Block Scheduling a Growing Trend on the South Shore
If approved by the school board, South Tahoe Middle School will be switching to a rotating block schedule this fall, officials said Friday.
Already in place at South Tahoe High School, teachers and administrators claim longer and fewer class periods per day have numerous benefits, including more time for in-depth study and less disruption.
“If there are no objections from the board, we’ll begin the new schedule in September,” said STMS Principal Mike Greenfield. “We’re still working out details, but we’re certain this will give students more quality time in the classroom.”
With the exception of one daily 50-minute class, or “skinny period,” each class will meet every other day for 90 minutes. Schedules will switch every week – meeting twice one week and three times the next.
“The lunch periods will meet on either side of the skinny, which will either be an elective or P.E.,” said Greenfield. “All of the solid subjects will meet for the full 90 minutes.”
Although the amount of time spent in class may go up slightly due to fewer passing periods, Greenfield said the dismissal time will not change.
A committee headed by Vice Principal Kathi Jensen has researched the effectiveness of block scheduling for the past two years. During that time the group attended several conferences and purchased a variety of materials related to the subject for staff. Finally, a majority vote from the faculty this year was a sign to move forward.
“But I still wanted empirical proof that it worked,” said Greenfield. “Then, at a National Association of Secondary Principals conference I saw data that showed discipline problems down, grades up and attendance up – everything you would want to improve in a school, the block scheduling helped do it.”
Both local high schools have reported positive results as well.
Not only did South Tahoe High see an increase in the overall student grade point average, there was also a noticeable decrease in assault and drug/alcohol-related incidents, said Principal Bill Murray.
“We recently got back student, parent and faculty surveys on it,” said George Whittell High School Principal David Sheets. “They were all positive. Block scheduling went extremely well this year – we’ll definitely be continuing with it.”
Kingsbury Middle School has had a modified block schedule for the past three years, said Principal Tom Covault – who reports that staff seem to like it more, and students appear to be more engaged in their subjects.
However, the biggest challenge for all schools that opt for block scheduling, said Greenfield, is making sure teachers are trained to get the most out of longer class periods.
“It’s essential that teachers diversify their lessons during the 90 minutes, otherwise they’ll lose students,” said Greenfield. “The majority of teachers here already try to use active learning, but many have felt they didn’t have enough time.”
Nonetheless, Greenfield said all South Tahoe Middle School teachers will take part in a two and a half day training seminar over summer vacation that will focus exclusively on how to design lessons for longer class periods.
“The emphasis will be on different modes of learning,” he said. “The premise is that longer periods make teachers more effective. It’s hard to touch all aspects of learning in a 45-minute period.”
But just how receptive are students? An informal poll suggests that sentiments are mixed.
“I think it’s a bad idea – it’s too hard to sit still for that long,” said seventh-grader Jose Yaney. “Plus, that’s a long time to not go to the bathroom.”
“I think it’s great – you have two days to do your homework,” said sixth-grader Brian Burns. “You also feel like you get more accomplished in class.”
Seventh-grader Carrie Anderson said it depends on the subject.
“If it’s a class you don’t like it’s too long, but if it’s one you like, then it’s OK,” she said. “But it will be nice not to have the same routine every day.”
Greenfield said the school board is scheduled to vote on the proposed block schedule at their regular meeting on May 13.
“I think we’ll all be happy with the results,” he said. “As one of our teachers said, ‘Not only can we mix the dough, now we’ll be able to bake the cake.'”
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