Introduction, an example, and contributors
Topics:A. Rationale for the Block Scheduling System
B. Variations of “Block” systems
C. Methods Useful for Block Instruction
D. Thoughts, Opinions, Concerns
E. Positive Personal Experiences
F. Negative Personal Experiences
G. Positive & Negative Observations
H. Block as Concerns FL Specifically
I. Further Reference Sources
an example, and contributors
For most of the 20th century the Carnegie Unit has governed academic credit in American high schools. Each state stipulated the minimum number of instruction minutes necessary for a course to award credit. Now many in education are thinking of the old system as a “lock step” that has held back progress. We are looking for alternatives, and here in the last decade of the century, some form of Block Scheduling is the newest thinking (or newest fad, some will say).
With the following brief query from Kathy Kitts looking for information about this new critter called Block and Aileen Peek’s sudden and unanticipated plunge into a Block instructional sequence -both in July 1994- begins FLTeach’s examination of the Block Schedule also known as “alternative” scheduling.
94/07 Subject: FL Curriculum and the Block Schedule
My high school is heading towards the block schedule. (I teach at both
high school and university levels.) Any specific advice or help you may
have on curriculum and methods is greatly appreciated!
94/07 Subject: Re: FL AND BLOCK: CALL FOR DATA AND EXPERIENCE
I have to address this issue of block scheduling by saying that I know
nothing about it. I only found out about its existence in public schools
when I found myself starting this year teaching French every other day
to students in Jr. high. I am used to the traditional schedule of 50
min. periods, 5 periods a day everyday. I am curious to see how I will
do teaching students for 90 min. at a time every other day. I have to
say truthfully that I am a little nervous about it, not that I will not
be sufficiently prepared but because it is something totally brand new
for me. Any other information or opinions are welcome.
It is easy to imagine that these FL teachers find themselves compelled to prepare to teach in an unfamiliar milieu, one in which they do not feel adequately enough informed so as to be confident of giving their students “their money’s worth.” Over the first four years of FLTeach, this type situation is repeatedly described in letters of foreign language teachers to their colleagues.
And many, many of those colleagues have responded with their professional thoughts, positive and/or negative experiences and best wishes for the upcoming challenges. Over 300 emails to FLTeach have had Block Scheduling as the subject. (And they’ve not stopped coming in, it’s just that we had to stop some place (December 1997) to put this presentation together.)
As apparently was the case with Kathy Kitts, all too often teachers have learned about their shift to Block Scheduling through rumors at Christmas which become administrative announcements shortly after spring break to the effect that come September some sort of Block Scheduling would be in effect. Aileen Peek apparently found out about one month before instruction was to begin.
Let me detail how one system did it differently:
In autumn 1995 my own high school began consideration of the block (or “alternative”) scheduling. We explored (as a faculty and administration together!) what this concept was and how it might be integrated into our school.
Most of our faculty viewed an introductory videotape touting the advantages of this new idea. (from Robert Canaday) Then our principal paid for 12 teachers and three administrators to attend a three-day workshop (Fri/Sat/Sun) on block scheduling given by a working principal from Pennsylvania who had had three years experience with “the block.” When we returned to school most of us were excited as we started to organize our impressions and form committees to investigate different aspects of such a transition. We had eight teachers from Wasson H.S. in Colorado Springs come to talk with us. (At least one them thought the block was better for the teachers than for the students.) Several teams of faculty checked out the Bloc System as implemented in other school systems within 100 miles. The principal who had spoken at the workshop came for a one day talk to the entire high school staff.
Probably the key administrative decision that helped make this process coalesce and become really productive followed two maxims laid down by a significant article in an educational journal that I can no longer identify: 1)Block Scheduling isn’t likely to work very well if you don’t get your faculty involved; and 2)The final decision about going to Block Scheduling must be made by the faculty itself. (This was not the way important decisions had been made in our school historically.) In 1997 idea of faculty decision was interpreted to mean a vote, today more administrators are talking in the less tangible terms of decision by “consensus.”
Those ideas were declared up front and --despite some wavering toward the end of the process-- adhered to by the school administration. The school board passed a resolution stating no teacher would lose a job for the first three years if the faculty approved the move to Block Scheduling. (Hmm?) The faculty vote on the block took place in April 1997, 18 months after the discussion and investigation had openly begun. Passage by the faculty would see Block Scheduling in our school district in August 1999, nearly four years after the conversation was initiated. Failure of passage would simply mean that our high school would remain on the 7-period day it had had for several years. (Up from six periods and quite a bit more work for teachers than previously. Six hours of instruction were now the norm for most teachers.)
It is quite likely that we conducted a model approach in our investigation of Block Scheduling. It was also healthy that the faculty members dug up information and shared it around. We also were forced to look at such a transition from the viewpoint of administrator’s considerations, especially since our administration had been so open and above board about their desire to see us move in this direction. Both experienced teachers and newcomers to the profession lined up on the “pro” side but on the “anti” side as well. Neither age nor experience seemed to play a role (according to my informal observation). Any teacher who was interested in being informed had considerable opportunity for exposure and information.
The result of the faculty vote (by secret ballot, naturally) I’ll not reveal; it is the process that I wanted to bring before your eyes. This stands in stark contrast to the way in which many schools have converted to the Block System.
And here are the numerous contributors
to this much discussed topic:
Jeremy Van Nieumwenhuyzen
Christine Noe de Luna
Dee Dee Hamilton
Julian Ann Fleming
Michele de Cruz-Saenz
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