Block scheduling is a recently popular method of class scheduling for high
and junior high
schools that teach material in the form of discrete, single-subject courses which meet for regular, standard periods of time (in America
, this is the vast majority of them). The basic concept is that where a school day under traditional scheduling usually consists of around 6 to 9 "periods", typically 30 to 50 minutes in length, a block-scheduled day would have roughly half as many periods, with each period lasting twice as long. This additional length is compensated
for by cutting the overall duration of courses (a class which would traditionally run for 2 semesters
would be reduced to 1, for example) or by implementing an alternate-day system in which classes run for the same portion of the school year, with students attending each particular class once every other day, alternating between two daily schedules.
Advocates of block scheduling argue that a longer class period allows for more in-depth and interactive instruction, encouraging the use of group learning, projects, self-directed study, in which the teacher is less the central focus and provider of knowledge and more of a facilitator and guide. Indeed, many supporters enthusiastically claim that the length of class periods under a block scheduling plan renders lecture-only teaching impractical, making interactive teaching not only more feasible, but nigh upon mandatory. In addition, the longer periods allow classes to include more time-intensive activities which would not be feasible in a shorter class period or if broken up across two days, such as laboratory experiments in science classes, extemporaneous writing, peer review and editing in writing classes, the creation of large or complex works in art classes, and the inclusion of more in-depth essays on in-class tests in humanities classes. Furthermore, with fewer classes in a day, less time is lost to movement between classes and organizational duties such as attendance-taking, preparation and changing clothes, in the case of gym classes. It is also more feasible to engage in joint ventures with outside organizations (internships, external classes, and the like) under a block schedule. Finally, studies appear to indicate a reduced rate of failure, disciplinary issues, absenteeism and dropouts and an increased rate of student and teacher satisfaction among schools on a block scheduling system, when compared to those operating under a traditional system.
On the other hand, detractors note that many teachers are untrained and unprepared to use new approaches taking advantage of the longer class periods, and when faced with a switch to block scheduling, will use poorly-designed lesson plans and generally try to make use of interactive instruction in an unskilled manner, or else attempt to maintain the lecture format for up to an hour and a half, with boredom and decreased retention of material the likely result. Of course, some "core skills" advocates contest the very goal of moving away from a teacher- and lecture-centric format, making the entire issue another skirmish in a pedagogical battle stretching back into the earlier part of the 20th century. Critics also notice that studies or memory and learning have long established a "spacing effect" by which the same amount of time spent on learning one thing yields greater retention and understanding when spaced as two non-successive blocks of time. On a broader scale, they raise concerns of decreased retention from class to class, especially in sequential subjects such as math and foreign language, given that students are likely to have from 6 months to up to a year between courses in the sequence. Finally, opponents claim flaws in the positive studies that proponents cite, and also point out that some studies show lower grades on standardized achievement and curricular tests among block-scheduled students (naturally, in return, those who favor block scheduling find flaws in these studies).
The school district I attended used block scheduling at the high school level with (mostly) regular scheduling at the junior high level, and so I experienced things both ways. Looking back, I favor block scheduling, it gave school a less fractured, more coherent feel, allowed me to focus more on any individual project or class in which I was experiencing difficulty, and enabled our school to do things like offering most AP courses as 3 semesters, the equivalent of an impractical year and a half worth of "traditional" classes, and a length which I believed to be "just right" for the breadth and depth of the material. When teachers did make poor use of the extra time to just lecture unproductively and at length, I would just read something, though in all honesty, that had been my strategy since first grade, and also came into play with poorly designed "interactive" curricula, or really any situation where I wasn't actually learning anything. Of course, I may be one of the exceptions - I was taking a schedule fairly heavy in "advanced" courses, and never really was in danger of missing out on basic skills - but regardless, most of my classmates and I had positive experiences with block scheduling and would tend to recommend it to those in areas with a local school board considering a change.