Steps for Improving School Climate in Block Scheduling

Article excerpt

Teachers and students will experience difficulties implementing a block schedule, the authors point out, but the positive outcomes make the initial struggles worthwhile.

As the mania for school reform continues to sweep the nation, educators enter the waters of change with a degree of trepidation. Change always sparks feelings of concern, but the fear of stagnation can be far greater. One innovation currently being instituted successfully in schools across the nation is block scheduling, which is revolutionizing the opportunities afforded high school students. The positive changes in the climate of schools on a block schedule stem in part from an increased ability to meet the needs of individual students. Smaller classes, a wider variety of subjects offered, and the opportunity for in-depth, hands-on study are all concrete outcomes of the use of extended class periods. As the diversity of the student population increases, the flexibility of block scheduling becomes ever more desirable.

Participating in the development of a block schedule and surviving its first year of implementation require an open mind, a flexible spirit, and a dedication to the success of the chosen schedule. Schools that reform their schedules can take comfort in the collective experience of educators who have already made such a change. Schools that have used block schedules are seeing their students become motivated toward exploration and discovery in their classes. But making a change of this magnitude requires the establishment of achievable goals or steps. The following points should help administrators and teachers consider the intricacies of the models and understand the plans that they must make in order to adopt a new schedule successfully.

Basics of Block Scheduling

A number of models of block scheduling exist, but they all share the goal of allowing schools to adopt flexible programs in a variety of ways, depending on the school and students' needs. The 4 x 4 model takes the format of two semesters of four classes, each 90 minutes in length. Modifications can be made to the schedule, such as an additional abbreviated period for remediation or for yearlong courses.

The A/B schedule is different in that students will take periods 1 through 4 on A days and then switch to periods 5 through 8 on B days. Another difference is that studies in specific subject areas continue over an entire school year, rather than lasting for just one semester. But there are possibilities for modification here as well.

Yet another option is microcourses, which make longer blocks of time available for certain classes. These classes last for several weeks or months and are paired with courses that follow a traditional yearlong schedule.

The choice of a particular model of block scheduling requires close analysis of the school, its teachers, and its students. Involving the school community in choosing a model and molding the schedule to meet the needs of the students helps to build a sense of ownership of the model.

Curriculum Alignment

After a school community has chosen a specific model of block scheduling, the curriculum must be modified by expanding course offerings, apprenticeship opportunities, postsecondary classes, and graduation requirements. Block scheduling allows for the addition of numerous electives in such areas as astronomy, mythology, technical writing, computer programming, and advanced foreign languages. On surveys, students have responded favorably to such proposed elective courses, and their subsequent enrollment in these classes has borne out their interest. The opportunity to take a wider range of vocational, art, and higher-level core classes energizes students and enables them to see positive possibilities for the future.

A new block schedule also creates opportunities for programs that take place off the school grounds. Apprenticeships, mentoring programs, and postsecondary study in a university or community college are all possibilities. …