What is a Block Schedule?

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Block scheduling is a system for scheduling junior high or high school days, usually by replacing the historical scheduling method of six or seven 40-50 minute class periods with class periods that are longer in duration and meet fewer times during the week. For instance, a traditional block schedule class period may have 90-120 minutes and convene every two days instead of every day. In this article, we will discuss how block scheduling works.

A block schedule is a scheduling system for the middle- or high-school day, usually by replacing a more traditional schedule of six or seven 40–50 minute daily periods with longer class periods that meet fewer times each day and week. For instance, a typical block-schedule class might last 90 or 120 minutes and meet every other day instead of daily.

School-by-school variations in block-scheduling systems are numerous, but the most common formulations include:

A “4 x 4” block schedule allows learners to take four 90-minute courses every day and finish a course in one semester rather than a full school year.

An “A/B” or “alternating-day” block schedule in which learners take eight 90-minute courses that meet every other day.

A “trimester” schedule in which learners take two or three core courses simultaneously, with each class meeting daily, over three 60-day trimesters.

A “75-15-75-15” schedule in which learners take four 75-minute courses every day and finish classes in a semester, with each semester followed by an intensive 15-day learning-enrichment course or remedial program. A variation is the “75-75-30” schedule, which uses only a single 30-day intersession rather than two 15-day intersessions.

A “Copernican” schedule in which learners have longer courses for core educational subjects during one half of the school day and shorter daily periods for electives such as physical education or music during the second half of the day.

Debating the Pros and Cons of Block Scheduling

Block scheduling has proven itself to be a very effective school scheduling strategy. Still, its effectiveness is not without debate. In this article, we will debate the pros and cons of block scheduling.

Pros

Fewer class periods and disruptions during a school day reduce the amount of time that educators spend on routine administrative or class-management assignments—such as taking attendance, handing out and collecting contents, or preparing for and wrapping up activities—which increases the total amount of time learners are engaged in more meaningful learning activities.

Recent studies have found that significant amounts of class time are usually devoted to non-teaching assignments, in some cases, leaving only 15 or 20 minutes (out of 45 or 50) for instruction and learning. In a traditional eight-period school day, learners also spend more time in the hallways and moving between courses, which further reduces the school day devoted to learning and may also increase disciplinary issues.

Teachers can utilize more varied or innovative teaching strategies when class periods are longer—they can cover more content with fewer interruptions, provide learners with more attention and one-on-one support. They can engage learners in more sustained, in-depth learning activities, including more sophisticated projects, teamwork-based exercises, or other activities that could not be easily finished in 40 or 50 minutes.

The more learners that educators have to see each day, the less time and attention they can devote to each learner. Consequently, learner-educator relationships may not be as strong, and learners, particularly those with significant learning needs or disorders, may not get the personal attention and support they may need to succeed in a course.

Scheduling fewer courses per day reduces burdens on both educators and learners. For example, in a traditional eight-period day, educators need to prepare for up to eight courses and possibly double the number of learners. Consequently, educators may be forced to rush the grading of work, provide less substantive feedback to learners, or hastily plan and organize lessons.

Learners must also prepare for more courses, which can be overwhelming and hurt learning. For instance, homework assignments may need to be more superficial since educators must consider the time it will take learners to finish homework for six or more courses on a given night.

Cons

Critics of block schedules claim that learners (particularly at certain developmental stages) cannot remain focused for longer periods, that knowledge retention will be diminished if courses do not meet every day, or that learners will fall behind more readily if they miss a day. The “4 x 4 block schedule” is more criticized since learners may end up with a half-year or even yearlong gap between courses. For instance, learners might take French I during the first semester of their freshman year. Still, their French II course will not be scheduled until the second semester of their sophomore year, resulting in a twelve-month gap in language instruction.

Critics may also question whether educators teach differently when courses are longer or whether educators have received enough professional development to modify their teaching strategies or lessons in ways that will make the most efficient utilization of longer periods.

Negative perceptions of block schedules come not from the strategy itself but from failed attempts to implement such a schedule in a school or from educators who have had a negative experience with a poorly organized block-scheduling strategy. Because block scheduling often requires significant changes in how lessons are structured and taught, educators may also resist or dislike the system because they feel less confident with the new format or emotionally attached to more familiar scheduling systems.

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