Block Scheduling / A. Rationale for the Block Scheduling System

Synopsis prepared by Lee Risley
Introduction, an example, and contributors


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

A. Rationale for the Block Scheduling System

95/02 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Block scheduling

Our school was torn apart last year -- faculty, students, community --
by the "90/90" controversy (4 subjects per semester, 4 periods per day @
90 minutes, complete a year's work in a semester. We did a lot of
investigating of FL departments where the school had gone to this
schedule, and what we found was that the factors that had most
influenced people to change did not have to do with the FL learning
process. Rather, they were on the order of "now we have a longer
planning period than we did before, and we had been afraid we would have
to pick up an extra class each if we didn't." Just about all that we
talked to indicated, even if reluctantly, that not as much was being
taught in a year. Since we were concerned about our six-year program and
AP levels, we particularly inquired about effect on these upper levels.
Practically none of these schools had them;the one or two that did said
they did feel that they were not doing the level of work that had been
done before.

Everybody has to decide for themselves. As a person who has been around
through a multitude of "fixes" (just 5 or 6 years ago 7 periods instead
of 6 was supposed to be the answer to our prayers), I tend to doubt that
the clock will solve our problems.

Marilyn Barrueta


95/02 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Re: Block scheduling

I don't know if this is exactly where it first started, but our school
ended up involved in a discussion of it because of information received
from Wasson High School in Colorado Springs. This was picked up by our
English teachers and PUSHED .

Our school, after a terrible year of battling about this, is now trying
a Monday, Tuesday, and Friday normal schedule, Wednesday and Thursday on
block. The comments heard so far seem to be more based on teacher
"convenience" than pedagogical concerns -- nice to have Thursday
afternoon free because that's the way my planning period(s) happened to

Apparently the whole wave of the Coalition for Essential Schools and the
push for "restructuring" has led schools all across the nation to get on
the bandwagon to change, willy-nilly -- and all seem to be looking to
imitate whomever out there has something different. Interestingly,
Littleton, Colorado, after completely revamping their system and doing a
promotional video which was widely distributed and seen, last year (the
citizens) fired their school board and put in a more traditionally
oriented board (this was in the Wall Street Journal, but we never heard
the info disseminated in any other way).

By the way, one of our problems was that AP classes COULDN'T be put in
the second semester because that semester is cut short by about 6 weeks
of time, since exams are given at the beginning of May. Our concern was
that either AP classes would have to run the year as usual, cutting down
on the choices students would have, or all be offered in the First
semester, meaning that those students who take several APs would be
totally inundated in the first semester, and would finish their work in
January, 3 months before taking the AP exams.

Regards -- Marilyn Barrueta


95/09 From -> Sharon Bailey <>
Subject: Block Scheduling

Our high school is currently discussing the possibility of starting
block scheduling during the next school year. We are interested in any
and all information concerning alternate day schedules and four by four.
A lot of us in the elective areas are convinced that if we don't convert
to the four by four that we--the elective areas--will perish. We also
are hoping that if we go to the four by four that it may help restore
some of our "lost" areas. We also have a group of teachers that really
wants to continue as we are, because "nothing is broken." This group of
naysayers is mainly from the required areas of the curriculum. Any input
will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance for your observations.

Sharon Bailey


95/09 From -> David Marlow <>
Subject: Block Scheduling Foreign Language Classes ????

Our school system is seriously considering implementing block scheduling
over the objections of many teachers in our schools. In our county we
already have hour long periods and we feel that cramming everything into
90 minute classes in one semester or having 90 minute periods every
other day will result in a serious loss of total contact time with our
students or "cut" the continuity (in the second scenario) that we need
to keep our students progressing towards proficiency.

It is not just a matter of us not wanting to change or not wanting to
try to fix something that is not broken. We just object to the idea that
we might have to jump on the educational bandwagon again at our
students' expense. If you add up the time we would lose with block
planning, it would amount to almost six weeks of classroom contact. We
also feel that 60 minutes is a reasonable amount of time on task for our
students, considering their limited attention spans. Isn't 90 minutes
too much in a Foreign Language classroom at the high school level ?
Are our administrators trying to put the horse before the cart again ?
And will we be the ones who have to push it ?

David Marlow


97/03 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Re: Block and Retention

>I believe the most critical variables are the teacher and the teaching style.

I couldn't agree with you more, Scott, and one of my major points is
that we -- well, some -- have leaped on a time-frame bandwagon assuming
that will cure everything by "forcing" teachers to change their style.
My experience is that it doesn't in general. We should have started with
the teaching styles and worked from there, IMHO.



97/03 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Re: ABC News--"Creb" Memory

>>except for the first period of the day, students are not resting during the
>>hour immediately preceding our classes.

>My kids are so sleep-deprived that they are still resting during 1st hour.
>When schedules get screwy and I see them at a different time of the day, it's a revelation.

Another good example of education being driven by non-educative (?)
decisions. There has been a lot of publicity recently about teenagers
needing more sleep -- but we start at 7:30 a.m. because 1) the buses are
needed later for the younger kids, 2) the kids can't concentrate at 7:30
but want to get out early for work, sports, whatever, and God knows how
many other reasons.



97/03 From->
Subject: Re: Reflections on Block Scheduling

I would like to thank Marilyn on her most reasoned and understandable
analysis of block scheduling. It is the closest thing I have ever seen
as an actual analysis of the situation. I think Jody has hit the nail on
the head when she says that block scheduling is popular for reasons that
have nothing to do with learning. If the 2000+ members of FLTeach cannot
find other than anecdotal evidence, perhaps we should be suspicious.

We have just had a North Central evaluation. They have in effect told us
that we should be on block scheduling.

Bravo Marilyn and Jody.

Paul J. LaReau


97/03 From-> Scott Aborn <>
Subject: Re: Block Schedules

"I think Jody has hit the nail on the head when she says that block
scheduling is popular for reasons that have nothing to do with learning"

At the risk of being thrown in to the "Pro-Block at any cost" camp, I
disagree with such a blanket statement because it demeans those
educators who have discovered that there are educational strategies
which can be exploited better in a longer period of time. It also
dismisses those students (and their parents) who "know" that there are
learners who achieve more using techniques *more likely* to be
encountered in a block setting than in the traditional, shorter class

"If the 2000+ members of FLTeach cannot find other than anecdotal
evidence, perhaps we should be suspicious."

While anecdotal evidence may not be ideal, research is often nothing
more than the synthesis of large amounts of anecdotal evidence.
Unfortunately, we who consume that research have access only to the
researcher's interpretation of that evidence. I enjoy (and benefit from)
anecdotal evidence of the type shared on this List -- in part because it
can be challenged and discussed.



97/03 From-> Irene Moon <>
Subject: Re: Reflections on Block Scheduling

Last spring we did a survey with all 1200+ of our students, plus the
faculty and a large population of parents and community members. We
wanted to know what these populations perceived as problems, needs etc.

Based upon those results, instead of going after the block we decided to
work on school environment, motivation, study skills etc.

One very shocking finding was that only 20% of our student body looked
forward to coming to school each day. (Lest you think badly of us, we
are in the top 100 schools as selected nationwide by Money Magazine...we
have an excellent reputation for academic awards, merit scholars and
yearly award several $100,000's worth of scholarships>) My guess is that
most adolescents don't look forward to school..they're tired because
they have part time jobs so they can pay their car insurance and buy $80
concert tickets or they spend 4 hrs after school at basketball practice,
cross country meets... school is more than about learning in classrooms.

Irene Moon


97/05 From-> Richard Lee <>
Subject: Re: 8 block scheduling

I think that the important question here is, do you feel that they are
learning as much doing the skits, etc. as they would be learning doing
the other more traditional learning activities? If this is true, then
there is no problem. If however they are learning less material, and
retention is lower, it would seem that there is a problem. I would ask
if, for example, a calculus class taught in the block uses time for
skits and performances, and if not, why not?

If the block schedule is not to have a negative impact on learning, we
should be able to show that the extra time in a class period is in some
way compensating for the lack of daily classes. If other activities are
included because the kids just can't stay plugged in to more
conventional activities, and the other "activities" result in reduced
coverage of material and reduced retention, AND we can't define the
learning which is gained in the skits, etc. in such a way as to
demonstrate that it is more valuable in terms of language learning than
the traditional methods produced, there is a net loss. Otherwise, we are
left with a 50 minute (or whatever length the true learning activities
might be) class period, and the remainder is little more than recess.

Viewed from that angle, the block results in a significant loss of real
class time.

It's that simple as far as I can see. We are told that the loss of daily
classes is compensated for by the longer periods, and that there is a
net gain, because "more is less". Is that in fact true, or are we
deceiving ourselves? In my mind it depends on what we do with that extra
time to achieve the learning that we would have achieved with the class
period which has been eliminated.

I think that it is important to keep in mind that we are in class to
learn. The "fun" part is a secondary consideration which may or may not
accompany the learning, but in my mind at least, it should not
overshadow the learning. We could just forget the language learning
component completely and just have fun for the full 100 minutes.

This is, of course, more difficult for a math teacher, who has to
prepare the kids with a well defined rigorous academic corpus of
knowledge. I don't think that the public really knows what to expect out
of a language class, except "fluency" which to them means being able to
say or understand virtually anything that you can in your native
language, and that at any level along the way. They don't seem to
appreciate the achievement of learning the components of the end
performance, such as conjugation, agreement, etc. If we can't justify
the time spent on alternate activities as true learning experiences,
then I believe that we are failing to fulfill our professional
responsibilities. How would the patrons of the school react to
"hands-on", "non-cognitive", "global" learning activities taking up a
significant part of the time in the calculus class?

In math, the steps along the way are recognized. We know that a kid has
learned to factor, whatever else in algebra might remain for him to
master. I think that until the language teaching profession gets back to
grammar specifics, lexical groups, etc. as COMPONENTS of the performance
aspect, we are doomed to wander in the never-never land of performance
standards (as they are now written) in which only end behavior is
specified, with no recognition of the importance of the components of
language performance. These seem to me to lead us inexorably back to
rote memorization of dialogues, no matter what new terminology we may
invent to obfuscate that fact.


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