What happened to block scheduling?


Might I suggest a visit to our school?

I just read this article: “Fiddling with Time in Classrooms” by Larry Cuban, and found it quite interesting. First of all, block scheduling in the USA seems to be very different from what we do in our school. ” Block scheduling takes the traditional daily schedule of 6-8 classes a day of between 45-50 minutes–a schedule that dates back to the 1920s–and reorganizes the day into blocks of 60-90 minutes for various subjects on different days of the week.

In our school, block scheduling is usually no more than two blocks with two subjects. As an example my English class this year is on Mondays from 08:30 until 13:10 with a half hour lunch break from 11:00 till 11:30. Below you can see an example of our schedule for year one students. Color codes tell you that 2 blocks are the most we do each day, and most days we only do one. Tuesdays are covered by the same teacher who can choose between a whole day of geography or social studies. Wednesday the science class has a break in the middle with PE.

Our school has done this successfully for over 12 years now and most students and teachers really love this way of working. (I don’t think you could ever say that everyone in an organization is satisfied at all times). Reading Larry’s post, I found the research that was provided in the article fascinating. Like this one:

Learning in America is a prisoner of time. For the past 150 years, American
public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. The rule, only rarely
voiced, is simple: learn what you can in the time we make available. It should
surprise no one that some bright, hard-working students do reasonably well.
Everyone else-from the typical student to the dropout- runs into trouble. (National
Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994)

Because I know a lot of people in different countries are working on changing the concept of time as the constant. I wrote about that in this article about mastery learning here. One of the success criteria in block scheduling is that teacher moves from traditional lecture classrooms to more student-centered learning.  Here is more from the research Larry provided that you can find here.

Teachers participating in a 4×4 block schedule see fewer students per day, teach
fewer classes per day, and have longer planning periods (Rettig & Canady, 1996). Thus,
teachers develop closer relationships with their students and are able to provide students
with more individualized instruction (Canady & Rettig, 1996). Teachers waste less time
on administrative tasks, such as taking roll, announcements, start-up activities, and wrapup
(Irmsher, 1996). In addition to utilizing more engaging instructional strategies,
teachers have time to implement more varied and authentic assessment strategies
(Freeman & Maruyama, 1995).

I would like to find more current research on the topic if you can help me there I would be very happy to hear from you,  but what I can add from my own experience is this. More time for each student, easier to connect and work on student relationships, ample time to help each individual student. When students are absent a day, they only have one (at the most two) subjects to catch up on. (We offer workshops in the afternoons in math). Teachers vary their instructions accordingly, knowing that almost 5 hours is too long a time to spend on traditional lectures.  Using technology and exploring deeper learning makes sense when you have block scheduling. I really recommend it! If you are a school leader considering this, please pay us a visit!

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