The Pros and Cons of Block Schedules

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The world of education is abounding with reforms from changes like implementing block scheduling to year round education to vouchers. There are many ideas about how to improve public schools, but it's important for educators to look at the pros and cons of any reform before it is applied more widely. Contingency plans should be made. And most important of all, extra time for professional development and additional planning must be granted to teachers and administrators alike to learn about implementing any new reform. Strategies for implementing block schedules can help make the transition easier and more effective.

I taught under a modular (block) schedule for seven years. Unlike a traditional school day which typically has six classes of 50 minutes each, our school adopted a schedule with two traditional days a week and three nontraditional days. During the three nontraditional days, teachers met with only four classes for 80 minutes each. Because of time constraints, teachers lost out on planning time one day a week but were given 80 minutes the other four days. This system is definitely not typical. Another type of block schedule which many schools use is called the 4X4 Schedule. In this schedule, students take four instead of six classes each quarter. Each year-long class only meets for one semester. Each semester class only meets for a quarter.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to these modified block schedules. Following is a list gleaned over the years from personal experience and additional research.

Pros of Block Scheduling

  • A teacher sees fewer students during the day, thereby giving them the ability to spend more time with each individual.
  • Because of the increased span of teaching time, longer cooperative learning activities can be completed in one class periods. Also, there is more time for labs in science classes.
  • Students have less information to deal with over the course of a school day.
  • Because of the decreased number of classes, students have less homework on any given day during the week.
  • The teacher is able to provide more varied instruction during class. Thus, it is easier to deal with students with disabilities and differing learning styles.
  • Planning periods are longer. It seems that with a longer span of time, planning becomes easier and more gets done.

Cons of Block Scheduling

  • In the modified block I taught under, teachers only saw students four times a week (for ex. Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri) which means that students lost continuity on their off days.
  • If a student misses a day under the modular schedule, that student is actually missing two, or sometimes even more days.
  • No matter how well planned, on many days the teacher ends up with 10-15 minutes for the students to begin their homework. When all of the time is added up at the end of the semester, less information and material is covered. This is especially true in a modified block schedule.
  • In the 4X4 schedule, all of the information taught in a semester course has to be covered in one quarter. In an Economics class at a typical high school, if the quarter happens to be during football season while homecoming is occurring, the teacher can lose valuable class time due to interruptions.
  • In the 4X4, it is especially difficult to cover the necessary material for Advanced Placement courses in the time allotted. Many schools have to extend United States History, for example, so that it is a two part course and lasts the entire year in order to get all of the material taught.
  • There is no evidence the block scheduling works. Two studies, one done in Canada and one completed in Texas, have some definite negatives to say about the Block Schedule.
  • Here are more arguments against Block Scheduling.


When used in the proper setting with the right students and a well-prepared teacher, block scheduling can be very useful. Schools need to look hard at their reasons for implementation. They also 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 a good teacher is just that, no matter what schedule they teach under. They adapt.

As explained previously, there are different types of block schedules. One of them is the Modified Block where a school continues to teach six periods a day but increases the time of the classes. The other type of Block is the 4X4 where only four courses are taken at any one time, and they each last approximately 80 minutes. Even though these systems are very different, many of the modifications are the same. Unless otherwise noted, these strategies can be used for each.

Strategies for Teaching Under the Block Schedule

  1. Multiple Activities in any class period are a necessity. Research shows that the attention span of even an adult is not much more than 30 minutes. Therefore, lecturing for 80 minutes will not only kill your voice but also result in less learning. Instead, instruction should be varied. Ideas include debateswhole group discussions, role plays, simulations, and other cooperative learning activities.
  2. Try to engage as many of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences as you can. This ensures that every student is reached according to his/her strengths.
  3. Vary the learning modalities: Kinestheticvisual, or auditory. Similar to Multiple Intelligences, this ensures that you keep the attention of all the students. This is especially important if your room is full of kinesthetic learners as mine often is.
  4. Do not expect too much of yourself. Especially in the beginning, you will over and under plan many times. That's okay. I always try to have two or three mini-lessons on hand to fill any extra time if I don't plan correctly.
  1. Take full advantage of the time allotted to institute those projects you never thought you'd be able to do. One of the main advantages to longer times is you can start and finish a simulation.
  2. Do not forget the importance of daily review. That extra time can really come in handy for both beginning and ending reviews.
  3. For the 4X4: It is very important not to waste even one day, especially if you teach a course that only lasts one semester as I often do. You have to cover the same material in one quarter. Therefore, it will often seem that you are covering a new unit every other day. Make sure to reassure the students and their parents that this is a necessity because of the schedule. Also, make sure to decide what is and is not important to your curriculum. When you are running short on time, cover what's truly essential.
  4. For the 4X4: According to a study in Texas, Advanced Placement courses are hurt the worst by the 4X4. Try if you can to get your AP classes extended. For example, if you are teaching AP American History, try to get it for the whole year. The studies show that students who participated in these were harmed less. Make sure that the students understand how rigorous the course will be if you only have them for one semester. Also, you might consider making it more selective to participate in AP so that students are up to the challenge.
  1. Finally, Do not feel as if you have to be the center of attention all of the time. Give your students independent work. Allow them to work in groups. Modular schedules, in many ways, can be very taxing on a teacher, so keep your chin up. If worse comes to worse, check out the top ten tips to manage teacher burnout for great ideas.