In a conversation this past Tuesday with Jill Gough, she made me connect/compare my collegiate basketball practice to a class period.   I played ball at two colleges and it was in these experiences I had the luxury of knowing that no matter what, NCAA regulations made damn sure that at the 120th minute of practice it was all over. Period.

In high school, there wasn’t this safety guideline and so the end of practice could never be quite gauged nor predicted.  This was one of the few gifts I would look forward to day in and day out during the drudgery of the basketball season during my college playing days.

During these two hours, the start and finish of practice were already known facts, warm-up stretches (yuck) and cool-down (which involved Free Throws because it was the worst time to practice them because you were so tired yet the best time to practice them because you were so tired).  The middle of practice consisted of a mixture of drills, conditioning, competition, and learning.   Below is a visual breakdown of the 120 minutes of a standard practice.

So the connection… or as Jill told me it is an analogy.  Why are class periods not structured like a sports practice? Now aside from the fact that I dreaded most practices (a whole other share never :), the setup and execution of those two hours were right on the money. How are class periods structured? How many class periods do students enter the room sit and stay till the bell rings? How many start with the teacher front in center and jumping into the content? How many are well, like the way I used to plan out my class periods below?

When I first began teaching a typical class period say 5th grade Math Class 50 min. was mapped out like this: Sponge, Review HW, Whole Class Instruction, Indpendent Practice, and close-out to start on HW if you had time.  For MS Literature/LA class 80 min. block: DOL, Free-write in journal,  HW Check, 20 min Grammar exercise, Dramatic Novel Reading, Discussion, Comprehension Qs, Independent Reading, Start on HW if you had time.

Those two classes were pretty basic in structure, chunked up in a way to cover content and offer a mix of instruction and interaction. See how I didn’t say movement (at that time, it never occurred to me to factor that into the game plan).  What if I took an 80 min block of time say in a Middle School Science class and applied the game plan of a basketball practice? I am curious if you were to reframe your timeline of your class with the lens of, “How much movement am I intentionally incorporating into the block of time I have with these naturally mobile beings?”

In an Abbey basketball practice, the team captains led the warm-up stretches which led straight into drills (non-specific to your position, more about Skill development/repetition, coaches & players led), and then into learning a new play and/or working on material as a team we just weren’t executing just right (according to the coach and/or our stats).  Interspersed between the drills and learning would be quick points of “get your blood pumping, stop thinking sweat work.”  More learning of a new concept that we knew would be applied shortly in the high intensity scrimmage coming up at the tail-end of practice.  At some point, we would move into specialized drills related to our positions on the floor, for example the Mikan Drill.  A drill I should have practiced more independently of “practice” yet never could sustain more than 5 minutes of it by myself. Actually, I never could sustain much independent b-ball practice unless I was in “practice” (again, a whole other story for never).   Practice would lead into a scrimmage where we ran plays we knew like the back of our hand as well as demo’d the “new” plays/skills we had just learned moments ago.  Typically, it was the plays we knew like the back of our hand that the Coaches would ride us hard on and give us some room to flounder on the new plays. Granted, it was not a lot of room but enough to give us a chance to make it work as a team… After all, after the scrimmage we had suicides to run no matter how we performed.

So a Science block:

For another post one day, time efficiency in the classroom I believe is one of the greatest enemy to instructional execution and learning then anything else in the space. On the court, the scoreboard never failed to stop counting the minutes we were using and at times wasting. The coaches lived by the scoreboard.  Only when the spit was flying in one of our faces did the buzzer get ignored (we tried so hard to avoid this fate).  I find myself in the classroom making quick adjustments to my internal scoreboard as I work with students.  A couple days before Christmas break, I had the chance to run 5 DEEPdt FlashLabs with 6th graders in 80 minute blocks. The first FlashLab did not even come close to a final wrap-up (I ignored the scoreboard).  The last FlashLab not only wrapped up beautifully, we had time as a whole class to work on a problem that if time is allowed, will have legs to make an impact. Sticking to the scoreboard takes practice, discipline, trust, and sweat.

The point, how the class period is intentionally structured can make all the difference in the world.  And if teachers could see themselves more as coaches rather than sages and class periods as practice, well then imagine the possibilities. Practices are preparing players for the games.  Why can’t class periods do the same. Yet, instead of games call it Life or better yet learning.