When I began teaching high school history in 1990, my school had a seven-period day with 50-minute periods. I had my students for both semesters. In 1994, the district decided that it would be more effective to switch to a 90-minute block schedule in which teachers would have students for one semester only. There were good reasons that supported going to the block including extended time to go into greater depth of study and fewer classes for students to focus on. There was however little research that indicated that it really increased student learning. Like many reforms in education, it worked well for some kids and for some teachers but not for all.
NCLB and RTI:
Several years ago, Taylor too adopted a block schedule with four 84-minute classes. Again, it worked well for some kids, some teachers, and some subjects but not all. Since then, things have changed: things like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Response to Intervention (RTI). NCLB has caused many schools to narrow their curriculum to make sure that all students can read, compute, and write proficiently. The good news is that it has forced us to pay attention to students who might have previously been underserved: minorities, the poor, and the disabled. The bad news is that it has led to some cuts in elective programs. More on this point later. RTI, like NCLB, also is forcing us to pay attention to every student who is not proficient in math and reading. This is the good news. We must now devote extra class time and teacher resources to helping these students become better readers and mathematicians. I absolutely agree with the intent of this. The problem is that we have to provide these additional services with no additional money, staff, or instructional days. We have had to get creative.
Schedule redesign considerations:
This was the dilemma facing us when we asked our teachers to help us design a master schedule that would do the following:
• Provide extended blocks of time for math and reading interventions for non-proficient students
• Allow every teacher to see every kid every day
• Provide accelerated classes in all core subjects
• Organize teacher prep times by content area
• Not significantly reduce elective course offerings
• Maximize teacher instructional time
New Schedule Proposed to Instructional Council:
We held several meetings to discuss how to best design our schedule to meet these objectives. After listening to staff input, the school leadership team came up with a new design for next year with the following features:
• Move from four 84-minute blocks to seven 50-minute periods a day.
• Every teacher will see every student daily.
• All math students will have two 50-minute math classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation or enrichment.
• All students who are not proficient readers will have two 50-minute classes each day: one for core instruction and one for either remediation
• Pre AP and accelerated classes will be offered in all core subjects.
We presented a draft of the proposed schedule to the Instructional Council in mid-January for discussion. Council members took the proposal to their various departments and teams for further discussion. I am pleased to report that the Instructional Council approved the proposal at their meeting on January 28th. We are now moving forward with implementation for next school year.
What will this look like for my student?:
For a regular or advanced student, her schedule will have: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (2 periods).
For a student who is not proficient in reading, the schedule will be: Math (2 periods), Language arts (1 period), Reading (1 period) Science (1 period), Social studies (1 period) and Electives (1 period). Once a student progresses in reading to proficiency, he will be able to leave remedial reading and add a second elective class.
Changes in instructional time:
This new schedule increases the total time every student has math from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. It increases the amount of time non-proficient students have language arts/reading from 380 minutes per week to 500 minutes per week. The number of minutes that all students will have for science and social studies increases from 210 minutes per week to 250 minutes per week. We were actually able to increase the time in elective classes from 210 minutes to 250 minutes per week. To accomplish these increases in core instructional time, we reduced teacher prep periods from 84 minutes to 50 minutes. Unfortunately one casualty of these shifts was the beginning Drama classes in the 6th grade exploratory wheel. In their place we hope to offer creative writing. Other elective course offerings did not change. We are hoping to add advanced drama if funding allows.
I am grateful to our staff for their creativity and professionalism in this design process. I am convinced it will increase student learning next year. Thanks to all!