In Ontario public schools since 1976, semestering has reigned supreme. It is when the school year is split into two semesters, and students attend four courses in the fall season, each lasting 75 minutes, which ends with a week of exams before the next four courses begin sometime around February in the spring of the new year. This status quo is now the subject of debate and is being studied by OISE researchers to see whether or not public schools should make the switch to non-semestered classes. A school with a non-semestered timetable has students enrolled in all eight classes all year around with shorter class times and only one exam season at the end of the school year in June.
But why are some researchers recommending a standardized switch for all Ontario public schools to non-semestered classes? The biggest reason: continuity. Let’s imagine a scenario. Abigail is enrolled at a public school with semestering. In the fall in grade 9 she has math class for the next four months until she takes four new classes with new teachers in February of the next year. But then Abigail enters grade 10 in September, and this time she has math in her second semester in the spring thanks to her randomly assigned timetable. Because she last had math class in the fall of last year, in her first semester of grade 9, she will be entering grade 10 math without having taken the subject for one year! This will make it much harder for her to learn new material that builds on the foundation of last grade’s curriculum (as opposed to another student who had math in grade 9 semester two and then in grade 10 semester one. This student only has a learning gap of two months, from summer vacation).
Another issue with semestering is how it affects students involved in extracurriculars and sports. When students have to miss school every week for sports commitments and away games, they often miss the same class every time because their schedule only has four subjects held on every day. Missing school is much more manageable with non-semestered classes because the greater variety and number of classes results in a mixture of subjects being missed. This makes it much easier for students to catch up.
Another benefit of non-semestering is how it affects students’ attention spans. With semestering, having only four very long classes each school day does not promote active learning. With shorter classes and more variety of subjects, non-semestering is conducive to attentive learning by students. Non-semestering also encourages multi-tasking and organizational skills because students are responsible for eight classes instead of four. This also better prepares children for the rigors of university life, where students must take at least 5 courses per academic year. Semestered students therefore have an added challenge when acclimatizing to university life because they only have experience taking four courses at one time, or even three if they took a spare in grade 12.
So there you have it, all the benefits and reasons why it is a good idea to support the movement towards non-semestering. That’s why I am proud to say that where I work, at St. Jude’s Academy, non-semestered classes are offered to help our students reach their ultimate learning potential.