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The ABCs of Block Schedule Teaching

Kim Haynes

Among all the resources teachers wish they had more of, time is always on top of the list. How often do you get to a key point in a lesson – and the bell rings? 

Block scheduling is meant to address those lost teachable moments that occur when students are shuffled to six classes a day. Sometimes called “modular scheduling,” this approach divides the school day into longer class periods, sending students to fewer classes each day.

The ABCs of Block Schedule Teaching

Different Approaches to Scheduling

  • North Side High follows a traditional schedule. Students go to six classes a day. Each class is 50 minutes. Students take year-long (two-semester long) courses.
  • South Side High follows a “4x4" block schedule. Students go to four classes a day. Each class is 75 minutes. Students complete a year-long curriculum in one semester.
  • Central High follows a “modified block” schedule. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, students go to six classes a day, each class 50 minutes. On Wednesday and Thursday, students go to three classes a day, each 100 minutes long. The modified block may or may not allow students to complete a year-long curriculum in one semester.


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The Benefits and Drawbacks of Block Scheduling
Teachers who have embraced block scheduling say it’s the triumph of “depth” over “breadth.” At a time when teachers feel pressured to cover all the material, block scheduling allows them to have the time they need to go in depth on a topic. The longer class periods are ideal for labs, tests, or cooperative learning activities, plus teachers have more time to respond to students with special needs or adjust for different learning styles. Students have less homework (because they have fewer class periods in a day) and more time to really understand the concepts they are being taught.


On the other hand, it makes class time even more precious. One missed day is the equivalent of two or more days in a traditional system. That makes it easier for students to fall behind and harder for teachers to adjust for assemblies, fire drills, or snow days. The 4x4 schedule means that classes don’t meet every day, so students and teachers may struggle to stay “in the flow” of what’s happening in a particular class. Some teachers struggle to teach a year’s worth of content in a semester, even with longer class periods, and this can be particularly difficult for AP teachers.


Block scheduling is still a relatively new phenomenon. It has been slowly gaining credibility over the last decade, but there isn’t enough conclusive research to prove it’s a better way to teach. However, many teachers who have switched to block or modified block schedule swear by it.


My school is switching to block – what do I do?


#1: Don’t panic.
Block schedule will be an adjustment, and right now an eighty or ninety minute class sounds like forever, but you’ll be surprised how fast it goes.


#2: Plan ahead.
What activities do you already do that could use that extra 20 minutes? Tests, writing assignments, cooperative learning, labs, multi-step projects -- if you’re going to a modified block format, make sure to schedule those on a block day. If you’re used to seeing students every day, you may have to adjust your plans – and homework – to an every-other-day format.


#3: Schedule multiple activities in each period.
Students can’t sit still and work on one thing for 75 or more minutes. Plan for at least three shorter activities (or an activity with multiple steps) within a single block period to help students stay focused. Also, make sure to have some back-up plans in case an activity doesn’t take as long as you expected.

Try some of these tips for 5-minute fillers, so you never find yourself with instructional "dead air."

#4: Think outside the box.
Was there an interesting lesson you wanted to try, but didn’t have the time? Now’s your chance. Block periods allow for debates, simulation activities, guest speakers, trips to the school library or computer lab, showing a movie, or having students put on a skit or panel discussion. It may take some time to find the new activities to expand your repertoire, but you may find that you like teaching in a block schedule even more!


Are you for or against block scheduling? How do you handle teaching in a block schedule? Share in the comments section!  


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