Have you ever wondered how one-room school teachers managed to teach eight grades at the same time, while also managing to give students a pretty high-quality education?

The chart below sheds some light on the answer to that question. Published in the 1918 Minnesota Course of Study for Elementary Schools and Manual for Teachers, this chart gives a standard schedule of classes suggested for one-room schools (click here for zoom options).

After examining this diagram, here are a few observations on what may have been some secrets to the one room school’s success:

1. Regular Breaks – Children were given 15 minutes for recess in the morning and again in the afternoon. Students also had an hour for lunch. The reason for the 1½ hours of break time?

“Fatigue diffuses, so that, for example, long eye-strain may produce general fatigue, or general fatigue may cause a lack of acuteness in hearing or seeing, hence the program should allow for periods of real recreation, not mere change of work; teachers having no recesses because they cause disciplinary troubles do not judge values well…”

2. Independent Study – With 30 children in eight different grades, the student could not expect to have the teacher’s continual attention. Therefore, they were obligated to accept their assignments and follow through on them, knowing that accountability in the form of recitation time was looming.

“The better to test children’s ability to work independently, it will be well to have all recite together in several subjects, and then have a common study period, during which the teacher can teach pupils the best ways of preparing lessons or of doing assigned tasks.”

3. Responsibility – In addition to being independent learners, students were also taught to be responsible in areas beyond school work. Fifth through eighth graders were regularly required to assist in lunch preparations for their fellow classmates. Younger students were excused for an extra-long recess in the afternoon, and as the teacher was busy with the older students, the younger ones were likely expected to act responsibly out on the playground without supervision.

It seems that we often hear today’s schools saying that they need more time in order to help students succeed. Would a study schedule such as this one from 1918 more effectively help teachers and students dig into their work and learn to be responsible, independent learners?

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