If you’ve seen any movie involving teenagers, you’ve probably seen some pretty shocking portrayals of the humble study hall. It raises the question of whether today’s study halls are as chaotic as the ones on TV or if they provide necessary quiet time in a student’s busy schedule. Some say that adding structure, learning skills like those practiced in enrichment programs, and offering study hall alternatives will help students learn to get work done. As schools keep changing approaches to homework and assessments, the approach to study hall comes into question as well. Let’s begin by exploring study halls.
The Effectiveness of Study Halls (Now updated with new information!)
What are study halls?
Younger children may not have experienced a study hall yet as they usually occur when a child transitions to middle school, so let us first take a moment to understand what a study hall class is. Basically, schools set time periods aside for students to do school work independently or receive help on homework. For example, students with a 7-period class schedule would only have 6 classes scheduled, and the empty slot would be a study hall.
During this time, students remain in a certain room, or maybe even a library, where they are meant to get some of tonight’s homework out of the way, study for an upcoming test, or take a makeup test. Sometimes, students can get special permission to use the library or a computer lab to find books, research for a project, or write a paper. Meaningful homework is beneficial for student growth, so study halls are meant to help students have more time to get these assignments finished. In fact, a study surveyed middle school parents and found that over two-thirds of the parents listed “not enough time” or “extra-curricular activities” as the reason that homework could not be completed!
What types exist?
Each school will run a study hall differently, so be sure to talk to your child’s teacher or principal. Even so, let’s begin by splitting up our understanding of study halls into two types: unstructured and structured.
This is the study hall that has been common for many years, and it offers independent time to work on assignments. (Or, at least, it’s meant to…) Whether the students actually complete school work during this time is the main issue that has been bringing the classic, lightly supervised study hall’s effectiveness into question.
Structured study halls have more specific outcomes and goals. The basis of structured study halls is that students are unable to complete work because they are overwhelmed, have poor time management, and lack inner motivation.
Frequently, teachers are available to help with difficult homework assignments or concepts that were just not fully understood in class. Some schools even have special tutors assigned to study halls to assist with whatever struggles a student may have. These types of study halls are important; one study showed that about a quarter of middle-school parents in a school said homework was not completed because no one at home could understand and help with the assignment.
Are there alternatives?
Some schools implement “floating” study halls, where the availability of study halls depends on what teachers and subjects assigned homework that day. There’s even been a recent move away from homework itself by some school districts, meaning that students aren’t needing that study hall time for homework. Sometimes, schools replace these with learning labs or advisory periods.
Learning labs let students use this time to work with teachers or specialized tutors. It may be in the form of math labs or literacy labs. Students may go regularly for a learning need or on a less regular basis for extra instructional help. These learning labs may rotate days or teachers, meaning students would go to a certain learning lab on a certain day to get help with that teacher’s subject. This is beneficial for keeping teachers instructing in their area of expertise. It allows for better utilization of time and resources.
Others are taking out daily study halls and adding in advisory periods. These periods increase teacher-student interaction. They are designed in a way that helps older students navigate the demands of school by discussing learning goals and encouraging self-reflection. These periods may be shorter (20 to 30 minutes), but they increase intrinsic (inner) motivation and help students become more self-directed. This combats kids not doing homework in study halls by going to the root of the problem. Sometimes, schools combine these periods with floating or static (unchanging, independent) study halls or rotating learning labs. This superintendent designed an effective advisory system, which you can read about here.
What are some examples of study halls?
This school in California is an excellent example of how structured study halls can work. The principal was concerned about the large proportion of missing homework assignments he saw. First, he increased parent and teacher involvement. He put the counselor in charge of communicating with parents and assigned teachers to before- and after-school study sessions. To collect data, he hired a part-time employee to enter information about students’ homework completion. Within a few months, average GPA rose by half a point, honor roll students increased from 32% to 50%, and teacher moral significantly improved.
Another example comes from a school in D.C. that tried a different approach. First, the principal ensured students had a designated room for study halls. This decreased cases of wandering, disruptive students and seniors leaving campus during their free period (often resulting in tardiness to their next class). Next, they asked students to participate in more meaningful work. Some commented on ways they could improve their study hall, or even their school. Others published articles on the school’s website, and many others worked with other students or a tutor on difficult assignments. This led to a burst in productivity among students, and even the beginning of a school newspaper. Both teachers and students were much more satisfied with the outcome.
Are study halls effective?
Study hall effectiveness varies a bit based on how the study hall is conducted. I strongly recommend speaking with your school’s administration regarding what study halls look like in your district. If your child requires special attention or extra motivation, it can most likely be arranged through his or her teacher.
Many people question the traditional form of study halls as we know it: an unstructured, lightly supervised period of time for independent work. As a high school student, one over-worked teacher supervised over 50 children in my cafeteria study hall. This teacher was unable to help with homework, and not all students could be kept quietly working. Based on research, recent educational developments, and general attitudes, it is clear that the unstructured study hall is becoming (or should become!) a thing of the past.
In the research I have done for this article, I can say with confidence: a structured study hall does wonders.
How do I get a structured study hall in my child’s school?
If you don’t already have structured study halls in your child’s school, there is still hope. There are several ways you can get involved in your child’s school to help make this change.
Try attending a PTA meeting and making the suggestion. Come prepared by checking out the links in this article and the two examples I cited above. A quick search will bring up other scientific studies that show the positive effects of a structured study hall.
You can also try bringing it up at the next parent-teacher conference. Given the positive effects study halls have on faculty, too, your child’s teacher very well may be on board. He or she may even help you get other teachers involved.
Finally, you can speak with the principal and/or write a letter to the school board. Emphasize the low cost for implementing such a program and the benefits it could bring to the district. It will be tough for an administrator to turn down an opportunity to improve student performance at such a small price.
Have you seen benefits of your child’s performance in a structured study hall? (Sometimes, students may need a little extra help building these learning and studying skills through an enrichment program!) What do you think about the change in study halls and homework? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Author: Victoria Kerns, Teacher at A Grade Ahead; Brenna W., Writer and Teacher at A Grade Ahead
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