To Block or Not to Block?

That’s the question. Our middle school principal, Bill Caldwell, has been working with his grades 7 & 8 faculty and students all year to determine which is best, an A/B block schedule or a more traditional 42 minute period every day. Our high school is traditional with no interest in changing. This is a debate that schools across the nation have been having for over a decade now.

Personally, it seems to me that it’s just a way to configure time and it doesn’t much matter how it’s scheduled, what matters is what our teachers and students do with that time. What instructional strategies are the teachers using? Are our students actively engaged with content during the full block? Are teachers using 42 minutes of the block for instruction and then giving time to work on homework in class? Are they accomplishing much more because they can start something and sustain it for a longer time period?

I would challenge that our best teachers optimize the time they have, no matter how it’s configured. Most of the research on blocking time in a schedule speaks to this same thought–it doesn’t seem to make a significant difference in our achievement. Instead this question often comes down to likes/dislikes.

I’m not sure what our final decision will be as an administrative team. I’m interested to hear where Mr. Caldwell’s research led him and what his recommendation will be. We’ll have a great discussion on it Thursday at our admin meeting, which I love–through our analysis, discussion and debate, I think we come to better decisions.

What do you think? This blog is a great place for readers to weigh in on the ideas presented and so far, not many readers are doing so. If you have any thoughts on the topic that you want us to throw into the discussion, speak now. I’m listening.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  1. Having taught 7 years in an extremely progressive middle school in the late 90’s – gurued by the likes of Jim Bean and Richard Strong we adopted the block wholeheartedly – asking an adolescent youth who is used to hi def gaming, on 60 in plasmas , blu rays , psp’s , ipods , cell phones, instant web info etc etc to be attentive for 80 minutes in 7th grade math while you blab about fractions , English class grammer work etc is absoultely a bizzare/ absurd concept – the only way it works is with an extremely dynamic – talented – energetic staff who allow this age group freedom to wiggle, move , DO stuff – etc etc all of which take a huge mount of effort/energy/ talent – a rarity in most districts – As a science educator we have always been in the block with our double lab periods , but we have a nice bag of tricks/ labs/ tactile- kinethstetic acticities to motivate and keep them somewhat on task – also we had huge problems with absenteeism / discipline – miss a day or 2 and you are then a week behind – get bored = act out – does seem to function fairly well at upper levels – AP courses – college etc – my 2 cents – shorten MS age class periods to 30 minutes – use a half hour at the end of day for enrichment / social / club /group/ remedial or fun-motivational activities – build bonds and more well rounded / motivated learners.

  2. Beyond the benefits of increased class duration, schools using block scheduling report other significant benefits. For example, a local school here in Michigan has four 78 minute blocks each day, and alternates A B schedules each day all semester long. Since their students are enrolled in 7 courses, that leaves 1 “Flex Block” every other day.

    The Flex Block is used as follows:

    “Homeroom Advisories” where the same 20 students meet with the same staff member for all four years at the school. This gives the students a social and administrative home base at the school with adult guidance from day 1 [23 minutes]

    “Open House” time allows students to report to any classroom in the building for credit recovery, to receive tutoring, participate in club activities, catch up on homework, complete make-up tests, etc. Attendance is predetermined with (and strictly monitored by) each students Homeroom Advisor. [45 minutes]

    So beyond having longer 78 minute class periods, block scheduling helps eliminate “legitimate absences” from a student’s regularly scheduled class (i.e. school club, make-up test, etc.) It also can be used build in a certain amount of flexibility in to the structure of the school week, thereby giving administrators and teachers a mechanism to implement innovative new programs like Advisories.

  3. This year we have taken our math department and blocked some classes. Based on scores and/or desire some students were placed in a block Algebra class (which meets all year rather than 1 semester). It seems to be working.

  4. Our high school is on the block and semestering, so teachers have 78 minutes every day, same kids. Our middle school is more traditional with 42 minute blocks. In both cases, I see quality teaching, but I tend to see a bit deeper teaching in the block because there is more time in a class to build projects with rigor and follow them through.

  5. I think you have the right question: how will teachers use the time.

    I’d like to share an old idea:

    When our school was choosing a schedule (we were dumping a schedule nobody liked), we looked at what some other schools did. (I am a teacher, but also the scheduler)

    My second choice was selected. But the discussion of A/B type options was interesting. Teachers thought the extended time would be good — occasionally, not every day. Of course that wasn’t 100%, but that was the overall sense.

    I’ve often imagined that if I were in a place that was choosing a new schedule, that I would float a hybrid.

    45 (or 43) minutes 4 days a week, except one day, say Wednesday. R=regular.


    I think I would like this. I think I would use it well. But I don’t know about your district.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *