Block Scheduling

Does your school use block scheduling? Some years back, and I’m sure someone who remembers the particulars can fill us in with a comment, lots of schools jumped on the block scheduling bandwagon. Block scheduling would allow students to take, in most cases, eight classes a year. This would accomplish several things — first, students would be able to work for longer stretches without interruptions, which would help them get more done; second, students who failed would have more wiggle room in their schedules to re-take classes; and finally, it would serve to make the day less hectic.

I currently teach a modified block schedule. Each of my classes meets for 45 minutes three days a week. One day a week, each class has a double-block of 90 minutes. There is also one day off for each class. It took me a while to learn my schedule; it’s a bit complicated. I’m used to it now, and I have figured out how to make it work, but I won’t pretend it wasn’t an adjustment. Students, on the other hand, take a total of eight classes (one of which is either Study Hall or Spanish) each year except senior year when their schedules are often very light. On any given day, they will attend six classes, two of which will be 90 minutes long.

My daughter goes to a school that runs on an A/B block. She has four classes each day, but they alternate. On A day, she takes Science, Orchestra, Social Studies, and a Focus class (organization, skills, minimester-type classes, such as Southern Music). On B day, she takes Math, Language Arts, Reading, and a Connections class that changes each nine weeks (this past nine weeks it was Spanish).

My first year teaching, I taught a 4X4 block schedule, which meant students took four classes each day, but each was 90 minutes long. Two semesters were covered in one semester. I didn’t find it worked that well with English, frankly, and in order to keep my disadvantaged, low-level, non-reading students interested in English for 90 minutes, I most often wound up teaching a lesson and giving them an assignment based on the lesson. They almost never had homework, and if they did, it wasn’t done.

It looks like some schools may be moving away from block schedules. The Washington Post reports that schools in Ann Arundel may drop an A/B block schedule due to teacher complaints of a heavy workload. Rather than teaching five classes and planning for one period, teachers were teaching six classes and planning for two periods over two days. The increased workload of one class did not outweigh the “extra” planning period, teachers found. The extra class typically expanded the average teacher’s number of students from 150 to 180.

When I taught a 4×4 block, I taught three classes and had a 90 minute planning period. I also had about 90-100 studens. This was really nice. But I can see how it would not work the same with an A/B schedule. At my current school, the normal workload for a teacher is five classes, and not six as in Ann Arundel schools. Because I am also the coordinator for a new track in the 10th grade, I actually teach four classes. We also sub for each other whenever one of us is out, so some of my blocks are designated sub periods. Some days of my week are very hard — Mondays, for example, I teach three single blocks and one double block; all four of my classes meet. On Tuesdays, my lightest day, I teach one single block and one double block. While I teach two doubles and a single on Wednesday, it doesn’t seem as hectic as Monday, because I don’t meet with all my students. Thursdays are heavy meeting days for me, aside from the three single blocks I teach. I teach all four classes in a single block on Fridays. I also have a small number of students. I currently teach about 65 students in four classes — my largest class has 20 students.

Class size and the number of blocks make a huge difference. I don’t know how I could do an adequate job teaching writing without enough time to grade all the student essays. As a matter of fact, I feel like it takes me forever to grade a set of essays as it is. I can’t imagine having to grade 180 essays each time. It makes my head spin.

Ann Arundel has a serious problem on its hands. The block schedule was cited as the number one reason for leaving on surveys taken by teachers leaving the system. To solve the problem, Ann Arundel is looking at the 4X4 block. I think they will find that while it will lighten the workload, the 4X4 schedule is not without problems. The article cites issues with AP and IB classes. I don’t know enough about IB to comment, but I know that AP tests typically take the school year for which to prepare. It is problematic to contain these classes in one semester — if students take them first semester, too much time elapses between the end of the semester and May, when the tests are taken. Electives, especially ongoing classes like Band, Chorus, and Orchestra, will find it difficult — students will have scheduling issues. We didn’t have that problem at the school where I taught 4X4 because we didn’t have those classes available to students. The schedule also allows for gaps in learning. A student can take Algebra I first semester of freshman year, for instance, and possibly not take math again until second semester sophomore year.

You can read some research in block scheduling from EducationNews.org.

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4 thoughts on “Block Scheduling

  1. Hello, I have been reading your and your husband's blogs for a while, and I can't help but comment this time! I am from Hungary, a teacher and an IB graduate. In Hungary the National Curriculum defines the maximum and minimum number of hours/week a certain grade can have, as well as define the minimum number of hours/subject a class must have. In first grade it is 8 hrs of Hungarian, 4.5 hours of Mathematics (4 hours first semester, 5 hours second semester or the other way around), 1.5 hour of music, 2 hours of P.E., 1 hour of crafts, environmental studies and art each. Later on more and more subjects are added on. Because of the nature of the curriculum, every class has a different time table for every day of the week, so teachers' time tables vary greatly. Also there aren't very many chances for electives till the last two years of high school, and still then everyone has to take the same core subjects. My way out of having to study Chrmistry and Physics was IB. IB requires that diploma candidates take at least 7 classes: 3 high level, 3 sub level and 100 hours of Theory of Knowledge. The Diploma program lasts two years and HL subjects have to average 5 hrs/week for the two years, while SL subjects have to average 3 hrs/week. In Hungary we had it exactly that way for two years, but many American schools (both of those that I attended as an exchange student) simply did that SL subjects were tested at the end of junior year, while HL subjects were tested at the end of senior year. It was all nice and good for both the students and the IBO. With the 4×4 schedule the problem with IB testing is that while IB offers testing twice a year, they usually don't collerate with American semester/quarter ends. IB exams are in November and May. Therefore, if someone takes SL Biology in the first semester of the school year, there is a good chance that a good portion of the material is not covered before the November examination date, however, by May a lot of time lapsed (same as with the AP exams) not bringing good results. Anyway, sorry for the lengthy comment.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Agnes. I suspected it would have a negative impact on IB, too, but not having any experience, I wasn't prepared to speculate. I'm glad you came by and cleared things up.

  3. Hi, I was interested to read your post. I am an IB English teacher and my school is considering a change to our scheduling. Currently we are on an 8-day rotation, and students have six of 8 classes per day, each class being 1 hour long. All teachers teach a 60% course load. The problem is that HL and SL students get the same contact time. The SL's get too much and the HL's do not get enough. The fix would be to have the HL's meet more often than the SL's but that creates a scheduling challege. It still amazes that me that there are so many schools in the world and it is still such a challenge for schools to "get this right." Is there any other experiment in the world that has so many people devoting so much time, money and energy to a problem without achieving a solution?

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