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The Effects of Block Scheduling on Middle School Students

by Dr. Christopher J. Dorais

Block scheduling is a popular solution to the problem of covering required core curriculum in a limited amount of time. While block scheduling does not work for all schools, it does provide some advantages over the traditional sequential structure. Instead of having first-hour English, and second-hour science, block schedules might have English in the first and second hour on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and science during the same times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. In effect, block schedules create longer class times, but offer the classes less frequently.

Flexibility

One key advantage to a block schedule is that it gives tremendous flexibility for the teacher to offer both breadth and depth into a given topic. If an English teacher always wanted to read the entire "Diary of Anne Frank" in one week, this may have been impossible under a normal schedule, but not with a block schedule. With less time spent dealing with administrative tasks, such as attendance, and no down-time in the hallway passing between classes, block scheduling allows for longer periods of uninterrupted work in class.

Testing Advantage

Under a block schedule, teachers are free to write longer and more detailed tests because students have double or perhaps even triple the amount of time to take the tests. This obviously improves both test security and integrity. Students who tend to take a little more time with these tests may find that the block schedule better accommodates their needs. This may be one reason a majority of the research on block scheduling does seem to indicate that student performance on assessments increases slightly.

Endless Classroom

But not all is ideal in the block schedule. Complaints and dissatisfaction by both teachers and students of too much time in the material in one sitting are fairly common. Even for the most enthusiastic student or teacher, sometimes more science, math, or gym, is not better. It is just more. This dissatisfaction on the part of the teaching staff may be a contributing reason why middle school performance does not automatically increase once block scheduling is implemented. If the teaching staff does not buy in to the program, it will not translate into increased student achievement and satisfaction.

Mixed Results

The research on block scheduling is far from conclusive. Student performance does not automatically increase under block scheduling But the research does indicate that student discipline referrals drop significantly with block scheduling. The reason for this is simple. Most student incidents occur in the hallway during the passing of classes. Under block schedules, student passing time in the hall may be reduced by nearly 50 percent. Less time in the unsupervised hallway means less student interaction and less potential conflict. Safe schools are something every student, teacher, administrator, and parent wants, so for this reason alone block scheduling has a positive effect on the middle school student.

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