Breaking Down Long Block Breaks

Claire Hardiman The concept of long blocks came as a shock to myself and many other freshmen; coming from the Middle School, we were used to having only fifty minute classes. Although sitting in a class for an hour and thirty minutes in the morning is usually difficult for us sleep-deprived students, some teachers permit breaks, however, so we can run to the cafeteria, go to the bathroom, grab a drink of water, or just relax for a few minutes. But some teachers require students to be present in the classroom for the entire long block — without breaks. Like many of my teachers this year, Ms. Amusin gives a five minute break or no break at all. According to Ms. Amusin, “I hate losing those five minutes of class time because 5 minutes always seems to stretch into 7 or 8 minutes. I wouldn’t mind it so much if people would get back into the room after precisely five minutes.” Perhaps the issue many teachers have with giving breaks is that a significant portion of the class ends up wasted when students don’t respect the time allotted to go to the bathroom or grab a drink of water. That said, Ms. Amusin acknowledges that she “should make sure there’s movement and change in what we’re doing during long block so we can have the full 90 minutes of productive mathematical time.” Ms. Amusin tries to keep students moving and interacting with one another during long block to keep them engaged with the material. She enjoys that long block breaks are flexible and “don’t need to be uniformed — some days it makes sense to take a break and some days it doesn’t.” Similarly, Mr. Gupta noted that he “sometimes give breaks. I allow kids to go to the cafeteria to get a snack or get a drink. If I do give them a break, it might be for ten minutes or so.” He believes it’s important “to have a break in a long period of time. It’s important for students to move around and not sit for long periods of time to keep them focused and energized.” Because many students are especially tired in the morning, Mr. Gupta sees a break as a way for students to relax and then refocus on the material. Further, Mr. Gupta acknowledges that “the teacher has the right to decide if they are going to give a break for their class. It differs from teacher to teacher and from class to class.” Both Ms. Amusin and Mr. Gupta recognize that students do sometimes need a break during long block, whether that entails simply moving around in the classroom and leaving for a few minutes to go to the cafeteria. Many students at Latin also believe that they should have breaks during long block. Paige explained that “I probably get breaks in half of my classes for around 5 minutes.  I find having a break to get up and walk around to help me be more productive in the second half of class, but I also understand some teachers’ viewpoints for not giving a break because there may be a lot of content to get through and sometimes students take advantage of the time limit on the break.” Although a break can help students concentrate for the second part of class, it is perhaps difficult for teachers to continue giving breaks when their students abuse the time limit. Similar to Ms. Amusin and Mr. Gupta, Paige believes that “it’s hard to put a specific rule on breaks for the whole upper school because it is a case by case issue.” However, “I think a break has been proven to actually help kids focus more when they’ve moved around.”Additionally, Olivia “enjoys having a break between classes because it gives me time to refocus so I have an affective class period. I feel like it’s necessary to have a break and definitely unfair when teachers don’t give breaks.” A common theme in both Olivia and Paige’s comments, which the majority of Latin students also agree with, is that a break allows students to refocus their attention. Sitting in a class for 90 minutes can be challenging for all students, no matter the subject. However, it is completely understandable that some teachers don’t allow breaks, whether it’s for time’s purpose or another reason; if the class is moving at a fast pace, then perhaps students will be more attentive and a break isn’t as necessary. If students are staring at a whiteboard or watching a teacher lecture them, though, a small break could help keep them engaged for the rest of class. I suggest that if teachers don’t give a formal break where students can go to the cafeteria, etc., they should consider giving students 2-3 minutes in class to stretch out and refocus their attention in order to have the most productive class period. Thus, there shouldn’t be a universal rule that all teachers either have to give a break, or lack thereof: it simply varies by the class and teacher. ]]>