The Pros and Cons of Block Schedules

Nontraditional school schedules can be taxing but do have benefits

A school classroom

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Education is full of ideas like year-round schooling, vouchers, and block scheduling, so it's important for administrators and educators to look at the pros and cons of an idea before implementing it. Strategies for one popular idea, block schedules, can help make the transition easier and more effective.

In block scheduling—unlike a traditional school day that typically has six 50-minute classes—the school might schedule two traditional days a week, with six 50-minute classes, and three nontraditional days, with only four classes that meet for 80 minutes each. Another type of block schedule that many schools use is called the 4X4 schedule, where students take four classes instead of six each quarter. Each yearlong class only meets for one semester. Each semester class only meets for a quarter.

There are pros and cons to block schedules compared to traditional school scheduling.

Block Scheduling Pros

In block scheduling, a teacher sees fewer students during the day, thereby giving him or her the ability to spend more time with each one. Because of the increased span of teaching time, longer cooperative learning activities can be completed in one class period. There is more time for labs in science classes. Students also have less information to deal with during each school day, but over the course of a semester or quarter, they can delve more deeply into the curriculum of four classes, instead of six.

Because of the decreased number of classes, students also have less homework on any given day. The teacher is able to provide more varied instruction during class, and he may find it easier to deal with students with disabilities and different learning styles. Planning periods are longer, allowing educators to spend more time preparing for classes and doing the administrative work required for teaching, such as grading, contacting parents, and meeting with fellow teachers.

Block Scheduling Cons

In a block schedule, teachers typically only see students four times a week—such as Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday—which means that students lose continuity on the days they don't see a given teacher. If a student misses a day under the block schedule, he is actually missing the equivalent of nearly two days compared to the traditional 50-minute-class schedule.

No matter how well planned, on many days, the teacher can end up with 10 to 15 minutes of extra time, where students often begin their homework. When all of this time is added up at the end of the semester, the teacher covers less information and curriculum.

In the 4X4 schedule, the teacher has to cover all of the required information in one quarter. In an economics class at a typical high school, for example, if the quarter happens to be during football season and while homecoming is occurring, the teacher can lose valuable class time due to interruptions.

In the 4X4 schedule, it is especially difficult to cover the necessary material for Advanced Placement courses in the time allotted. To compensate, many schools have to extend United States history so that it is a two-part course and lasts the entire year in order for the teacher to cover all of the required material.

Strategies for Teaching Under the Block Schedule

When used in the proper setting with the right students and a well-prepared teacher, block scheduling can be very useful. However, schools need to keep a close eye on such things as test scores and discipline problems to see if the schedule has any noticeable effect. In the end, it is important to remember that good teachers are just that; regardless of what schedule they teach under, they adapt.

Though block schedule classes are longer than traditional class periods, lecturing for 80 minutes will likely cause any teacher to become hoarse over the course of a few days and possibly lose the attention of students, resulting in decreased learning. Instead, teachers should vary their instruction in a block schedule, using teaching techniques such as debates, whole group discussions, role-plays, simulations, and other cooperative learning activities.

Other strategies for block schedule teaching include:

  • Engaging Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences and tapping into varying the learning modalities, such as kinesthetic, visual, or auditory. This can help a teacher keep up the interest and attention of students.
  • Having two or three mini-lessons on hand to fill any extra time in case the lesson plan doesn't take the full block schedule period.
  • Taking full advantage of the time allotted to institute projects that can be difficult to complete in shorter class periods.
  • Doing a review of material from previous lessons. This is especially important in block schedule formats where students don't see the teacher every day.

In a block schedule, a teacher need not feel he or she has to be the center of attention at all times during the class period. Giving students independent work and allowing them to work in groups are good strategies for these longer class periods. Block schedules can be very taxing on a teacher, and it's important to use strategies to manage teacher burnout since educators are the glue that holds block schedules together.