already gone to print by that time.
How will colleges view this change? Will my student’s transcript be impacted?
College admission officers look at end results: courses taken and student success in those courses, not at the school's schedule structure. Transcripts will look very similar to their current structure. Each transcript is sent with a Mount Vernon profile which is updated annually and gives an overview of the unique academic experiences at our school.
As with other Mount Vernon distinctive programs like iProject, Innovation Diploma, and Interim, the college counseling team regularly engages with college admissions representatives to share and seek feedback. We are confident that Mount Vernon’s schedule will be met with an enthusiastic response from colleges.
How do final exams work in this new schedule? Doesn’t my student need traditional final exams to be successful in college?
Research supports that the best way to help students retain valuable content knowledge and prepare for college is to expose them to multiple forms of assessment (tests, research papers, presentations, and projects) and help them learn to navigate the individual and often varied demands of each course. While students can expect to experience a regular and diverse range of assessments in the modular schedule, the traditional, final exam week will no longer exist.
ISM's research recommends that independent schools "maintain conditions that facilitate high levels of student performance throughout the year," noting that exam periods "interrupt and interfere with those conditions."
"Although most colleges still have exam periods, most do not require exams be given during the scheduled time, and more than 60% of professors opt for alternative assessments." This is based on ISM's "College Student Assessment Study 2009."
"There is no evidence that exam periods advance learning or retention. […] It is clear that students cram for the test and that long-term memory is rarely involved." This is based on "Optimizing Distributed Practice: Theoretical Analysis and Practical Implications," Experimental Psychology, 56(4), 2009, 236-246.