Recently I was asked why we do block scheduling the way we do. Much effort has gone into the study systems that will help SCS meet its goals of academic excellence and its extensive impact on student learning. As with any choice, there are both pros and cons. At Salem Christian School, we had to move towards a format which enables the school to provide more dynamic instruction, broader choices, and more nimble scheduling that this change enables. Some of the major advantages researchers have noted are the following:
Improved Teaching and Learning
With longer blocks, teachers have more time to complete lesson plans. More class time is available to develop key concepts, incorporate creativity into instruction, and try a variety of classroom activities that address different learning styles. Longer time blocks allow for deeper instruction instead of wider coverage.(O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).
Ability to Focus Attention
Using active learning methods helps the students better understand and retain material.(Rettig & Canady, 1996). With block scheduling, students have fewer subjects during a semester, enabling the learners to explore deeper and allow the teachers to focus efforts.
With block scheduling, instructional time is not fragmented by frequent transitions between classes. Fewer distinct classes means less time spent on classroom management activities, such as calling attendance and organizing and focusing the class. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for students to arrive late to class (Rettig & Canady, 1996).
The schedule allows advanced students to move through material at a more rapid rate, and they are able to finish sequential language classes within one academic year. (Woronowicz, 1996).
More Course Offerings
Students actually take more courses in a standard plan because they enroll in at least eight classes per year instead of six or seven (Rettig & Canady, 1996).
Stronger Inter-Personal Relationship
A hallmark of SCS is the family atmosphere. Anything to promote this is always welcome. The number of daily classes for which students and teachers must adjust and prepare is decreased, allowing students to develop the deeper interpersonal relationships that are integral to academic success (Rettig & Canady, 1996; Eineder & Bishop, 1997). Teachers get to know students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of their students.
Attitudes and Comprehension Improve
Research indicates that teachers’ and students’ attitudes about their school improve. Both teachers and students state that they get more done in class and learn more because they are better able to focus their attention. Classes address material in more depth, and teachers feel students are better able to comprehend and retain concepts learned in a block period (O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).
Almost all of our students move onto a four-year college degree at some point. The transition from eight 40-minute classes to four 83-minute classes is difficult. The skill to handle this is learned in an environment that is more personally supportive and has more accountability for the student in high school than in college. Thus, this model prepares the students for the expectations that they will face. The second preparatory element of block scheduling is the use of college credit and dual enrollment at SCS instead of Advanced Placement courses. This better aligns the schedule to accommodate these courses.
These were the reasons that we moved to this model and continue to stay within this model. Of course, there are always areas to improve. We could better use the model. But, it has significantly made a difference in the academic prowess of our school. In fact we have been used as a model for other schools in the northeast.
We had the same concern about gaps in the learning that seems like it would occur due to the space of time between courses. There are two aspects to this that would need to explore. The first is whether the gaps do indeed pose a challenge. The second is what does the school and students do to overcome the challenges if they do indeed exist.
Theoretically, we are teaching towards mastery and automaticity. This means, that the student has adopted the skills, concepts, or outcomes to a degree that he or she can confidently and automatically rely on them. Of course there are skills and concepts that need multi-courses and years to develop. But, these skills are scaled so that we can teach mastery of each step so that they can use them automatically as they move onto the next level of skills or concepts. We see this most often in mathematics and reading. We teach the same skills in reading instruction from grade one all the way through twelfth grade. However, at every step the skills are expanded and become more complex. The gap between the school years often allow us to catch the gaps that have occurred in students who haven’t truly mastered something and allows us to provide remediation and review.
We recognize that some courses are more vulnerable to this gap than others. For example, we read in every class and incorporate writing in every class. Thus, there is no specific gap in this, because we expand the vocabulary and writing skills each time we confront new material in other classes. However, math is sequential in skills and may be more vulnerable to the skills. Granted, geometry and algebra are very different maths. Thus, the skills are different. But, because we want to ensure mathematics ability is strong and continue to build on strong SAT scores, we require a math lab in the semester that students are not in a leveled math class. At SCS, our students received significant more time in math each year than any other program because we have this system. The math labs allow for remediation, enrichment, and SAT prep. The teachers have developed this course (which is unique to SCS) in order to have outcomes that are tailored in order to ensure our students’ scores on college boards are strong.
All of this seems to be working well. However, we want to measure it and have hard data that supports this. Thus, we have instituted a few things. We have entrance exams in every math course every semester. It provides feedback to the students, parents, and teacher about retention and specific instructional needs for that semester’s students. Additionally, we have instituted that every student in grade 8-10 takes the PSAT. This will provide valuable data that we can track and use to measure the efficacy of our program.
Thank you very much for submitting your question. I hope that I have answered it. If it prompts more, then I can continue on this topic or move onto the next question when it comes.