Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Block" Scheduling: the good, the bad, and the ugly

My school works on a 90 minute block scheduling system. I see my classes every day for 90 minutes for half of the school year. In January we switch classes and begin again. Through a few different schools I have worked on a 45 and 60 minute period schedule as well and can honestly say that I do prefer blocks. That's not to say its a perfect system and there certainly are challenges.

Another school in our district is in the process of switching from 45 minute all year classes to the same 90 minute 1/2 year block system we are on. This has brought up a lot of conversation with staff from the other school and really got me to thinking about why we use this system.

  • Being a science teacher I love having the extended time with students on lab days. We have plenty of time to go over the task, do the task, and clean up.
  • I love project based learning and assessments. The 90 minutes allows individuals or groups large chunks of time to work on projects in class.
  • Writing papers is a time consuming process, having 90 minutes in the computer lab to work on a lab report, essay, or other writing task is awesome. Slower writers have time to think through the process and make some progress and the faster writers have time to do editing and proofreading.
  • If you have that one class or one student who you just can't wait to be done with ... you only have them for half the year.
  • When developing new lessons or curriculum you have two chances in the same year to work on perfecting a lesson.
  • I have time to go over homework, do a lesson, do an activity about that lesson, and have students start their homework in case they have any questions.

  • A block of 90 minutes is a really long time for a student to be on the same task. Planning for this length of time requires planning in multiple different activities to break up the time and keep students focused.
  • Only having students for half the year can mean making some compromises on what topics you cover - you can only squeeze so much into their minds at once.
  • That class that is getting under your skin...yep you are with them for 90 minutes...aka the longest 1.5 hours of your day.

So what does a typical class look like for me on this 90 minute block??

5 minutes - students enter, get out their homework, complete a bellringer question, I do attendance and answer questions.
10 minutes - go over homework or questions that we left hanging from the last class
20 minutes - direct instruction...goes over a lab procedure, lecturing on a powerpoint, going over notes students need to take.
30-45 minutes - activity/game/reading/lab something student based where they are working and I move around the room to answer questions or guide the process.
10-15 minutes - wrap up and debrief from the activity
10-15 minutes - assign homework and have students start / exit ticket

This obviously isn't set in stone. Lab days can be almost the whole 90 minutes in the lab. Some days if we have a lot of content to go through we spend longer on direct instruction. If that is the case I do try to split it up into two 15-20 chunks of time with something in between to give them a break from listening to me.

My biggest piece of advice is to always plan to do multiple activities in one class period. If you think you are going to spend 90 minutes lecturing from a powerpoint and keep 16 and 17 year old kids focused then you have magical powers that I don't possess.

I'm curious what others think on the block vs. period scheduling debate. Feel free to comment and throw in your two cents!

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