5 Ways a Daily Flex Period Supports Equity for Learners

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Equity is a popular subject right now, and it's important. First, we want to define what we mean by equity in education. Equity means that all learners will get what they need to have the same opportunity to learn. It does not mean that they will each get exactly the same thing, which could make achieving the end goal harder for some and easier for others. It also doesn't mean that the outcome will be the same for every student. Equality means, for example, that every student gets the same amount of time to work on a project in class. Equity means that each student gets the amount of time they need to finish that project, as well as the tools they need to do so. Some students may have phones they can use for research, some do not. Some kids have internet at home, some do not. Some learn faster or have time at home, some may learn at a slower pace and have no available time after school. If each kids gets the same thing, it's actually a lack of fairness when we're looking at the opportunity to learn.

A daily flex, or intervention period can be a powerful agent for change when it comes to giving students what they need. We aren't going to say that it will solve the lack of equity in schools, because there are too many contributing factors, like a child's home environment is like or thecommunity's socioeconomic struggles. But a flex period can certainly help.

What's a Daily Flex Period?

It's a chunk time during the school day where students can receive extra help, enrichment opportunities, academic or social emotional intervention, etc. Some schools may call this a flex period or block, advisory, an intervention/enrichment block, or in some places What I Need (WIN) time, which really sums up the purpose of this time. We'll use flex period as a more general term. Usually a flex period lasts 30-40 minutes, and occurs daily. Some schools have multiple flex periods, some have flex periods for different purposes that occur on different days, perhaps Advisory on Mondays, and WIN time every Wednesday and Friday and a regular flex period Tuesday and Thursday, each with a different intent. It's not another course, but it is good to provide some structure in order for it to be effective. To learn more about what a daily flex period is, watch this video.

What Does a Flex Period Have to Do with Equity?

It's clear that creating equity has its place in curriculum, and in every teacher's classroom practices. But a flex period can give both teachers and students the ability to hone in on what they really need -- be it academic extra help, intervention, or just someone to talk to. Is this really that helpful? Does it really impact learning, and contribute to an equitable school environment? Note what is said by Dr. Brian Smith on the power of building relationships and creative a supportive school environment: "We’ve only recently begun to understand how childhood stress and adversity powerfully affect development and impair students’ ability to behave and learn in school. We also increasingly understand the importance for all children, especially those who struggle, of having supportive school environments where they feel accepted. Research shows it is effective to provide clear expectations for behavior, teach skills needed to succeed in the school environment, and respond to problems with strategies to strengthen connections and relationships, rather than push students away." (Read more.)

Not acknowledging a students' struggles, or simply punishing them for not doing the same work as their peers can push them away. On the other hand, meeting with students every day to provide the needed help, while building relationships, can remove barriers to learning. Students need to feel supported, especially the ones who may have struggles at home that we do not see. Remove obstacles, create supports. A daily flex period can help.

It's kind of like building a bridge. You need to clear out the obstacles in your way, but that's not all. To create a sturdy bridge across a chasm, scaffolding and beams need to be built at the same time as construction progresses to actually support the bridge. A bridge with no support system is just going to collapse. The same goes with students. Define the obstacles to their learning. From there, remove the obstacles to the best of your ability and create supports, which in some instances could come in the form of a flex period. Not that every challenge or barrier should be removed for students -- some amount of struggle is healthy. But we're talking about barriers that are unfair and impede the learning process. How? Think back to that student who may not have the access to technology or the time to work on a project. In this way a lack of equity actually detrimentally affects learning. The challenge of the assignment is shifted. The challenge goes from being the natural struggle of learning, to the struggle of trying to get the stuff or the time they need. Instead, by removing barriers while still holding high expectations, all students will have a better shot at the opportunity to learn.

So how does a flex period help with this? Let's talk about it!

1. Barrier: Who are my students?

Support: Daily Flex Time Builds Relationships

To know how to help students, you have to know who they are. But that's not an easy task. After all, teachers often have upwards of twenty kids per class, and see a different group of kids multiple times a day. Time is spent on instruction. Of course, most teachers get to know some of their students pretty well as the school year progresses. But, it may be easier to get to know some students than others, because they may make themselves known. But what about shy students, or the ones who seem to slip between the cracks? Even the ones you may think you know, do you really who they are -- their likes and dislikes, how things are at home? What unique struggles do they have thay may be just below the surface?

Advisory periods have been around for years to help schools accomplish the purpose of every student in the school having an adult they can talk to. A flex period can help you do the same thing. Small groups of students meeting with one teacher, participating in activities that allow them to just talk, express their thoughts and feelings. And if possible, it could give students and teachers one-on-one time to talk, beyond the setting of the busy classroom, while still providing structure and occurring during the school day.

2. Barrier: General class instruction, and alloted class time isn't enough for a student to learn; no time to get needed assistance before or after school

Support: Extra Help and Intervention

One of the clearest ways a flex period can promote equity is by giving every student an opportunity to receive the help they need. Without a built in flex period, it can be extremely difficult for students to get the help they need. Trying to meet up with a teacher during lunch, or before or after school isn't always an option, and it's not always reliable. A flex period is a part of the school schedule, so students don't have to worry about not having time to be able to get help. In addition, with a flex period the student can be in class where they can have access to the internet, to laptops or tablets and other school resources, and a teacher who can help them in the subject they most need it. Interventions may be needed for some students as well, and when these occur school wide for different students in different subject, during an all-encompassing 'flex period', it takes some of the stigma away. It becomes simply a more targeted extra help session.

Its no secret that kids learn differently, and at a different pace. So truly equitable education would support this. As mentioned previously, however, accommodating students' needs and removing barriers doesn't mean removing any kind of struggle from the learning process. Overcoming difficulty, struggle, even failure, can boost a child's confidence in their abilities. By removing barriers that put students at an unfaor disadvantage, while being firm in your expectations, students will grow.

3. Barrier: Mental, social or emotional struggles; lack of support or stability at home

Support: Social Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning means helping students learn how to understand emotions, how to manage them, and how to get along with others. That being said, there are so many areas that it seeps into, and is extremely needed in. The mental health of young people is in a dire place. So many students struggle with things like anxiety and depression. They may have a difficult, unstable, even abusive home life. They may have far more responsibilities than a child should need to have, they may be exposed to things a child should never have to deal with. Then, there's school itself. Socially, middle and high school can be an especially difficult, even hostile place. And if students are dealing with burdens or emotions they aren't equipped to handle, how can they be expected to function well emotionally, to pay attention in class, and come to school ready to learn? It doesn't make sense. But realizing these barriers exist means something can be done. Teachers cannot remove barriers that are created at a student's home, but they can give them tools to help deal with them. By effectively using a flex period for social-emotional learning opportunities, students can get the help they need.

Some schools meet with struggling students, or even those who don't appear to be struggling, in small groups to talk about the problems they face, understanding emotions, strategies to help them deal with things. Some students may want to meet one on one with a school counselor or psychiatrist. What's powerful about a flex period, is that this is a built in time that occurs, most often on a daily basis, and sometimes more than once a day. Without it, usually students have to be taken out of another class if they want or need time with a counselor, and missing that instructional time isn't going to help them. Instead they can get the help they need, during the school day, with someone who is qualified to help.

4. Barrier: Lacking time or resources to thrive creatively; stress from academic pressure; only high achieving students get enrichment

Support: Enrichment for Every Student

What does enrichment have to do with equity? Lots. Of course, many may think that equity is really about giving all student the opportunity to learn and be successful, which it is. But learning and having 'success' in school goes a lot deeper than academics. Not all kids are going to have to time, or perhaps the situation at home to do things that matter to them, that are fun, or allow them to be creative. Giving students some freedom, and a safe space to express themselves and create can help them to be successful in ways that other aspects of learning cannot. And why only have enrichment opportunities available to high achievers? Even if a student may be struggling in some academic areas, allowing them to use a flex period or two to work on an enrichment project might give them just what they need. What do 'enrichment opportunities' look like? Some have used this period as a genius hour, where students pick a project or a skill to learn, some have used it to bring in guest speakers who are artists or poets, or who have a powerful story to share. Enrichment could mean deeper, activity-based learning in core subject. Or it could mean career exploration and skill workshops -- allowing students students can to exposure to things that maybe they wouldn't have been able to otherwise. Depending on the needs of the students in your school, get creative! And ask for their ideas. What interests them? Giving them the power of voice breaks down barriers, too.

5. Barrier: Loss of interest in class material; not enough time in a specific course

Support: Class Extensions

Using a flex period as an optional extension of class time can be much like a flex period used for extra help. Class extensions can help the students who need it get more one-on-one time with teachers in that specific class. So how does it differ? Sometimes teachers want to use that extension of class time as an opportunity to dive deeper into the class material, whether that means mediating a meaningful class discussion or spending more time on something they would normally have to pass over. This is a great chance for students to spend more time learning about something that matters to them, not just learning what is required to pass the class. If your students seem particularly interested in a current event that relates to your class, or have differing opinions about a subject you're teaching, this is a great opportunity to get them involved in their learning.

So often what students struggle with in school is feeling that what they're learning doesn't affect them, that it's irrelevant, or boring. Every student in your class has a life full of experiences that may be different from yours, or different from each other. By making what they're learning in your classroom connect to their world, you will knock down a barrier. What issues do they care about? What struggles are they facing? Can they learn about other individuals who dealt with similar experiences? This will not only remove the barrier, but provide a support. This is how you can make class extensions, or really any class time at all, more equitable.

We know these 5 things only scratch the surface. But it's been our privilege to see schools that have created a more supportive environment for students by means of a daily flex period. They have greatly improved student achievement, been able to effectively reach emotionally struggling kids without sacrificing instructional time, and provided opportunities for students to create amazing things. So can a flex period support equitable learning? We'd say so! To learn more about flex periods, check out the links below. How are you working to working to achieve equitable practices in your classroom?

Learn More About Flex Periods:

Why Create a Flex Block?

How Can You Create a Flex Block?

Read More About Equitible Practices in Education:

The Necessity of Having High Expectations

Closing the Achievement Gap With SEL

An Enrichment Program for All Students