you're reading...
Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings

Time to Explore Passions in School?

Our county has this time in school in many of our elementary schools called Mastery Extension time or Extended Learning Time–a 30-45 minute time period in EVERY class where Title 1 pullout may happen, sometimes gifted pullout happens, remedial pullout happens and the idea is for kids to get extra time on something they either have not mastered yet, OR extend something they have. Honestly, some teachers use it well and others flounder, so it can either be a great thing or a waste of time.

We have a new principal coming into my school, so nothing is settled, but our retiring principal suggested an idea she’d seen in another VA school. This idea involves us ALL doing Mastery Extension at the same time–and we have a draft schedule with it happening the first 40 minutes or so of the school day. EVERY adult in the building would support this time–so we get all the specialists working with kids during this time, all the classified folks (perhaps even cafeteria, custodians and office), and even parent volunteers.  By happening first thing, some parents may be able to help daily, if they don’t have to be at work until 9:00. Community members could come in, we could involve our central office folks some–heck, even our MS and HS teachers (and students) might even be able to give us some time, since their schools begin later than our elementary ones.

I see the potential as ENORMOUS. First off, it’s a great time to set up clubs. We could have 6 week rotations of things like Robotics (our FIRST league), Challenge 24, Destination Imagination, Running Club, Volleyball, Boomwhackers, Recorder Club, Art Club, Philosophy Club, Science Club, STEM clubs, Chess Club,  Scratch Club, Chorus, etc. so that MANY more kids could be exposed to all of these. Currently we run these after school and they are often limited to 6-8 weeks ALL YEAR.

Secondly, if parents came in, they could offer to share THEIR passions. . . and we could have daily/weekly times to line up scientists, journalists, artists, musicians, doctors, engineers,  lawyers, university specialists, technologists, bookkeepers, accountants,   etc. and our kids could be exposed to LOTS of different avenues to explore new interests.  Talk about setting up mentorships. . .

Tutoring sessions could be ongoing–either for remediation or extension.

The schedule could be humane, in that kids who need remediation could have a couple of days remediation and a couple of days extension in other areas, so that kids wouldn’t be spending all their time in their academic weaknesses. We could do the same with teachers–if we pair teachers carefully, teachers who are less comfortable with technology (or reading instruction or math skill work or problem solving) could be paired with others who are skilled in those areas to increase adult skill as well.

The multiage opportunities are fantastic–think how this could increase the community feeling of our school and build a sense of competence among our more experienced students–and build skills in those less experienced. Imagine the opportunities for those kids who need experiences beyond their grade level, or in an area of extreme skill.

After the state tests each year, the teachers always pull out their “fun” units.  This morning time is an opportunity for them to do “fun” stuff and project work all year with kids. The opportunity for kids to suggest their own projects and work on them over time is rich.

I see this as an opportunity for us to begin the task of re-envisioning what  the rest of the day could look like as well and I think we’ll discover all KINDS of student expertise we never knew existed.

What do you think? What are your ideas?

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


34 thoughts on “Time to Explore Passions in School?

  1. i. love. it.

    Posted by monika hardy | June 12, 2010, 12:49 pm
  2. only 40 minutes a day, but don’t you think it could paint some pictures of what it COULD look like? AND, it starts the day. . I think kids will ask different questions, having had that start!

    Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 2:06 pm
    • I agree, starting your day off this way gives a completely different message than squeezing in clubs during lunches or after school. Putting it from and center for the day says squarely “This is important.” I hope that this is just the start of the unraveling of the tattered tapestry that is the school day so that we can weave new relevant patterns (processes), into our time together.

      Posted by Adam Burk | June 12, 2010, 2:38 pm
  3. I like the sounds of this. I agree it is important to recognize strengths in everyone and offer opportunity for extension and not always focus on remediation. We all know how devastating it is to always be behind and never feeling on top of anything. Not offering acknowledgement of strengths or excellence in an area devalues it too. For example, telling an athletic/artistic student they cannot spend extra time on their interest because their math is weak. They know what you really value. We see this already in the unfortunate habit of taking recess and gym away from students struggling with reading, writing and math. You would not want to extend this practice to your extended learning time.

    Posted by Alan Stange | June 12, 2010, 4:05 pm
  4. We are looking to do this same sort of program with our high school next fall. The only difference is that it would be in the afternoon…the last 1/2 hour of the day. Teachers visited another school in WI. They liked what they saw. We will be implementing our new schedule because they saw it could be useful to our students. Our administration listened. It is awesome. We will have some bumps and some people who will not like the changes. I really enjoyed your post because it is so positive and excited to provide opportunities for students to participate and have fun with their learning. I will share this with my fellow co-workers as a positive lookout for what is to come. Thank you for your post!!

    Posted by Profhutch | June 12, 2010, 4:50 pm
  5. also- think about the salon concept which some elementary schools use to set up systemic multi-age small groups to explore unfolding ideas or projects- audible books or read alouds allow accessibility for all to shared stories and content that serve as a jump point for groups- levels playing field for those who can process together but could be limited by reading capabilities

    Posted by pam | June 12, 2010, 6:07 pm
  6. The end of The Element by Sir Ken Robinson.. he talks about a nationally acclaimed early-years reading program in Oklahoma (p. 204), where 3-5 year olds buddy up with a retirement home.

    End of the story: these students ended up outperforming other children in the district and came away with a wonderfully textured life history of their home town. The living center residents either stopped or cut back on their medications.

    Community – relationships – stories… we have to play smarter… yes?

    Posted by monika hardy | June 12, 2010, 7:19 pm
    • our first graders this year spent a morning each month going to our local nursing home and sharing with the elder folks. They plan to enlarge that project next year. Thanks for the reference–we’ll share that with them. 🙂

      Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 7:55 pm
  7. I’ve been skipping back and forth between the Coöp and the website of a home-recording vinyl/digital alt music label started by a high school friend of mine, which I only really began delving into tonight. Amongst many artists, another friend contributes to the label. I knew these guys from drama club – outsider central; I knew they were messing around with music making software on their home computers back in the mid 90s. I was too wrapped up in myself to ever admit how awesome I thought they were. I wonder now if maybe they couldn’t have started that label as part of high school.

    What I hope for the most from this work at Paula’s school is a culture that makes it okay for all kids to have idiosyncratic and creative passions and a culture that makes it safe for kids to find their passions and to voice them with censor from their school or peers.

    I hope to help develop a program of doing and making outside the classroom at our school next year. Paula, we’ll have to compare notes and keep sharing.

    I wonder also how my friends’ work would have impacted my life and college-prep-minded serial dilettantism in the arts if we had been able to find and follow our passions in high school, instead of around and after it. I probably could have experienced and learned something more profound than I did covering a Smashing Pumpkins song at the Drama Club Oscars.

    It’s vital that we establish a passion of passionate learning in elementary and middle school so that by the time students reach high school they expect and demand the opportunity to further their arts. Passion and its demands could then leverage democracy, diversity, personalized learning, and personalized exits from secondary education.

    I’m happy to have read this post. Coffee soon, Paula?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 12, 2010, 8:32 pm
    • chad,

      I wonder how you might compare this to the work done in Berger’s book? Or Project Based learning models?


      Posted by dloitz | June 12, 2010, 8:35 pm
      • Good prompt, David.

        I think there’s a lot in play here. Having time for students to find and pursue their passions is awesome. I think excellent work, a la Berger, and PBL can come from it. I love the model Paula’s school is implementing and I think a lot of love of learning, sharing, and co-learning will come from it.

        If kids and mentors fit each other well and are ready to go for it, then I bet they’ll be able to get to the iterative, authentic work that makes what Berger’s students do so excellent. We do have Exploratory Learning schools under development in our division, and Paula’s school has Paula and a faculty willing to buy-in to Mastery Extension time, so excellent work will likely come of this time. What do you say, Paula?

        As for PBL, again, I think it depends on the students, their mentors, and how they use their time. It seems like Mastery Extension time could definitely give students time each day to identify and pursue the solution to a community problem or inquiry question. Paula would certainly have a better idea than I do of how particular teams of students and teachers will operate in this model.

        What do you think, Paula – how will most students use this time at first? Where do you think the model will go? How far off base am I?

        All the best,

        Posted by Chad Sansing | June 12, 2010, 9:03 pm
      • David,
        This is a 30-45 minute period a day that’s being proposed–not a substitute for classroom activities, but in addition to whatever happens in the classrooms. I don’t see it being set up initially as PBL at all, but it certainly could be, if someone chose to, and I frankly pray that it will turn into something much bigger and that what happens will impact the whole day and end up permeating the culture of the school. Could you describe briefly Berger’s work? I’m not familiar with it, I don’t think.


        Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 9:10 pm
      • Chad and David,
        I have to say again the first sentence of my second paragraph in my post: We have a new principal coming into my school, so nothing is settled, but our retiring principal suggested an idea she’d seen in another VA school.

        I don’t KNOW we will be doing this–it is just a suggestion at this point, and I am dreaming of the possibilities. (It IS a likely possibility, though, from the reaction of the team leaders when it was broached.)

        Chad, you ask.. how will most students use this time at first? Where do you think the model will go?

        I have hopes it could change our school. I have dreams the belief in students could permeate our culture and provide a model for others. I don’t know how creative others will get with it, but I have access to a good deal of the school population as a resource teacher and I can certainly model student empowerment and democratic ideals for the staff and community to see and I have built a cadre of parents who will help me do so. I can certainly help to paint the pictures of possibilities. 🙂

        Always looking to help others see the possibilities,

        Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 9:35 pm
  8. yep on the coffee–next week one afternoon? Maybe at one of the Crozet coffee houses?

    Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 8:37 pm
  9. Sounds like you guys are implementing RTI. So many wonderful things can occur during this time. Here’s a twist you can put on the enrichment piece. Implement the ideas you’ve already listed in your post, but also get ideas from the students during the first month. Begin making their ideas happen. That’s when mastery extension will happen.

    I’m hoping to put my own variation on this in my science classes this fall, called Google Time. I’m going to give them 20% of the time to pursue their own ideas. That will equate to every Friday. As they submit “reports” i.e. “here’s what I did” we’ll set up times for them to share with the rest of the class. We’ll see how this goes.

    Posted by Matt Guthrie | June 12, 2010, 9:15 pm
    • Matt,
      Thanks for sharing that addition. Your google time sounds cool, too. . .will their time have to be based around Science, since you teach them that, or can it be anything?

      Appreciate your comments,

      Posted by Paula White | June 12, 2010, 9:23 pm
    • Matt, I am so happy to see that you are implementing “google time.” After learning about the professional development that was happening around this concept, I thought naturally this should be extended to students. What age students will be doing this? What will they have access to (technology, community, etc) in order to explore their own ideas?

      Posted by Adam Burk | June 12, 2010, 9:26 pm
  10. Paula,
    This sounds like so much fun! I am looking forward to see how you structure the time and coordinate the schedules of all the stakeholders. I think it is a great way to include parents in their child(ren)’s (did I get that right?) learning within the school setting. As a parent, I would love the opportunity to share in my son’s learning in school. I think parents have their own expertise to share, let alone give us a new view of our students. Parents know their children best. It is small steps like these that will move us in a direction of change. A direction where children get to explore their interests and develop their passions. Good luck, IF you do get this up and running.!

    Posted by Ann | June 13, 2010, 1:33 pm
  11. I think “outside the box” thinking. So much of what you are discussing here is collaboration – joining forces instead of everyone doing something disjointed. When we do that, results are terrific. I have quite a bit of experience training lay tutors and coordinating their efforts with classroom instruction WITHOUT replication. Let me know if I can help you guys with this new plan (

    Posted by Cathy Puett Miller AKA The Literacy Ambassador | June 13, 2010, 2:32 pm
  12. I am a particular fan of activities (like many of the clubs Paula mentioned) that require presentation to an external audience. It goes a long way toward helping students see that you are on the same teams.

    Posted by Rick Ashby | June 13, 2010, 4:33 pm
  13. Sounds like a great idea – but it’s most unfortunate that some of these things aren’t part of the regular school day. Music shouldn’t be viewed as an “activity” but as a vital part of education. Maybe I am misunderstanding, however, and these musical “clubs” are an extension of a thriving music program. My only question would be how will things work if some students are pulled out for remediation but others are in the activities all week long? That will make for a lot of frustrating catch-up.

    Posted by Kelsey | June 13, 2010, 9:02 pm
    • Kelsey, in my school Music IS thriving–we have a music club for kids who want even more than the lessons they already get–in fact, we have a recorder club, an honors choir, a chorus, weekly lessons, a boomwhackers club and probably some others I don’t even know about. 🙂 I absolutely agree with you about music–and all the arts–they are vital pieces of who we are as human beings and as a culture and should permeate our school day!

      You understood a piece of this I’m not sure others have–that the remediation piece is also there. I’m not sure quite how it will all work, but I’d love to see kids being able to work on their weaknesses through their strengths. For example, I had a kid this year (gifted) who couldn’t spell worth crap. However, when I gave him a wiki and allowed him to post and make pages about HIS interests, he was invested in having other people read it, so he worked on his spelling through that.

      My very LD grandson learned to read because his remedial teacher gave him science and history books–his passions–and helped him figure out how to decode the words based on his prior knowledge, context and looking at the pictures. I want these clubs–and the people who DO work with the remedial groups– to think like that. I also know our teachers already are sensitive to the same kids always having to do the remediation and I think they’ll figure out ways NOT to exclude them, but include them. Our PE teacher, for example, is already thinking of ways she can include skillwork in her lessons and possibly take a group of kids who need counting practice, for example and work on that through games during ME.

      Any other ideas you could add would be greatly appreciated–as I have said, this is a work in progress.

      Posted by Paula White | June 13, 2010, 11:03 pm
  14. What I especially love about this plan is the idea of getting several members of the school community involved. That is incredible to include parent volunteers and specialists. I do believe this type of start to the day will inspire everyone to rethink the rest of the day. I believe this also has the potential to get those who usually are skeptic to see the change in action. The teachers will learn from each other and be able to reflect on their own practices and evolve them. The problem with most teacher change is teachers cannot see the potential, therefore, they lack a bit of faith. They need a push and to be exposed to the potential for change in order to propel them to the next level. They need to be surrounded by a passionate community where the focus is the student. They need to see that they can have great working relationships with parents. They need to see that they can get through to the most challenging students. If they are involved in the change, then they experience this first hand.

    Posted by Shelly Sanchez Terrell | June 14, 2010, 6:46 am
  15. Shelly,
    You eloquently speak to much of what I see as the benefits to this model as well. The opportunities to model for one another, to try things out without fear of failure and the chance to work with teachers you don’t usually get to is going to be incredibly powerful. Thanks for adding clarity to the potential gains.

    Always thankful to others who explain things well,


    Posted by Paula White | June 14, 2010, 7:14 am
  16. Wow. What a great thread… with great ideas.

    I may have already mentioned this in another post .. also at the end of The Element Sir Ken talks about a town in England, Grangeton. They wanted to help the kids in their community redefine school – improve school – so they turned the town over to them. School became the community.

    I also recently visited an incredible company nearby, Avago, when asked what makes them such a stand out – they said – they allow us to innovate – they empower us, they give us freedom, and they let us run with our crazy ideas.

    Kelsey – our push for change started with two questions..
    1) what do you want to be when you grow up
    2) what do you do outside of school hours that you love
    and then we started seeking out ways to have that be school.
    I think if we are smarter about the time we spend together.. we shouldn’t be waiting till 3, or summer or after we graduate to do the things we love.

    Paula – I absolutely love this:
    I’d love to see kids being able to work on their weaknesses through their strengths.
    I think we focus too much on weaknesses and how to fix them. If we focus more on gifts/talents/passions that students have… a lot of those weaknesses work themselves out… and in a more natural and sustaining way.

    No fair.. we all need to meet up at one of the Crozet coffee houses…

    Posted by monika hardy | June 14, 2010, 10:04 am
  17. I wholeheartedly believe that if we allow students to pursue what they love outside the boundaries of normal academic content that they will be more successful both in the academic arena and in life.

    I’m in music education and we are constantly talking about how doing cross-curricular musicianship units makes students perform better even though they spend less time rehearsing the music. For example, taking time to read the piece of literature that the piece of music is based on will make the students play the music better even though they have spent less time practicing or rehearsing. It seems to me that the reverse would also be true – spending time making music helps student to do their math/science/reading/etc. work better. I’m not sure that music makes kids smarter, but I know it makes them better, more well-rounded people. Having time for any subject area that accomplishes this (sports, visual arts, drama, etc.) seems like a huge positive. And allowing students to choose what direction they take is even more incredible.

    Posted by wordssosweet | June 14, 2010, 11:19 am
  18. Paula, I really like the practicality of this suggestion. Small but climate changing, potentially game changing.



    Posted by kirsten olson | June 17, 2010, 8:51 pm
  19. Seems like public schools everywhere are making moves like this one, and what a great thing! I coordinated a move very much like this one at the high school where I worked for the past 6 years. We collapsed 4 – 25 minute lunches into one lunch that lasts an hour. It took a year working hard with ALL stakeholders to buy into the idea of an hour-lunch when ALL 1600 students were ‘loose’ in the building, but they bought into it. We sold it as a time for everything to happen … meet teachers, eat with teachers/friends, remediation, tutoring, enrichment, clubs, mentorship, student group meeting time, down-time, community service time, etc. Last year was our first year, and it was an enormous success (based on data and surveys). Excited to work now for a high school that embeds time in the morning for some of these very things. Students should never have to stay after school for these things to happen.

    Posted by Kim Crandall | July 15, 2010, 8:48 am
  20. This is great outside-of-the-box thinking…I have been trying to rethink how to incorporate something like this into our day. What are your school hours?

    Posted by Lyn | July 15, 2010, 8:55 am
  21. Hi, Lyn,
    Our official school hours are 7:55-2:25, and we have our schoolwide Mastery Extension time from 8:05-8:40.


    Posted by Paula White | January 5, 2011, 8:57 pm


  1. Pingback: Time to Explore Passions in School? (via Cooperative Catalyst) « Charlottesville – Live & Learn! - June 23, 2010

  2. Pingback: Expect More. . . | Reflections of the TZSTeacher - January 5, 2011

  3. Pingback: Thinking Games…or Just Thinking « Cooperative Catalyst - April 18, 2011

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,103 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: