Block scheduling is an innovation in schools that has earned increasing support from educators, parents, and students. This type of scheduling allows for longer class periods that offer increased instruction time. Public and private high schools that adopt the block schedule are looking for increased student engagement and improved academic outcomes. What, exactly, is block scheduling? And how can it improve learning?
What is a Block Schedule?
In a high school that uses block scheduling, a student attends three or four classes each day instead of the traditional six to eight. Students in a block schedule attend fewer classes for a longer period, or block, of time. So, where a student in a traditional schedule attends between six and eight classes daily that last for 45 minutes, the block schedule lengthens the time of each class to 90 minutes.
There are several different types of block schedules. Different schools develop their specific block scheduling to suit the specific needs of their students. Three most commonly used are:
- In a traditional block schedule, a student attends the same four classes every day for 90 days. During the second semester, the student takes four new classes. Over the course of the year, the student takes eight different classes.
- In an A/B block schedule, each day of the week is designated an A day or a B day. Day A has four periods, and day B has four different ones. Two days for a given week can be designated A days, two designated B days, and the third a mixed day with eight shorter periods.
- In a 4x4 block schedule, classes are divided into quarters. Some classes are only held for one-quarter or 45 days, but others take place over two-quarters or 90 days. After a student attends the same four classes for 45 days, their schedule may change.
Why Use a Block Schedule?
According to supporters, block scheduling is more effective than traditional scheduling because of the additional instructional time available to students. With fewer periods and less time during the school day devoted to changing classes, students can focus and accomplish more.
Teachers can provide students with more attention and one-on-one support and can engage students in more sustained in-depth learning activities that could not be easily completed in 40 or 50 minutes. Also, teachers can utilize varied instructional strategies instead of the traditional lecture. For example:
- Experiential learning. A block schedule allows for hands-on or project based learning experiences that actively engage students in the learning process. Moreover, with teamwork-based assignments, students take more responsibility for their learning. They are challenged to figure out how to engage in relevant research and investigation, and how to apply a set of skills learned in team presentations. The model encourages active engagement in the real world and strengthens the connection to classroom assignments.
- Socratic seminars. The longer class period encourages in-depth discussions that lead to deeper understanding of a reading assignment. Students are instructed to explore their ideas about a particular topic and question other members of the class in an open discussion. The teacher avoids directing the discussion. Students thrive in these seminars, once they discover that their opinion is valued and that the teacher is not searching for specific "right answers."
When teachers have the opportunity to use a variety of instructional methods, the longer class periods can support optimal student learning. For example, block scheduling encourages:
- Longer class periods focused on fewer subject areas
- Less lecture and more hands-on exploration and research
- Deeper learning through more discussion
Is block scheduling an effective innovation in education? Longer class periods, focused subject areas, more hands-on learning, and deeper conversations can be advantageous for both teachers and students. When the conditions are right - the right setting, with the right students, and well-prepared teachers - block schedules can be very successful.