Reorganizing the schedule

Creating an authentic learning environment

Finding time to interact with each and every student

I just had the pleasure of hosting a workshop for teachers of English and other languages (French, German and Spanish) in Harstad, and I told them about our block scheduling. Many teachers told me their school does block scheduling too. I then replied that block scheduling once every other 4-5 weeks is not really block scheduling. I know many schools have a system where they save  45-minutes of class every week and then make it into a whole day of teaching once or twice a month. This is common in many countries I think, at least I know they do something similar in the USA.

I read this article: “Fiddling with Time in Classrooms” by Larry Cuban some time ago, 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. In fact when we have visitors from other schools or countries I always take them for a tour of our school. Depending on what the students and teachers are doing, I usually invite myself into a class unannounced. And I ask the students what they think about block scheduling. They are all very positive. And they always recommend our guests to do the same, to change their system.  The advantage for us was that we did this when the school was new, and therefore we didn’t really change anything. We just did it! I know starting with a new school is easier than when you attempt to change the existing practice, like flipping your whole system. You will always find resistance to such a radical change. That said, if you are serious about changing your school and moving towards the 21st-century requirements, this is the way to go. Reading Larry’s post, I found the research that was provided in the article interesting to support our system. Like this :

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 also found this research to be interesting. It shows that changing the timetable alone will not increase learning. That aligns well with the experiences at my school. We did introduce the use of computers and no textbooks in many subjects at the same time we introduced block scheduling. It turned out to be a great way to move the attention from the teachers to the students. In other words, student-centered learning environment. Because no one can teach using traditional pedagogy in such an environment. Combined with the new demands for deep learning and these new areas to be covered in every subject in school in Norway, in my opinion, this is the only way to go.

Sustainable development, democracy and citizenship, public health and life skills. See more info here.

A whole day of English gives my class time to engage in discussions and to work on interesting, relevant and complex issues that are described in our national framework for learning.

What you should  consider?

Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:

  1. Timetabling changes alone are not sufficient to improve learning.
  2. Teachers need to alter the way that they teach, and should plan and organise different kinds of learning activities to obtain benefits.
  3. Have timetabling changes been matched to curriculum goals and teaching and learning objectives (such as longer lessons for science experiments)?
  4. Have you considered how longer lessons may provide opportunities for other promising approaches, such as improving the amount of feedback that students get from the teacher or from each other? Source: Summa research. 

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 student individually . 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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