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EAB researchers searched publicly available studies and articles on best practices for allocating age-appropriate distance learning instructional minutes and report an absence of robust research literature on this topic. While we did find related studies that discuss optimal video length in distance learning—such as in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study How Video Production Affects Student Engagement—we did not find studies that discuss how to differentiate overall instructional time among grade levels in distance learning. To that end, our research shifted to investigate how educational institutions—including multiple school districts—have adjusted their instructional minute allocations as they shift to distance learning.
In this article, Costanza: Online Education is Difficult for the Littlest Learners. Here’s Some Help for School Leaders, Teachers, and Families, chief academic officer at Teaching Strategies Victor Costanza emphasizes the challenge of translating pre-K education to distance learning. Effective early childhood education relies on “positive face-to-face interactions between adults and children to meet developmental milestones.” To that end, as administrators design distance learning schedules for pre-K and kindergarten students, administrators should limit the amount of screen time and provide suggestions for enrichment opportunities between students and their parents.
Alternative district approaches to instructional time during distance learning
1. Adjust instructional time per course for all students
- Administrators at Miami Dade County Schools recommend 45-60 minutes of instruction per course each day for K-12 students.
- Administrators at Orange County Public Schools recommend 30-45 minutes of instruction per course each day. Administrators appear to designate this time allocation for all K-12 students.
2. Adjust total instructional time for all students
- Administrators at Boulder Valley School District, which plans to transition to distance learning on March 30, 2020, recommend that students complete four hours of schoolwork each day. Administrators do not specify the amount of instructional time per course.
3. Maintain normal school schedule
- Administrators at Hillsborough County Public Schools plan to resume normal instructional hours via distance learning starting March 30, 2020.
Charter school examples
In the article Success Academy Goes Virtual: New York City’s Largest Charter Network Shares How It’s Restructuring to Provide Online Learning, the 74 Million profiles how Success Academy decreased instructional time for elementary, middle, and high school students as they transition to distance learning.
International, independent school examples
For pre-K students, administrators at profiled international, independent schools allocate one total hour of instructional time each day, with less than 30 minutes of time per subject area. Similar to at Northshore School District and Palo Alto Unified School District, administrators at the American School in Japan and Shanghai American School supplement the hour of instructional time with enrichment activities that students may complete with their parents.
For K-5 students, district administrators may consider allocating between 20 and 35 minutes for each subject area each day. Administrators generally increase total daily instructional time for older students. For example, administrators at the American School in Japan recommend a daily instructional time of at least 80 minutes for students in grades 1 and 2 and at least 100 minutes for students in grades 3-5.
Daily instructional time recommendations
Administrators at the American School in Japan dedicate 20-25 minutes for each of four subject areas (i.e., reading/writing, math, science/social studies, Japanese) for students in grades 1 and 2. Students in these grades thus complete at least 80 minutes of total daily instructional time. Administrators appear to dedicate 20-30 minutes for each of five subject areas (i.e., reading, writing, math, science/social studies, Japanese) for students in grades 3, 4, and 5. These students complete at least 100 minutes of total daily instructional time.
Administrators at Hong Kong International School allocate 25-35 minutes for each of four subject areas (i.e., reading, writing, math, Chinese studies) for students in grades 1 and 2. Students in these grades thus complete at least 100 minutes of total daily instructional time. Administrators do not specify instructional time requirements for students in grades 3, 4, and 5.
Administrators at the Shanghai American School allocate 20-25 minutes for each of three subject areas (i.e., literacy, math, Chinese) and “limitless” time for art, music, and PE for K-2 students. Students in these grades complete at least one hour of total daily instructional time. For students in grades 3-5, administrators allocate 25-30 minutes for each of four subject areas (i.e., reading, writing, math, Chinese) and “limitless” time for enrichment activities. Students in these grades complete at least 100 minutes of total daily instructional time.
Additional resources on this topic
Most teachers and schools are new to online instruction. This session highlights the expertise that One Schoolhouse has amassed over the years.
Following the massive wave of school closures sweeping the globe due to the spread of coronavirus, school leaders worldwide are now embarking on the largest online distance learning experiment in history. Here are several online distance learning approaches from abroad that appear promising.