California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Block schedules

Block scheduling combined with interdisciplinary team teaching has become a common way of meeting the many requirements of middle grades education. Block schedules help overcome many of the constraints imposed by conventional six-, seven-, or eight-period days by having classes that are longer than the typical 50-minute class period. Students take as many courses as before (sometimes more), but the courses are not offered the entire school year.

Although many variations of block scheduling exist, the simplest involves breaking the school day into fewer but longer segments, each segment equivalent to three or four conventional periods. Teams of teachers responsible for two or more subjects then corroboratively apportion time within the block according to the nature of the specific instructional goals.

Teachers who use block scheduling usually cite several advantages:

  • It gives teachers the ability to get to know the students better.
  • It provides time to get the students involved in projects.
  • It allows time to offer electives and support classes.
  • It allows PLC teachers to have common preparation periods in their schedules.
  • It allows more time to explore in-depth academic content through project-based and traditional learning.

However, research does not prove the effects of block scheduling on student achievement. In Block Scheduling Revisited, the author noted that there has been a great deal of research on block scheduling and that it neither helps nor harms student achievement. It is, however, harmful when used for extended lectures, but teachers can learn to make effective use of it. In addition, it does give time for more in-depth work on each topic. The authors of the study concluded, “Appropriate changes in instructional practices and the effective use of class time have been found to be essential to the success of block scheduling.” The study also emphasizes that the shift to block scheduling requires a great deal of staff development, especially in the writing of pacing guides.1

Data from two studies showed that block scheduling had a larger positive impact on low-achieving students than traditional scheduling did.2

In another study, the authors studied the characteristics of grouping and scheduling practices that seem to have been helpful for low-income Latino students. Core teacher teams, where each team shared a planning period and had the same students for science, math, language arts, and social studies, existed at almost all of the schools. In addition, five of the nine schools had a form of block scheduling.3

Several key concerns about block scheduling center on unintended effects, including the following:

  • Adolescent learners are generally unable to sustain focus for 90 minutes.  Effective teaching during a 90-minute block requires that teachers rethink lesson delivery to incorporate movement, activities, and student-centered instruction. Teachers do not simply extend their lesson or try to deliver two 50-minute lectures in a 90-minute period. 
  • Block scheduling may result in reduced total course time. As a result, teachers may not be able to cover all the material, especially higher-level material.
  • Attendance problems are another concern. Missing one day of school in a block schedule format is equivalent to missing two or more days in a traditional schedule format.4
  • An every-other-day structure does not work for all students.  Some schools have developed a modified block schedule to overcome or minimize this challenge with a daily bridge or study skills class. 

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Seven- or eight-period days

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Four by four block


Footnotes
1J. Allen Queen, “Block Scheduling Revisited,” Kappan Online, Vol. 82, No. 3 (2000), 214-222.
2C. W. Lewis et al., “The Effects of Full and Alternative Day Block Scheduling on Language Arts and Science Achievement in a Junior High School,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, 11 (2003).
3Dan Jesse, Alan Davis, and Nancy Pokorny, “High Achieving Middle Schools for Latino Students in Poverty,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Vol. 9 (2004), 33, 34.
4Works in Progress: A Report on Middle and High School Improvement Programs (PDF; Outside Source). Washington, D.C.: The Comprehensive School Reform Quality Center, American Institutes for Research, January 2005, 10.

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