First...lets discuss the time that we think is the most efficient period of time to have a student BEHIND THE WHEEL (for the remainder of this post to be known as BTW). Later we will address what we think is the most efficient way to have students grouped in a classroom with many different learning levels.
- We have all taken "lessons" - swimming lessons...dancing lessons...music lessons - well, you get the idea. We have all been there at one time or another in our lives. How long do we expect these lessons to take? Some...only last 30 minutes, such as music lessons and some times dancing lessons. Other types of lessons may extend to 60 minutes. Then why not 90 minutes or even 120 minutes? Wouldn't a student learn more by keeping the training time longer rather than shorter?
- The answer is: not necessarily. A logical question might be: why not? - it seems reasonable!
- Consider HOW we learn. Your brain has to take in information from you 5 senses. Then it must have time to "process" that information before it can use it effectively. Also, your brain must make that process permanent, so you do not have to constantly "relearn" some task every time you want to use it again. A crude, although parallel example would be to consider how we FUEL our body. We eat! But we do not eat an entire day's or week's food supply all at the same time. We would NOT consider consuming all 3 daily meals in the morning...or all 21 weekly meals at the same time (even if we COULD physically do this). Our family and friends would think we were a little "off" or unbalanced to try such a routine. We could even do some physical damage to ourselves. None of us would even want to try this - even if our reason was to "save the time" it take to prepare, eat, and clean up after each meal. We intuitively know that our body needs food in spaced intervals so it can process (digest) it properly.
- To return to the original idea: the amount of time that is "best" to learn something. Learning that has a very PHYSICAL element - such as dancing...skating...and most sports, are usually no more than 60 minutes (and may be broken into smaller segments with rest periods). A full non-stop hour of strenuous physical activity will exhaust even the most fit human being. Learning activities that require a lot of MENTAL concentration may be of a shorter duration - since mental concentration is even more daunting than physical activity (your BRAIN uses more blood oxygen than any other organ in the human body). Therefore, the music lessons I took as a young student, were always 30 minutes - and if there was a scheduled hour, the second 30 minutes was NOT instruction - it was "practice" (of the just received instruction).
- So...how did we arrive at the optimum 90 minutes for a behind-the-wheel driving lesson in the training car? Originally, when we started many decades ago, the time was scheduled as a "clock hour" - that is, 60 minutes. Seemed reasonable since lessons were charged "by the clock hour". Over time, however, we got feedback from our students: they said that they felt as if they were "just getting into" the rhythm of the lesson when we would announce that it was time to go home or pick up the next student. What to do....?? Next, we tried 2 hour lessons - that is, TWO clock hours. Now students were telling us that it was a struggle to reach the "finish" line...difficult to concentrate and perform for that amount of time...and we could SEE this reaction on the part of the student. What to do....??
- We took a hard look at how a lesson worked: there were a few minutes at the beginning, just after the student entered the car, when we would do essential record keeping or determine the next lesson time or review the previous lesson or answer questions. Next we had to do the various "adjustments" - known as the PRE-DRIVE steps - seat, seatbelt, mirrors, etc. Experienced drivers can do these adjustments quickly and efficiently, or maybe not at all if they were the last person to drive the car. For the novice driver this is a set of tasks that may take many minutes, or may need to be coached and corrected. Then: after the 10-12-15-20 minutes that this "getting ready to drive" may take, and after the car is in motion on the road, we practice some of the basic skills in a quiet area for a few minutes to "warm up". By the time the student is ready for review and practice of the skills introduced during the previous lesson and prior to the NEW skills to be learned (if the student is ready for NEW material) - most of 30 minutes had been used. Now, 20 minutes later, we were telling the student that the lesson was almost over. No wonder students were saying that they felt that they were just getting started when they had to go home.
- As fortune sometimes dictates, we were able to attend some professional training seminars that addressed these issues. We were introduced to the idea that, for the type of training we ere doing, a 90 minute time frame simply "split the difference" between a too short and a too long time behind-the-wheel. At first we were skeptical about starting and finishing times being "on the hour" - "on the half hour", thinking that students would get "confused". This turned out to be a non-issue...we never experienced a problem.
- 90 minute lesson periods have been our standard since 1987 (25 years, and counting!). We have been happy and the students have no longer said that they felt as if they "were just getting into it" as the lesson plan neared the end.
- And...the COST is the same: 3 one-hour lessons COSTS the same as 2 90 minute lessons - but (and this is the essential point): students learn more and seem to progress faster with the 90 minute lessons. All of the PRE-DRIVE at the start, as well as the warm-up driving and "review" - only has to be done TWICE rather than THREE times...saving a larger portion of time to "get into it" as the students would say. And...we do not have exhausted and mentally drained students at the end of a lesson plan.
Next Post: The second of the two questions about the "open classroom/open registration"