90-minutes doesn’t guarantee learning

The block schedule is not the panacea administrators hoped for. Rather, it has created unintended challenges for teachers and students. Students must now adapt to sitting and focusing for longer 90-minute periods, and teachers must now spend extra time planning and managing lessons to cater to varying class lengths.

Notwithstanding, the change in schedule helps in some ways. The new schedule gives students the opportunity to focus for long periods on a particular area of study, and to have two nights to complete homework assignments as classes are now every other day. But do the benefits outweigh the numerous shortfalls?

During 90-minute classes, many students do not participate actively but watch the clock slowly tick and await some change from the lecture pattern. Many teachers have not changed from the lecture-based teaching methods from last year’s schedule to better use the longer learning blocks. When teachers do vary activities, their efforts are seen as unnecessary busywork: homework assignments and worksheet exercises. Extended periods do not benefit students if courses do not adapt and achieve the intent of the block schedule: utilizing innovative instruction techniques.

Moreover, the extended periods give an illusion that classes have ample time to introduce and learn the day’s material. As a result, teachers allow 15-minute breaks, off topic discussions, and homework being done during class. The realization that classes are behind schedule did not set in until halfway through the second quarter of the first semester. Consequently, teachers began to rush through material placing added pressure on students to understand and learn material far more quickly than expected.

Another unforeseen disadvantage of the block schedule is that teachers have a difficult time planning classes when different sections of the same course have differing lengths. Accordingly, teachers dedicate a majority of their time to balancing classes instead of improving coursework. Even though teachers attempt to balance coursework, classes naturally become out of sync. This discrepancy causes teachers to rush through material in one class while exploring a given topic with much more depth in another.

Advisory too has suffered: students sit in advisory with nothing to do for 40 minutes but wait for the next period. Those 40-minutes offer nothing more but wasted time, and administration should evaluate this use of time.

In addition to advisory, office hours do not serve an effective purpose to a majority of students. The office hour block, designed to help students seek extra help on material, is taken advantage by students in a different way than intended. Instead of spending time with teachers, students sit and socialize in the library. With a significant number of Upper and Middle School students in the library on Tuesday, the noise caused by some students interrupts those trying to complete work.

The schedule ran most smoothly during final exam review days, when all were 75-minute classes. This slight reduction of class period may be the solution to the block schedule problem: teachers will be able to balance coursework more effectively because all class lengths are the same, and students can focus better with shorter class time. Administration should also revisit advisory and office hours so that those times are more productive.

The goal of the block schedule is to provide more learning opportunities to students. This is possible if teachers would take advantage of the extra class time by leading discussions and encouraging students to come up with their own ideas, reason, and develop persuasive skills. After all, the best way to learn and actually remember new material is by actively thinking through concepts, figuring things out, and not wasting time.