Many high schools are using, or considering using, block scheduling as a means to increase learning time, and ultimately, student achievement. Block scheduling seems an obvious solution in the quest for time despite potential drawbacks such as greater consequences for absences. It allows for more actual instruction, a greater variety of courses, and a more manageable schedule for homework. Until recently, the merits of this type of program have been mainly hypothetical.
Now, however, David A. Payne, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia, and Miriam M. Jordan, Science Department Chair at Jasper County High School in Monticello, Georgia, report in American Secondary Education that results of a recent study in Georgia show some support for this type of schedule.
The decision to use a block scheduling format at a rural school in Georgia arose from a state-mandated increase in graduation requirements. The school instituted an alternating-day block (ADB) schedule in which students took eight 90-minute classes in a two-day sequence instead of the traditional six 55-minute courses a day, using alternate Fridays to round out the two-week cycle. This amounts to 30 more minutes of instruction a day for students with six academic classes in the old schedule and 85 more minutes for students who took 5 classes and one study hall.
Several goals of this program–the addition of two time slots to students’ schedules, and increases in teachers’ planning time and students’ class preparation time–were achieved to some extent simply by implementing the new schedule. In addition to these criteria, and most vital to the success of the program, according to Payne and Jordan, was the ability of the teachers to adapt to the new format by incorporating teaching practices effective for 90 minute classes.
To this end, the authors report, “extensive in-service sessions were devoted to curriculum integration and revision and techniques useful for extended class periods.” This training took place during the two planning years and continued through the first year of implementation.
The researchers collected data at the end of the school year, using teacher and student response questionnaires, teacher focus groups and high school graduation test results from the target school as well as a nearby high school that used a traditional six-period day. Ninety-six percent of the target teachers supported the use of the block schedule, as did 86 percent of the target students.
Similarly, the focus group data indicated a general overall satisfaction with the structure of ADB and improved job satisfaction. In terms of actual achievement, the pass rate of an objective state exam was 78 percent for the target group, compared to 67 percent for the control students.
The data indicate some improvement from block scheduling in its first year. Follow-up in subsequent years is necessary. The authors stress that reorganization for the sake of adding instructional time is not enough. Educating the teachers about adaptive instructional methods “to fit the block” is the key, they say, and “the only way to make sure that block scheduling truly evolves into an effective educational innovation.”
“The Evaluation of a High School Block Schedule: Convergence of Teacher and Student Data”, American Secondary Education, Vol. 25, No. 2 pp. 16-19.
Published in ERN March/April 1997 Volume 10 Number 2