Let’s face it, there is perhaps no more traumatic time in a person’s life than the precarious middle school years. With all of the physical and mental changes that are happening, students often have trouble finding their place in the world. Simple things like classroom assignments can be overwhelming, and students may have trouble balancing family responsibilities, sports, extracurriculars, friend groups, and school simultaneously.
Additionally, students mature at such different rates, and they often have such a wide variety of needs that cannot always be handled in a typical forty minute class period. Considering all of the variables of individual students as well as the volume of classes they take on a daily basis, it is important that students have a chance to truly get the personalized help they need from trained professionals. This is where W.I.N. Time comes into play.
What is W.I.N. Time?
W.I.N. time stands for What I Need and is a special time set aside in the school day for students to do what they personally need to do in order to succeed. This “unstructured time” is a valuable part of the school day, giving students a chance to meet with a specific teacher to catch up on work, get tutoring in a subject they are struggling with, or have the time for enrichment activities if they are all caught up. Many students are not willing or able to stay after school to meet with teachers and get extra help, and especially at this age they do not want to stand out in doing so.
But if everyone is making the most of their W.I.N time during the school day, individualized instruction and learning becomes the norm rather than the exception. Although each individual school can create the specific parameters of the W.I.N. time for themselves, the bottom line is that a school can offer more to its students with this time.
Benefits for Middle School Students
There are a variety of benefits for students that are offered during the W.I.N. time, and because middle school is such a critical time of growth for students, this W.I.N. time is quite valuable for this age group. Below are some of the key benefits students will experience if schools institute W.I.N. time for their students, with age-appropriate examples for each as to how the extra time can help in each category.
Many students in this age group struggle with organizational skills. With more autonomy as middle school students, the disparity between those who can organize themselves and those who can’t becomes more noticeable at this age. From forgotten homework to messy assignments, spending some extra time getting things situated is extremely important for middle schoolers.
As an example, students who suffer from lack of organizational skills can use W.I.N. Time to organize their materials into an eight pocket folder. With a place for materials from each class, the student can clearly see the benefits of organizing. Another use of W.I.N. Time as far as organization is concerned, would be teaching students how to organize the notes they take in class. To that end, a mini-lesson on Cornell note taking or outlining would help immensely.
One important element of W.I.N. Time is that it gives students time for one-on-one personalized instruction. There are two important reasons why this is such a positive thing. First, because peer relationships are so important in this age, sometimes students are distracted during class time and are focused on peers rather than the job at hand.
Secondly, sometimes a student just needs to hear information in a different way, which a different teacher in a smaller setting can provide. Middle school director and author Jody Passanisi said, “For those students who seemed to slip through the cracks anyway, we began [during distance learning in the spring] keeping very close tabs on them through one-to-one contacts.” Keeping close tabs will help each student reach his/her potential.
W.I.N. Time helps prevent students from falling through the cracks. How? Example activities for those who need more personalized instruction often include math or reading activities, because these are the places that students tend to struggle the most. For instance, a Venn diagram would be helpful for students in reading who are trying to compare and contrast something, and with one-on-one instruction they will more easily understand it. Math students can also talk through problems in a smaller group so they can learn to understand the elements of particular math concepts more clearly.
There is much evidence that shows that in order for students to be more successful and productive, they need to take brain breaks. With W.I.N. Time built into the day, students automatically have time where they can “turn off” their student selves and just “be” for a while. With a typical student schedule, students run from class to class without the ability to even take a deep breath, and this break is vital for continued success.
Activities for brain breaks could include exercise, or time spent outdoors that will benefit them physically and mentally. Simple puzzles, walking worksheets, and even Would You Rather questions would be a good chance for students to rest their brains and get ready for the next task or class. It could also be used as a time for students to express themselves in a form of art or music. Some students may even request time for quiet reading. Just as each student is different, each student will respond to a variety of brain break ideas.
Regardless of a student’s academic standing, all students need enrichment. W.I.N. Time is a great time for enrichment opportunities. Assistant Superintendent John Popp and Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reise, who use W.I.N. time in their school, said the goal of enrichment isn’t to move students beyond their current grade level. “We go deeper, not really further,” Reiser said. Popp added, “When we talk about rigor, it’s deeper, not ahead to the next level.”
To this end, enrichment can include a deeper dive into a concept the students are learning, such as the Civil War. Another great way to use enrichment time is to have students work on a passion project, and study something they are already interested in. Get some ideas for enrichment activities you can do with middle & high school students here.
For many students who are quiet to start with, or unsure of their abilities in a particular class, voicing opinions and questions is extremely difficult. Passanisi suggests setting up conditions for self-advocacy by, for instance, allowing time and space for kids to ask questions. W.I.N. Time is perfect for students to learn self-advocacy techniques, which will benefit them long into the future.
Activities for building self-advocacy include building trust with a nurturing mentor. During W.I.N. Time, students will have a home base and a mentor who helps individualize the time in order to help them get what they need. Role plays, mock interviews, and similar activities will go far to helping students to advocate for themselves.
One final use of W.I.N. time is to help students who have trouble with their behavior. Kids this age don’t have the self-regulation skills to “monitor their focus and avoid distractions,” and they often display an “inflated sense of their own abilities to multitask (as many adults do).” W.I.N. Time is a time to help them focus on one thing at a time, avoid outside distractions, and learn how to manage their own behaviors.
Just having a smaller group and some dedicated attention will often fix problem behaviors in students. Other activities to bolster behavior during W.I.N. Time can include time spent with the school counselor or dedicated student groups that meet to help students with specific emotional or behavioral concerns.
How to Create W.I.N. Time in Middle School
Although W.I.N. Time is prevalent in elementary schools, allowing these students to get the individualized attention that they need, it has taken longer to catch on in middle schools. Many administrators and teachers think that manipulating an entire school schedule at the middle school level would be impossible. Nothing could be further from the truth. W.I.N. time can fit into a middle school schedule in a variety of different ways. And frankly, with all the changes middle schoolers are experiencing, this is a critical time for students to get one-on-one attention.
Time can be created by adapting the purpose of a pre-existing advisory or study hall, or by taking just a few minutes from each period to create a 30-45 minute W.I.N. Time period. Check out ideas for how to create this time, and see different schedule examples that have worked for some schools here, as well as examples of how schools have fit in this time amidst the pandemic.
Whether it is part of your homeroom time, an afternoon “bonus class”, or a special time carved out of your lunch periods, your students will be the ones who win by having extra time built into their schedule which is dedicated to their personal growth.
In conclusion, W.I.N. Time, as the name suggests, is a win for middle school students. With the particular needs of adolescence, students need time to focus, take a breath, organize themselves, and get the academics that they need on any given day. The autonomy of W.I.N. Time sets them up for success in other avenues of their life, and gives students a chance to make choices related to their own learning.