Teaching Tip: What if my lessons aren’t 60 minutes long?

Travis DixonCurriculum, Teaching Ideas

Time and timing are everything when it comes to teaching and the themantic model of curriculum is all about timing. But since we all have different contexts, we need to be flexible.

The textbook for the new course (IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide) is laid out in a lesson-by-lesson structure. There’s a very good reason for this – to make teacher’s lives easier. The book also follows the themantic model of curriculum design, which is a very particular model of structuring how we deliver content for maximum results. Each “lesson” in the book was designed to be for lessons that were about 60 minutes long. I chose this number as this is by far the most common lesson length.

But if your lessons aren’t 60 minutes long and you still want to follow the textbook structure, what can you do? Here are some ideas.

40 – 50 minute lessons

Each lesson has a carefully selected amount of content to try to ensure students have every chance of reaching all three levels of learning in a lesson: knowing, understanding and critical thinking. Within the 60 minutes time that the lessons are designed for I also factored in 5 to 15 minutes of reading time (since in my own “research” it took my students anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to read one lesson. Each lesson/section in the book is about 600 – 900 words long).

So if you only have 45 minute classes one option is to use a flipped classroom design and assign the reading of each lesson as homework.

Another option is to assign the completing of guiding questions as home work, as time is also factored in for this.

A note on guiding questions: if you’re using the workbooks and you’re finding that not every student is getting to answer the guiding questions for you to check in a lesson, don’t worry – this is normal. The ThemEd model follows a rule of thirds: in a 60 minute lesson it’s only about 1/3 of students who would finish early enough to get feedback and be extended. Another 1/3 should just be finished the question but no time for feedback while the final 1/3 would still be trying to answer the question. This is why we have three levels of learning in each lesson – so all students are learning at an appropriate level. But what we have no is the opportunity to encourage hard work and also it’s easy to communicate progress with parents and also to inform parents on how to help their kid.

70 to 90 minute lessons

If you have big blocks of about 90 minutes per lesson there are a couple of options:

Option 1: You can just treat this as two 45 minute lessons back to back. So you focus on the content and activities in class (the C.H.A. of the CHACER lesson plan) and as homework students do the reading (before the lesson) or answer the guiding question (after the lesson – this is the second C in the plan. The E and R are optional). You’re not putting more work on students with this model either, as the guiding questions can be answered in one or two sentences (most of the time) and the reading should take more than 15 minutes.

Option 2: In every unit for my course overviews I have allowed a few +lessons. These are review and exam prep’ specific lessons. You could, depending on your scheduling, have a 60 minute lesson and then use the last 30 minutes as content review, or extended time for ALL students to be able to finish the guiding question and try the critical thinking extensions. Your students would benefit from the extra time and so theoretically you wouldn’t need the + lessons at the end of the unit, as you’re breaking up this time and using it throughout the unit.

Option 3: You can merge two lessons into one and do some chopping and changing of your own. The lessons in the themantic model of curriculum are designed so one lesson deepens understanding of the next. It’s very possible just to remove the C.E.R steps of a lesson and make two into one. For example, in Criminology, Topic 1.4 there is a lesson that uses a study by Goetze. Now the whole point of this lesson is really for students just to understand the experimental paradigm used in the study, and how increased amygdala activation might lead to aggression. Goetze’s study is great for this, but I really want my own students to understand (and use in exams) Radke et al.’s study, which is the next lesson. I can therefore just drop the guiding question from the lesson “Testosterone and Social Threat Part I” and have students use the content from both lessons to answer the guiding question in the next lesson “Testosterone and Social Threat Part II.” 

While the structure of the book is designed to make planning easier, it is important that teachers are mindful of their own students, scheduling and other contextual details when planning their units.

100 – 120 minute lessons

Once every couple of weeks I have a “double” period. This is easy enough to figure out – just do two 60 minute lessons back-to-back.

***A Disclaimer***

It’s impossible to write a book that will work the same in every lesson in every class around the world. It is really important that teachers are adapting the textbook and resources wherever and however they need to in order to make sure that it’s working best for them and their students.

It’s also important that teachers are aware of their own school’s scheduling and how many hours and lessons are assigned for the course. What I do know is the textbook can be used to teach an SL class in <125 lessons and an HL class in <180 (this is without any + lessons).

If you’ve got other ideas on how you’re adapting the text for your classes, or if you’ve got a context that isn’t covered here, please leave a note in the comments.