Studying one subject at a time

Studing in outdoorRoger E. Seick, Jr., principal of Parker Vista Middle School in Douglas County, Colorado, reports on the results of his school’s Intensive Core Program (ICP), begun in 1989 to test the effectiveness of studying one core subject at a time.

For four and one-half weeks students in the program study one subject for four periods each morning. One mid-morning period and two after lunch are used for electives. At the end of four and one-half weeks, students are assigned to another core subject for the next four-and-one-half week block. In the course of a semester, students study a total of four core subjects.

Initially, there were some concerns about this experimental program. Parents wondered, for example, whether students who were scheduled for their second math block in January could pick up where they had left off in September. And both teachers and parents wanted to be sure that ICP students would score as well on achievement tests as students in traditional programs. Because of these concerns, enrollment in the ICP was optional.

Although the program itself did not require any additional funding, Seick received a state grant to cover the cost of an independent evaluation of the program which was carried out at the end of the first year. Headed by Dale Alam, a retired university professor, the evaluation team interviewed students, teachers and parents about the program and reviewed grades and test results. Participating teachers were generally satisfied with the ICP.

They reported that the program enabled them to spend more time with students who needed extra help. Teachers felt that studying subjects intensively increased the concentration and enthusiasm of their students. They also reported that a “family feeling” developed in their ICP classes. Although teachers did not change their basic instruction, they believed that their methods worked better in a situation that allowed them to spend so much time each day with the same students.

Students felt better organized

Students were very positive about the ICP. They said homework was easier and they felt better organized and more aware of their progress when they concentrated on one subject at a time. Students consistently reported that their work had improved and their grades confirmed this. Parents said that their children had developed more positive attitudes toward school and that their home environment was more relaxed because there were fewer school-related problems.

Of the original 96 students who volunteered to participate the first year, 10 were identified as gifted and 10 had received extra help in the resource room. No particular type of student was identified as best suited to the ICP. However, the special education teachers were especially enthusiastic about the program and believed it greatly improved the school experience of their students. Only two students elected to drop out after the first year, but Seick cautions that the success of the program may be due, at least in part, to the fact that it was voluntary.

Analysis of standardized test scores showed no significant difference between traditional and ICP students after one year. Whether long-term participation in the ICP will lead to improved standardized test scores remains to be seen.

“A Block Schedule with a Twist”, Phi Delta Kappan, 75, Number 9, May 1994, pp.732-733.

Published in ERN, September/October 1994, Volume 7, Number 4.

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