Instructional time

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1 Definition

  • “ The fact is that instructional time. has the same scientific status as the concept of homeostasis in biology, reinforcement in psychology, or gravity in physics. That is, like those more admired concepts, instructional time allows for understanding, prediction, and control, thus making it a concept worthy of a great deal more attention than it is usually given in education and in educational research” (Berliner, 1990).


2 Types of instructional time

"When we speak of instructional time we refer to a family of concepts, some of which have not yet achieved the status of concepts in other, more mature scientific fields" (Berliner, 1990).

We shortly present Berliner's different dimensions (read the original for details):

  1. Allocated time, usually defined as the time that the state, district, school, or teacher provides the student for instruction.
  2. Engaged time, usually defined as the time that students appear to be paying attention to materials or presentations that have instructional goals.
  3. Time-on-task, usually defined as engaged time on particular learning tasks. Engagement in particular kinds of tasks is what is wanted (not just general engagement).
  4. Academic learning time (ALT), usually defined as that part of allocated time in a subject-matter area (physical education, science, or mathematics, for example) in which a student is engaged successfully in the activities or with the materials to which he or she is exposed, and in which those activities and materials are related to educational outcomes that are valued.
  5. Transition time, usually defined as the noninstructional time before and after some instructional activity.
  6. Perseverance, usually defined as the amount of time a student is willing to spend on learning a task or unit of instruction.
  7. Pace, usually defined as the amount of content covered during some time period.

3 Time to learn

“ Gettinger (1984) reviews a substantial body of research in which measures of time to learn a particular kind of subject matter and conventional measures of intelligence, have both been used to predict learning. The time to learn (TTL) measures are usually as good or better predictors than are the intelligence measures. Moreover, the variance shared by these two measures is not too large, indicating they are different, though related, measures of aptitude. For school people, however, aptitude measured as simple TTL would yield much more useful information than aptitude measured as intelligence. ” (Berlinger, 1990)

Therefore, Berlinger claims that “ The transformation of aptitude from a mysterious and hard-to-modify quality of the individual into an instructional time variable, and an alterable one at that, is an important contribution to our thinking about students and about schools. The increased understanding of instructional processes through this insight may itself be worth all the contemporary fuss about the importance of instructional time for our thinking about schooling.”.

See also the Carroll model of school learning that was very influential for framing the "instructional time" questions and the mastery learning instructional design model.

4 The ALT model

Academic learning time (ALT), is defined by Berliner (1990) as that part of allocated time in a subject-matter area (physical education, science, or mathematics, for example) in which a student is engaged successfully in the activities or with the materials to which he or she is exposed, and in which those activities and materials are related to educational outcomes that are valued (Berliner, 1987; Fisher et al., 1980).

This is a complex concept that includes or related to others:

  1. allocated time (the upper limit of ALT)
  2. time-on-task (engagement in tasks that are related to outcome measures, or, stated differently, time spent in curriculum that is aligned with the evaluation instruments that are in use);
  3. success rate (the percent of engaged time that a student is experiencing a high, rather than low, success experience in class)
  4. degree of alignment of the curriculum with the outcome measure.

Compared to the Carroll model, ALT attempts to provide a time metric for all variables and therefore makes it more suitable for empirical investigation.

5 References

  • Berliner, D. C. (1987). Simple views of effective teaching and a simple theory of classroom instruction. In D. C. Berliner & B. Rosenshine (Eds.), Talks to teachers (pp. 93-110). New York: Random House.
  • Berliner, David C. (1990), What's All the Fuss About Instructional Time?, preprint, Arizona State University HTML, retrieved 17:59, 23 May 2006 (MEST). From The Nature of Time in Schools Theoretical Concepts, Practitioner Perceptions (1990 ) New York and London: Teachers College Press; Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Fisher, C. W., Berliner, D. C., Fully, N. N., Marliave, R. S., Cahen, L. S., & Dishaw, M. M. (1980). Teaching behaviors, academic learning time and student achievement: An overview. In C. Denham & A. Lieberman (Eds.), Time to learn (pp. 7-32). Washington, DC: National Institute. of Education.