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     August 2006

Education Up Close

Block Scheduling

Class scheduling is an expression of the relationship between learning and time. Traditionally, schools schedule six or seven 40- to 55- minute classes per day. These classes usually meet for 180 school days per school year.

Block scheduling differs from traditional scheduling in that fewer class sessions are scheduled for larger blocks of time over fewer days. For example, in block scheduling, a course might meet for 90 minutes a day for 90 days, or half a school year. Does this type of scheduling have any advantage over more traditional scheduling methods? Those schools that have tried it believe it does.

Advantages for the School Systems

For the schools themselves, the greatest advantage of block scheduling is a better use of resources. The schedule change does not require additional teachers or classrooms. It eliminates half of the time needed for class changes, which results in fewer discipline problems. Results from several high schools indicate significantly fewer suspensions and student dropouts due to improved student-teacher relationships. Schools also report an increase in the overall quality of teacher instruction and student time on task.

Advantages for Teachers

The advantages for teachers in schools that use block scheduling are many. These advantages fall into several categories.

Improved Teacher-Student Relationships
Teacher-student relationships are improved. In traditional scheduling, teachers may teach five or six (or more) classes a day with as many different preparations. They are expected to know and teach 150 or more students each day. With block scheduling, teachers have responsibility for a smaller number of students at a time, so students and teachers get to know each other better. With longer class periods, teachers can provide additional time and other resources for meeting the individual needs of students.

Focused Instruction
Teachers can also be more focused on what they are teaching. With more intensive teaching of a subject, it might be expected that teachers are more likely to "burn out" in block scheduling. However, the more manageable number of students per day and fewer preparations keep this from happening. Block scheduling seems to result in changes in teaching approaches, classrooms that are more student-centered, improved teacher morale, and increased teacher effectiveness. Teachers feel free to venture away from discussion and lecture to use more productive models of teaching.

Time Efficiencies
If school days are of the same length as those that are more traditionally scheduled, teachers find the block approach more time efficient. Block scheduling cuts in half the time needed for introducing and closing classes. Block scheduling also eliminates half of the time needed for class changes. If two six-minute class changes are eliminated each day, an hour of teaching time is gained in just one week. Fewer class changes also result in fewer discipline problems.

Increased Flexibility
Flexibility is increased because less complex teaching schedules create more opportunities for cooperative teaching strategies, such as team teaching and interdisciplinary studies. Block scheduling also increases the number of nontraditional activity-based courses that can be offered.

Advantages for Students

The benefits of block scheduling are not limited to teachers. Students also benefit.

Long-Term Learning
The block scheduling format, due to its emphasis on in-depth study, appears to provide an environment that better accommodates how students learn and retain information. New research on how the brain functions shows that the brain--through its continual associations of ideas--relates incoming information to what is already known. Whereas traditional class settings use class time to dispense facts and drill, with students resorting to memorization for the short term, block sessions help students make deeper connections within their knowledge bases for the long term. In the schedule's blocks on uninterrupted focus, students more readily detect patterns--and thus meaning--between the whole of a concept and its parts. In addition, during a block, students study fewer subjects each term, making their workload easier to manage. Students experience fewer outside distractions and are better able to concentrate.

Heightened Success Rates
Research indicates that block scheduling results in heightened student success rates because students seem to learn more and retain it better. Problem-solving skills are better developed, grades improve, and the failure rate drops.

Improved Relationships and Work
Some of the advantages for teachers also are advantages for students. Improved student-teacher relationships and more manageable workloads help students. Students feel better about what they are learning, outside interference is reduced, and students are better able to concentrate. Generally, students feel better organized and are more aware of their progress in the class.

Home-related Benefits
Parents report home-related benefits to block scheduling. There are fewer hassles about school, and students have a more positive attitude in general and take more responsibility for their homework. All of this results in a more relaxed family environment.

Curricular Advantages
Many curricular advantages are also present for students. At-risk students can be scheduled for required courses during the first term. If they do not pass the course, they can repeat it during the second term instead of taking an elective. This opportunity reduces the need for summer school or other remedial work. Better students can move ahead more quickly, and those students who develop a late interest in certain courses can take more of them. For example, a student can take two consecutive math courses in one year. Block scheduling has been shown to increase the number of students who take upper-level classes and earn advanced studies diplomas.

Modified Block Scheduling

Some schools use a modified form of block scheduling that combines two core classes. Under this system, students might study social studies for 90 minutes each day during the first semester and science during the second semester. Another modification has students taking English and social studies blocks in one semester and science and mathematics blocks in the second. Such scheduling encourages the teachers to institute team teaching or similar interdisciplinary approaches.

Questions About Block Scheduling Answered

The unique educational opportunity of block scheduling is being uncovered by teachers across the educational spectrum. Some surprising answers to questions have been revealed in this process.

Will all lessons have to be replanned to accommodate the extended class periods?
Overall, teachers have happily found that they can now cover all of the material they want to present with time to pursue topics in-depth and with a greater opportunity to fully address student needs. As class sessions are driven by content and skills assessment, they are also guided by a partnership between students and teachers to achieve the decided-upon learning goals.

Will my understanding of students' abilities be increased and addressed through extended time together?
The majority of teachers report a much greater return of student understanding from the teachers' investment of time than they expected. Extended classes also allow for more easily addressing the needs of the different learning styles of the students.

Will lower level students find the block scheduling format too challenging to their levels of concentration?
Reports indicate students feel less threatened by the extended class format, which allows them more time to question the teachers about subject matter they don't understand. Block scheduling also provides time for peer teaching and collaboration.

Will block scheduling be more work than it is worth to students and teachers?
Those teachers who have ventured into the block scheduling approach report that not only does it expand student learning, it also enriches and enlivens their own instruction.

Disadvantages to Block Scheduling

While many teachers and administrators prefer block scheduling, some feel there are distinct disadvantages.

Resistance to Change in Teaching Style
Implementing block scheduling in the classroom requires more than simply extending the class periods--teachers must alter their teaching for the new system to be successful. For example, Joan Bush, a researcher with the Irving, Texas, school district, observed 48 randomly selected high school classrooms in her district. She found that teachers were still spending the bulk of their time either lecturing or monitoring students as they did seat work. Longer lectures paired with independent seat work are not the point of block scheduling; rather, the goal is increased classroom interaction so that students can spend more time on a subject and ask questions as needed.

Desire to Maintain the Status Quo
Another potential disadvantage to block scheduling is the resistance of teachers and the public to implementing a new system. Some teachers may be reluctant to alter their long-observed practice of school scheduling and calendars. The public, including parents and business leaders, sometimes resist upsetting patterns such as vacations and student-employment practices.

Reduced Social Time and Increased Restlessness for Students
The elimination of a few class changes during the day reduces the amount of time that students socialize with their friends. Sometimes early adolescents, whose restlessness and hormonal surges make them function best within shorter parcels of time, can have trouble sitting for longer class periods. The transitions between classes, rather than being viewed as lost instructional time, become a moment for students to stretch their legs and clear their heads.

Read More About Block Scheduling

ERIC Digest
This article in the ERIC Digest discusses block scheduling, including advantages and disadvantages, challenges, advice from experts, as well as additional resources on the subject.

Block Scheduling Issues
This Web page includes a long list of links related to block scheduling.

School Change and Block Scheduling at Fritsche Middle School (Milwaukee Public Schools)
This Web site presents information on the experience in block scheduling of Fritsche Middle School, including the unique aspects of middle school instruction.

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