The world of education is abounding with reforms from changes like implementing block scheduling to year round education to vouchers. It seems every person has their own opinion of how to 'fix' education. The fact of the matter is, we educators really are doing a good job. However with events such as Columbine and politicians railing against what they term 'failing' schools, it seems that public education can't get a fair hearing. Every new idea that comes along seems to be the latest 'savior' of the school system. Looping. Multi-age grouping. Block schedules. Each has merits but in the end each has its own problems too. It is important for educators to look at the pros and cons of any reform before it is applied in the schools. Contingency plans need to 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 the new reform. Strategies for implementing block schedules can be taught to help make the transition easier and more effective.
Following is the author's personal background with block scheduling. I taught under a modular 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 schedules. Following is a list gleaned over the years from personal experience and additional research.
Pros of Block Scheduling
- A teacher sees less 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.
- For more arguments supporting the block schedule click here.
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.
- For more arguments against Block Scheduling click here.
In the end is Block Scheduling a good thing? I believe that 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.