Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, 1:35 p.m. on the dot. A surge of lethargy hits me. Always last period, always History or Theatre class. It has only been five weeks since matriculation, and I have already noticed a trend in my last period classes; a ten-minute period of wishing the class were nap time, a consistent involuntary closing of my eyelids, and a surplus of awkward silence due to the obvious fatigue in the room.
Last-period classes are often unfruitful due to the scarcity of student-led discussions and universal fatigue, and I believe that the structure of our class schedule is to blame. Rather than rotating classes so that a given class meets in the morning on one day, and the afternoon the next, the Andover schedule causes the same class to meet at the same time every other day. As a result, last period fatigue always falls on the same subject.
Every day, my last-period class has a consistent lack of student involvement. A total of four, possibly five students respond to the teacher—on a good day—and that’s only after a 30-second period of silence. I can vividly recall my friend’s dangling head bobbing up and down as she succumbed to the weariness, directly in my instructor’s line of sight. Honestly, I would dread being in my teacher’s position, greeting the class with enthusiasm when there is so clearly none left among the students. “I understand that it’s the end of the day, but please try to focus,” they say at the start of every class. There can be no learning when there is no motivation.
While the lack of initiative or student discussion in my class might not seem that important—it is. A recent study done by NYU observed students to determine the correlation between participation and overall academic success. The experiment proved that the more students could relate to a topic, the more they participated, and the higher success they achieved. According to the study, “72 percent of [the students surveyed] felt an increase in classroom involvement would lead to academic improvement,” and when a quiz was administered after an increase of participation on a certain topic, “the students with the highest participation earned the highest score on the assessment.” In last period classes, due to mental exhaustion, half of our lessons are spent waiting for us to digest the questions proposed, which no sooner turns into a class of listening, transcribing, and rewriting the terms presented on the board; we have to focus more on jotting down notes than comprehending them. Just as the NYU study indicated, it is harder to understand a class that you cannot relate to and cannot participate in, and I certainly could not relate to the automatic work that is copying down notes.
It is not simply the numbers that are important. If students participate more regarding a topic they can relate to, then students would also be more inclined to participate in a classmate-driven, rather than call-and-response style, discussion. I feel far more comfortable speaking in discussions where I am surrounded by the interesting and varied ideas of my classmates. After all, we are all learning together. However, when students are not motivated to participate, overwhelmed by last-period fatigue, that scenario is very unlikely. Modifying the Andover schedule so that class meeting times alternate would result in an increase of productivity and class engagement in all classes, not just the ones in the morning. Furthermore, because these classes are always after lunch, some of us experience post-lunch attention deficit, minimizing the amount of productivity in class. When students are too mentally and physically tired to process and understand the work being taught, the hour and fifteen minutes meant to promote comprehension are utterly ineffective.
I shouldn’t be concerned about my retention of the material in one class simply because it always falls in the last period. As students, we have other things to worry about besides the timing of a particular class, and as a school, our class schedule should reflect the natural and real fluctuations in weariness that occur throughout the day. As of now, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays have the same last period as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead of keeping a set schedule for these days, we could rotate these classes. For example, instead of having period 7 always meet at 1:35 p.m. or 11:45 a.m., in the case of Wednesday, it could instead meet at 8:30 a.m. on Mondays, 11:45 a.m. on Wednesdays, and 9:55 a.m. on Fridays. This would also apply to all other classes. Alternating class times per meeting is a solution that will minimize fatigue and reduce stress, allowing for students to participate in all classes equally.