to block or not to block

Snow day number 2.  I’ve never been one to complain about getting paid for time off.  The timing is a bit concerning, though.  Exams are supposed to start tomorrow.  We have been promised at least one day of review whenever we do return to school before exams begin, but that still puts my block class in quite the predicament.  Originally, I was supposed to have three full school days to review this week, then one additional afternoon review session.  Now I will have to fit all of that review into one regular school day and one afternoon session.

Usually when I am not pleased with a situation, I change the circumstances.  In this case, there are only two variables that could be changed – the weather, or the scheduling.  I do not claim to have any control over the weather, so I’d like to examine scheduling for a moment.

Currently, our school runs on what we call a “blended” schedule.  This means that students have some block semester-long class and some yearlong classes.  The block classes meet 90 minutes every day for one semester.  The yearlong classes meet 48 minutes every day for the entire year.  Currently educators teach 5 out of 7 classes.  Next year our school system is changing to the A/B model – students will take some block classes every other day for the entire year, and some block classes for the semester.  Teachers will teach 6 out of 8 classes.  When the decision on next year’s high school schedules was being made, the debate grew quite heated.  Teachers had to demand a voice in the discussion process, and even then it seemed as though the decision had already been made and our input was merely a formality.  Our “super”intendent read some research that seemed promising.  Our budget for next year also looks grim, and the A/B schedule will save more money than other options, supposedly.  A synopsis of the school system’s schedules can be found here.

Before I proceed, you should know this:  I am not an expert.  I do not have a masters degree.  I do not have a PhD.  I have not published any research papers.  I am just the one who implements these schedules every single day.

It has been my experience that block scheduling has a greater negative impact on student achievement than traditional yearlong courses.  When students are in the same room for 90 minutes, they get restless.  When they get restless, they get in trouble.  Instruction becomes disrupted, and objectives are not met.  All of the sudden it’s January, and time for final exams.

I’m curious to know what other districts and states have implemented, and how well it works.  When did the “traditional” schedule (7 periods a day) become bad, and why?

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