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Block scheduling is a type of academic scheduling in which each student has fewer classes per day (e.g. 4). It is more common in middle and high schools than in primary schools. Each class is scheduled for a longer period of time than normal (e.g. 90 minutes instead of 50). In one form of block scheduling, a single class will meet every day for a number of weeks, after which another class will take its place. In another form, daily classes rotate through a changing daily cycle.
Blocks offer more concentrated experiences of subjects, with fewer classes daily. There may be less regular amounts of homework for any given class.
Conversion to block scheduling became a relatively widespread trend in the 1990s for middle schools and high schools in the United States. Prior to that, many schools scheduled classes such that a student saw every one of their teachers each day. Classes were approximately 40–60 minutes long, but under block scheduling, they became approximately 90 minutes long.
In some cases, such as in medical school or other intensive university program, a block schedule may mean taking one class at a time, all day, every day, until all of the material is covered. A normal university course might then be completed in three or four weeks of focused effort on a single topic. This is sometimes called "One Course At A Time" ("OCAAT") (see Colorado College and Cornell College). When used as a supplement change instead of the normal schedule, this approach is sometimes called a mini-mester.
Waldorf schools traditionally employ a mixed approach. Certain academic subjects are taught in intensive three to five week blocks known as main lesson blocks, while other subjects are taught in regularly meeting skills classes.
|Example of 4×4 block scheduling|
|Time||Quarter 1||Quarter 2||Quarter 3||Quarter 4|
|08:00 – 09:25||English 1||Science 1||Spanish 1||Health|
|09:35 – 11:00||Math 1||English 2||Woods||Spanish 2|
|11:00 – 11:35||Lunch|
|11:35 – 13:00 (1:00PM)||Computer||Ind. Tech||Phy Ed||History 2|
|13:10 (1:10PM) – 14:50 (2:50PM)||History 1||Math 2||Bus. Ed||Science 2|
|Other example of block scheduling|
|Time||Mon (A)||Tue (B)||Wed (A)||Thu (B)||Fri (Mixed)|
|08:45 – 10:20||Math||English||Math||English||Math|
|10:20 – 12:05||English|
|12:05 – 12:45||Lunch|
|12:50 – 14:20 (2:20PM)||History||Science||History||Science||Science|
|14:25 (2:25PM) – 16:00 (4:00PM)||History|
|Another example of block scheduling|
|Time||Semester 1||Semester 2|
|08:30 – 10:00||Band||Band|
|10:00 – 11:30||French 1||French 2|
|11:30 – 12:00||Lunch|
|12:00 – 13:30 (1:30PM)||Science 1||Math 1|
|13:30 (1:30PM) – 15:00 (3:00PM)||English 1||History 1|
|Other example of block scheduling|
|Time||Semester 1||Semester 2|
|10:55-12:25||Spanish I||Spanish II|
|12:30 – 12:50||Lunch A (between 2nd and 3rd Periods)|
|12:55 – 13:15 (1:15PM)||Lunch B (in the middle of 3rd Period)|
|13:20 (1:20PM) – 13:40 (1:40PM)||Lunch C (between 3rd and 4th Periods)|
|13:45 (1:45PM) – 15:15 (3:15PM)||Algebra I||Algebra II|
|Other example of block scheduling|
|Time||Mon (A)||Tue (B)||Wed (A)||Thu (B)||Fri (A)|
|07:25 – 08:55||English||Science||English||Science||English|
|09:00 – 10:30||HPE||Word Processing||HPE||Word Processing||HPE|
|10:35 – 12:05||World History II||Latin III||World History II||Latin III||World History II|
|10:30 – 11:00||Lunch 1 (go to lunch before going to class)|
|11:10 – 11:40||Lunch 2 (go to lunch in the middle of class)|
|12:00 – 12:30||Lunch 3 (go to lunch at the end of class and go to your next class after)|
|12:35 – 14:05 (2:05PM)||Principles Of Technology I||Science||Principles Of Technology I||Science||Principles Of Technology I|
One variety of block scheduling, called A/B block scheduling, is shown in the example table. Instead of taking six classes every day, students attend three classes every other day and spend double the amount of continuous time in each class. Students can take 4 classes during one semester and another 4 the next. The example given here reverts to a six-period day on Fridays. Another way of distributing the classes would be to have "A" and "B" days on alternate Fridays, or to alternate "ABABA" weeks with "BABAB" weeks.
Another common block system exists in which students spend up to 100 minutes per class, and earn four credits each semester. Excluding very rare occasions, students at schools using this system take two core classes and two electives per semester. Some schools modify this system further to use one of the mid-day periods for students to take optional year-long classes (usually band) that take half of the period length and take another year-long class during the rest of the period (such as math or journalism). Under such a system most of the classes taken on a year-long basis have all students participating, however it is not uncommon for journalism or yearbook classes to operate under the normal system and only have a few students who leave or arrive halfway through the period. It is also not uncommon for these classes to be scheduled as two credits, and taken both semesters.
A method called 4×4 block scheduling splits the academic year into quarters, and uses a four-period day. This leaves eight slots available for classes during a semester (four classes in each of two quarters). The 4×4 method is somewhat more flexible in that students can take two sequential classes (such as Algebra 1 and 2) in the same semester (in different quarters), which would not be possible on a traditional schedule. This also allows students in their final year to fail a third-quarter class but repeat it in the fourth quarter in order to graduate. One more variant of the block schedule is a day 1–8 schedule, in which each day a student would have two blocks, lunch, an everyday class, and then a final block. The reason why there are 8 days in the schedule is because for one set of the days, each class (besides the everyday class) is shifted up one block, and on the other day each class is shifted down one block from its normal position. This results in year-long classes, which are in a constant cycle of switching positions to allow the students to have a variety of time that classes happen. For example, on Day 1, it would go Block 1, Block 2, Lunch, Everyday class, and then Block 3. On Day 3, the next day that all of those classes meet, the schedule would be Block 3, Block 1, Lunch, Everyday class, Block 2. The same would happen with the even days, and in reverse on Days 7 and 8. (Days 5 and 6 are meant to have the same schedule on Days 1 and 2).
"Where we were able to combine data to produce summary effect sizes, we found that 4 x 4 block scheduling resulted in higher cross subject achievement than traditional schedules. However, the outcome average cross-subject achievement could conceal worsening performance in some subjects and better performance in others."
Some schools have compensated for this by making AP courses last for the entire school year, providing essentially double the instruction time of normal classes, but this results in a dramatic reduction in the number of courses a student can take. Some schools that make AP courses year long offset this by having students always choose a pair of AP courses during class registration. The student will go to the first AP class one day, and the other AP course the next day. Therefore, the student takes the same number of courses as other students, but both AP classes last for the duration of the year.
A systematic review on Block Scheduling was also conducted by Dickson et al. (2010) at the EPPI-Centre which asserts that there is no conclusive evidence to support the introduction of policy guidance on the use of block scheduling in secondary schools in the UK. Although the findings do not indicate that participating in block schedules would produce negative outcomes for pupils across subjects, neither are the positive effects of block scheduling strong enough to recommend their implementation.
Some critics believe that certain subjects suffer from a lack of daily exposure to subject matter and practice that occurs with an A/B block schedule. Courses like mathematics, foreign languages, and music may benefit from daily practice and suffer from a lack thereof. Block scheduling can result in gaps of a day or days (or even weeks or months in some circumstances) where students are receiving no reinforcement of instruction in a specific subject like math or history, and critics say this results in retention problems and the need for more remedial review. Some observers similarly feel that summer vacation has a similar effect of interrupting the learning and retention process forcing a need to repeat material at the start of a new school year in the Fall.
A University of Virginia study of 8,000 college students found that students who had block scheduling in high school performed worse in college science courses.
Students who miss a block-scheduled day can miss a considerable amount of material in a single subject, possibly making it more difficult to catch up. One way this can be mitigated is by making course material available online, which allows students to catch up outside of school, and another way is by using a flipped learning system.
Some students are better able to manage their time with nightly homework in every class, while other students do better with larger homework assignments that are spaced out over several days. Some subjects may benefit from daily drills while other subjects may lend themselves to less frequent homework projects. Mid-term transfers between schools with different schedules can be problematic in cases where the schedules are different.
- Trostli, Robert (January 2001). "Main lesson block teaching in the Waldorf School" (PDF). Research Bulletin of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education. 6 (1).
- Clarence M. Edwards. "Organizing a World Class High School". Archived from the original on December 5, 1998.
- "Block Schedules and Student Performance on AP® Examinations" (PDF). The College Board. May 1998. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2011.
- "What is the effect of block scheduling on academic achievement? A systematic review". EPPI-Centre.
- "The Case Against Block Scheduling" by Jeff Lindsay
- "Block scheduling: Not helping high school students perform better in college science" by Robert Tai
- "Block Scheduling Revisited" by J. Allen Queen (Original link no longer available. Redirected to the Internet Archive)
- Collection of web links about block scheduling
- Block Scheduling – by Karen Irmsher of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management
- Block Scheduling: Is this Right for America’s Public Schools?- by John W. Cooper
- Block Scheduling: Discussion and links at the Illinois Loop website