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Turner High School Makes Switch to Block Schedule

The feedback from students and staff has been positive.

Last school year, Turner High School administrators asked staff to join them in exploring the possibility of a switch to a block schedule. The high school has been on a traditional school schedule where students attend all classes each day for about 45-minutes each.

Many high schools, including several in the metropolitan area, are on a block schedule where the classes are longer time blocks and are held every other day. This concept has actually been around since the 1950's.

Staff were sent various research articles about both the benefits and drawbacks of a block schedule and were given time to do their own research as well. Lydia Bender, chemistry and physics teacher, was a proponent of the switch, “I have always liked the idea of a block schedule. It is what I experienced in high school, and as a student it gave me the time I needed to complete work and ask questions. I wanted to give our students that same opportunity.”

After having enough time to form their own opinions, staff were then asked to vote to either keep the traditional schedule or switch to a block schedule for the 23 - 24 school year. The majority of staff voted to make the change, and so second semester, administrators and teacher leaders began putting together processes and procedures for a block schedule.

There were many considerations for the switch - issues like staffing, support services, and helping teachers adjust lesson plans for a longer block of time. It was an all-school effort.

There are many ways to structure a block schedule. The high school settled on all classes on Mondays, even classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and odd classes on Wednesdays and Fridays.

As with any change, there were challenges to work through when the school year began. For many teachers, the change from teaching in 45-minute blocks to 95-minutes was a mindset shift and required adjustments to lesson plans and teaching strategies. “It has been work coming up with new mini-lessons, but I have enjoyed the challenge and being able to come up with fresh new ways to deliver content to the students,” said Dan Kelley, a social studies teacher who has taught at the high school for over twenty years.

Bender agreed that adjusting to the longer blocks posed lesson planning challenges. “The biggest hurdle has been the pacing of lessons and units. There are some days that we go through the lesson faster or slower than expected, so I have had to have several lessons ready in case we need to move forward. This schedule can pose as a challenge for students who have missed school, as missing one class period this year equates to two periods in the previous years, but seminar does help them find time to catch up on work. Overall, I have not seen this as a challenge for the students. They have really embraced the change and have adopted it as part of their routine.”

This idea of embracing the change has proven out for senior Kassandra Salazar. “My first thought when I heard about switching to a block schedule was, ‘Oh no, my senior year is ruined, and it is going to be really boring.’ I already thought 45-minute classes felt too long. Hearing that classes were now going to last 95 minutes was shocking, but now that it’s here, my opinion has completely changed.”

She said all of her classmates felt the same way initially about not looking forward to the new schedule. Being a quarter into the school year, she has found the change helps her be more focused, “I have more time to do my work and ask questions, so I get a good concept of what is going on in my classes. It also takes away any distractions I might have had before the block schedule. My focus now is just my schoolwork and getting ready for college, which I am happy about. Having a little more work to do took away the distraction of socializing as much during class.”

Bender shared that she also felt like the additional time to focus on concepts during class has been beneficial to students, “Last year I felt as if their learning process was cut short each class period as there was not enough time to sit, process, and reflect on their findings. The end of class was often rushed so they could get to their next class on time.”

These longer classes have benefitted all content areas, but the change has been especially impactful for the Career and Technical Education courses as well as courses that require labs and other hands-on components. Being able to have 95-minute blocks in the automotive technology class, for example, allows students to have more hands-on learning time than the 45-minute block, which was much shorter by the time you add in set-up and clean-up procedures.

The change to fewer classes each day has also meant less transition times. In previous years, students had six passing periods throughout the day, which they typically spend socializing. Under the new schedule, they only have three passing periods on those four block days. Kelley shared that the fewer transition times has led to less issues in the hallways compared to former years. The data supports this - behavior incidents have been significantly lower than they were during the first quarter last school year.

Another benefit of the block schedule is longer and more frequent seminar classes. These are structured similarly to a study hall but differ in that they also have college and career planning lessons and opportunities built into them. Teachers are able to have more one-on-one time with students during seminar class to provide supports and help them get caught up in all their classes. This has been incredibly beneficial for students, especially for some seniors. “I like the fact that we have put early intervention tools into place with this new schedule to try to reach seniors in our seminar that maybe were on the fence with being able to graduate, but they will be able to if they take care of their requirements this year. Seeing where they were at in August and then sitting down and meeting with them to put a game plan together has been a big benefit in my opinion,” said Kelley.

The last benefit that teachers cited is the longer blocks of time for lesson planning. “The block schedule has also built in a lot of time for teachers to create and plan lessons with one another,” said Bender. “I have had a lot more time to talk to my colleagues about the best way to approach a particular lesson or find a new way to teach the lesson so it fits well within a blocked school day. It has helped me find better and more inviting ways to approach science content with my students.”

Overall, the feedback from staff has been that the shift to a block schedule has been a positive change. As with any new policy or procedure, administrators will assess at the end of the school year if there are any parts to it that need to be adjusted and improved for next school year. We look forward to hearing about additional positive benefits that come out of the block schedule!