Walking the halls of La Plata High School, one might hear snippets of various conversations fading in and out of perception as the speakers pass. Throughout the closing months of the 2015-16 school year, and leapfrogging summer to the opening weeks of the current school year, one might have heard of a certain rumor circulating throughout the campus- the rumor of the inevitable transition to block schedule-coming to a school near you!
While at first this proposition may seem unnecessary or unsettling, if you take a good look at the facts, you’ll find the idea isn’t as daunting as it may initially appear.
The truth is that a block schedule will affect each classroom differently. For example, while most classrooms have at least a few days for students to work on extended, multi-day projects and activities, experiment-heavy science classes, such as biology or chemistry, could easily stand to benefit from a longer class period. In these classes, students are often forced to break off a lab at an awkward or inconvenient time when the bell rings unexpectedly; this is a concept demonstration is interrupted due to the shorter period format. Consequently, most science teachers and teachers, whose curriculum require such activities, are in favor of a block schedule. However, on days when these classes are not working on a lab or in classes that don’t have such time-sensitive structures, teachers will have to make major adjustments and reorganizations of class time.
A major fear in the anti-block schedule camp is that the teachers will only use the time taken in a traditional classroom schedule and, due to lack of planning or inability to transition, will leave the excess time free, potentially allowing students to complete homework or a worksheet. Thus, they will never use the block schedule to its fullest potential. In that way, they are actually losing productivity instead of gaining it, as the schedule intends. This, while maybe seeming appealing to students who would enjoy a break time, would only serve to create less practiced, less prepared students. Therefore, to prevent this inefficient class structure, teachers would have to adjust their teaching style and shape more traditional scheduling-based learning plans to accommodate the longer window of time they have for instruction and activities.
However, what if students get bored? Lose attention? Plainly don’t feel like being in class anymore? Well, during the transition period, where block schedule will be new and unfamiliar, one can expect students, conditioned to the period schedule, to become easily bored. Being unaccustomed to the new arrangement of their day, they will often wonder, “When is this class over anyway?” However, once the block schedule is normal and the traditional schedule a mere memory, students will, in general, surely feel more comfortable in the block configuration. To keep a student’s attention is an important thing, though, and this is why many teachers plan on adapting their class structure to an extended period in a way that is interesting and innovative. This may involve including different class sections and activities throughout the block, such as beginning with notes and then completing a lab or activity in order to demonstrate or practice what the students learn at the beginning of class. In this way, the students would be engaging in more than one activity a class and would be able to immediately see the principles that they had just learned in action, cementing the principle more solidly in their memory.
Lastly, a worry of forgetting learned material in the off-days between classes is a legitimate concern for those wary of this new schedule. After all, except for homework, students may not have review until the next class time and may forget the new principles learned in class. This concern is only made greater in that, since the classes are longer, there will be more material processed on the days class is held, only to be forgotten the next day without practice. Some teachers may then, in lieu of class, give supplementary work or a larger amount of homework than would be given in a traditional period schedule. Practiced widely, this may create an overload of supplementary work that students may not be able to manage. Also, in an effort to retain knowledge from classes, students may then begin to practice forms of studying found more at a collegiate level- unassigned notes, digging deeper into the material independently, even simply looking over class notes rather than relying on homework. While these are certainly important skills to develop, are they enough to replace a day of designated class time? For some students it will be, but for those that require teacher-led instruction, this aspect of block scheduling may be difficult, especially in the transition period when the format is still unfamiliar.
So, while, we can expect to find a potentially rougher time during the transition between traditional and block schedule, as one can find in any transition, and we’ll be sure to see some struggle initially within the block arrangement when they excelled in the traditional, and vise versa, the transition to this new format for our classes is just that- a format. It is a new schedule and order for the subjects students take and shouldn’t be made to seem any more intimidating or appalling than it is. Therefore, I would encourage the students at La Plata High School to give block scheduling a fair chance, as you may find that it is more comfortable and fitting to you than the traditional schedule ever was.