Block scheduling is an arrangement of teaching time in schools that allows for longer class periods. Classes occur less frequently over the course of the week. Class time may range from 90 minutes to three hours depending on the subject matter. Supporters of block scheduling claim that the system allows for more focus and depth in each subject and that less time is wasted on students switching classrooms and settling in.
In 1959, J. Lloyd Trump suggested creating classes of different duration depending on the structure of the class and the needs of the students. Lectures, laboratory time and support sessions were all accorded a certain amount of time. In 1983, A Nation At Risk reported that American high school students were underscoring. Educators and teachers were subsequently forced to analyze the traditional system of scheduling classes and to make some changes. In 1994, the National Commission on Time and Learning recommended that schools put less emphasis on how much time students spend in class, and more on the quality of their learning. Block scheduling was proposed in order to give teachers enough time to engage their students and to spend time with individual students who required extra attention. During the 90s, increasing numbers of both middle and high schools realized the educational value of block scheduling and implemented the system into their schedules.
Where previously class periods were 50 minutes long, block scheduling made them 90 minutes long. Block scheduling of 4 by 4 involves taking different courses each half-year. Students have two periods in the morning and two in the afternoon. Other systems involve 100 minute periods; students take two main classes and two electives each semester. With the traditional scheduling, students took the same class throughout the entire year. In block scheduling, a class will only run for one semester. This allows students to take a greater number of classes over their four years in high school without compromising the amount of attention and time devoted to each class. As reported by teachers in the block scheduling system, discipline becomes less of an issue, teachers can work more effectively with their students, there is a lower dropout rate and teachers can devote more time and energy to improving the curriculum. Students' grades improved, attendance increased and more students took advanced courses. Teachers are also able to vary their teaching methods; they can balance out lecture time with class activities; this allows for more classroom participation. Teachers were able to spend less time on routines, procedures, discipline management and review.
Before block scheduling was first implemented, many teachers were concerned that students would lose both interest and focus in longer class periods. Yet teachers soon realized that block scheduling enabled more interactive activities, such as class discussion and cooperative learning. Teachers were afforded more time to actively engage their students. Students also benefited from having less homework and fewer quizzes and tests. Any student who failed a class in the first semester could take it again in the second semester with students in the same age group. This greatly increased student self-esteem and allowed them the opportunity to graduate with their classmates.
Though the benefits to block scheduling are numerous, teachers and administrators have discovered certain setbacks. Students are required to spend more time studying independently of the classroom setting. Teachers must plan carefully and much more extensively so that lessons will keep their students' attention for a long period of time. Language teachers in particular thought that a long gap between the classes did not help students retain information. Some have critiqued block scheduling, saying that instructional time is lost. Yet when routine activities, class review and taking attendance are taken into account, the amounts of instructional time in traditional scheduling and block scheduling are comparable.
According to J. Allen Green, author of Block Scheduling Revisited, teachers must make a extra leap in order for block scheduling to be as effective as possible: "It is important to note that merely changing the amount of time students spend in class through block scheduling does not guarantee school success. Appropriate changes in instructional practices and the effective use of class time have been found to be essential to the success of block scheduling." Teachers must vary their strategies and limit their time spent lecturing so as to keep their students' interest. Teachers must also be trained before and during teaching in the block scheduling system. Studies conducted across America have found that block scheduling has no negative effect on student grades and in fact reduces the number of students failing classes.