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Traditional Vs. Block Scheduling in Middle School

by Marion J. Herbert

The benefits and drawbacks of traditional and block scheduling in middle schools have been debated since the early 1990s. In a traditional schedule, students have eight to 10 short periods, which meet every day throughout the school year. In block schedules, classes are held for longer periods, often for 90 minutes, either for one semester or on a rotating schedule throughout the school year.

Traditional Scheduling

Traditional scheduling divides up a student’s core classes so they meet daily throughout the school year. In middle school, these core classes can include math, science, language arts, social studies, foreign language, physical education and electives such as computers or band. According to the Association for Middle Level Education, the average time spent per period averages nationally at 51 minutes. Many argue that middle school students, whose ages range from 11 to 14 years old, have an easier time focusing on many different subjects for shorter periods of time.

The Block Schedule Alternative

Unlike traditional schedules, block scheduling has classes meeting for longer periods of time and not all in the same day. One type of block schedule is called “4 x 4 scheduling,” in which students, for one semester, have four classes per day. Likewise, their other four classes meet four times per day in the final semester. “A/B scheduling” is another option that has students meeting for longer periods each day; the periods alternate throughout the week (A days and B days) so each course is completed throughout the full year. There are also modified block schedules, which have some courses meeting for longer periods and others meeting for traditional shorter periods.

The Benefits of Block Scheduling

Advocates of block scheduling argue that having longer, more intensive periods is beneficial to both the students and teacher. A 1999 article published by the Association of Middle Level Education contends that longer periods allow for reflective learning, and that traditional scheduling, which has many different subjects crammed into one day, limits instructional time because of general housekeeping such as collecting homework and taking attendance.

Drawbacks Remain

For middle school students, it may be difficult to sit still and keep attentive for the longer, 90-minute periods offered by block scheduling. Also, if the block schedules don’t rotate throughout the day, teachers will only be with students for one semester and may not be able to get to know their students as well as with traditional scheduling. Because more is taught in one block of time, if a student misses just one day of school, he may have actually one, two or even three days worth of lessons that must be made up.

About the Author

Marion J. Herbert is an experienced writer, editor and communications professional based in the greater New York City region. She is a graduate of Marist College and has worked for "District Administration" magazine and is currently the communications manager of a large Connecticut-based nonprofit organization.

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