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'Time on Task' in Vocational Classes Examined

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Although many studies have measured the amount of time spent on curriculum content in academic classrooms, few researchers have undertaken similar "time-on-task" studies in vocational-education classrooms.

That void, however, is now being filled by researchers at the National Center for Research in Vocational Education at Ohio State University.

Reporting earlier this month on the preliminary findings of a new study, Ida M. Halasz, a research spe-cialist at the center, said that vocational students spend, on the average, about 56 percent of their class time on course content that includes basic, technical, and "employability" skills. More than 13 percent of the class period is devoted to related, but "noncontent," activities, such as setting up materials or cleaning up once the activity has been completed.

Nearly 31 percent of the class time is spent "off task," either on class breaks, socializing, or doing nothing, according to Ms. Halasz.

Time-on-task studies have been instrumental, over the years, in changing the way in which teachers outside of vocational education manage their classrooms. Moreover, the National Commission on Excellence in Education recently identified time spent on classroom subjects as one of the key factors leading to the improvement of educational quality and achievement.

The Ohio State center's study does not attempt to show a relationship between achievement in vocational skills and time on task, according to Ms. Halasz, who is the project director. But it does provide a basis for further research in an area in which none existed.

In conducting the vocational-education study, which is being supported by the Education Department's office of vocational and adult education, Ms. Halasz and several other researchers selected 10 vocational-education classes in seven comprehensive high schools and area vocational schools in four states.

Students Observed

During a two-week period, according to Ms. Halasz, two researchers involved in the study observed 186 students and 10 teachers and recorded over 22,800 minutes of classroom activities. The class periods ranged from 46 to 176 minutes; class sizes were from seven to 26 students.

Within the seven schools, Ms. Halasz noted that three program areas--agricultural education, distributive education, and trade and industrial education--were selected because of their diversity and differing approaches to instruction and classroom activity.

The three program areas also are likely to be found in most of the nation's schools at the secondary level, she said, adding that more than a quarter of the 10 million vocational students nationwide are enrolled in one of the three types of programs.

Ms. Halasz noted that industrial and agricultural classes, usually offered in area vocational centers, provided more opportunities for "hands-on" activities than did the distributive-education classes. She added that the findings indicate that area vocational centers provide more practical experience than comprehensive high schools.

For the teachers observed in the study, the average amount of classroom time allocated to course content was about 67 percent; the remainder of the class period was earmarked for managerial chores such as checking attendance.

Teachers spent about 11 percent more of their class period on course content than students did, according to Ms. Halasz. She said the discrepancy indicates that "as in academic classes, students do not take full advantage of their opportunities to learn or to practice skills."

Because of the "wide variations" in the amount of time spent on content among the classrooms observed, Ms. Halasz concluded that numerous factors contribute to time usage in secondary vocational classes. For example, she said that longer class periods and classes with fewer students had the highest proportion of time on task.

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