I am on a mission to ditch study hall.
I was lamenting about how monitoring 12 study halls per week is making me feel – well, not myself. Last year, I brought it to the faculty and administration (and received support from them) for not having silent study halls in the library. The reasons are numerous: primarily, I’m not about reinforcing the cultural stereotype of a library being a quiet place where information is placed in front of you and absorbed. Also, since collaboration, communication, critical thinking and information literacy are all skills identified in our teaching & learning paradigm, practicing them is going to involve some noise. There are practical reasons too. Try enforcing silence in a room with shelves and nooks and places to hide. Try keeping students from leaving early when there are 2 sets of doors in a room about 30 feet long. I end up looking like a tennis player during Wimbledon, running to and fro to remind students of the only two rules I have: be in a chair, and whisper.
Amusingly, the result of the “whispering study hall” is that there is more silence than when there was a silent study hall. However, I can’t say that there is more studying going on, merely that if you truly want to study, the bubble of quiet is likely to be a little more stable around you than it was last year.
Still, we get students who request headsets so they can listen to music while they study, which is frowned upon, despite a lot of research that indicates it’s a good thing for some students. All conversation is not the lively collaboration we hope for as teachers, and the students are piled up like puppies on the long bench that spans one side of the room, or five-apiece on our sofas. Here’s the thing – this sort of scene normally makes me smile when I’m in the library. But during study hall, I feel compelled by unseen forces outside myself to drive it away.
I do buy in to the idea that students need quiet, reflective time. Research supports this as well as it does the music-listening. But am I to decide which students can listen to music and which cannot? Am I to listen in on conversations to make sure they are work-related? In this area of my job, I am led by my fears and not by my passions. I’m afraid of descending into chaos – with over 40 people in study hall yesterday, there was some running and bumping and sometimes even standing on the aforementioned bench (I admit – even for me, it’s fun to stand on – it’s fun to sit in the window wells too). But even as I admit this, I am hearing the critical voices of a thousand fictional and unseen teachers and administrators saying “How can you run your library like this? Make them stop.”
I’m struggling to run the kind of library that I would want to be in myself. I’m struggling to find the balance between allowing students freedom to do what they need and not achieving the reputation as the place to go wild when you want to avoid working. Study halls all over the building are filled with students asking teachers pointed questions about their work. In my space, they are there for so many different reasons it would be impossible and insanity-provoking to keep track of them all. Do I want a thousand rules for study hall? No, I do not. I like my library rules the way I like my game rules – simple, and easy to learn and remember.
But, truth be told (ok, it’s probably rather obvious by now) I’d rather not have study hall at all. I saw this tweet and thought: well, it’s not just me who thinks about this.
I like the “theme room” idea that Andrew mentions. I suggested this last year – for our daily, end-of-the-day study hall, each teacher could host their own activity and that those activities could change throughout the year. This was interpreted by some to mean “club time,” but that’s not what I mean – not a trimester or year-long commitment to the same activity – but more like “Hey, we’re folding origami in the Library today.” Or doing yoga, or trying to build the tallest paper tower, or playing “Snake Oil,” or drawing from still life, or creating podcasts, or composing music, or anything that would open up the curious mind. Students need a variety of different things at the end of the day. Some of them just need to stare at their shoes.
What about the students who really need help? Assign them to a study hall. The ones that are just not doing their work might be motivated to hand it in so they can experience “tinker time.” Those that struggle on a daily basis – yes, assign them too, but not every day. That tinker time, other than being choice-filled, fun and motivating, is also necessary to the human brain. We aren’t all about the work, are we? We’re about creative play, dreaming, imagining and relationship-building. The kind of relationship that says “Come here to feel safe,” and not: “Shhhhh. You’re bothering us.”