After much research and careful consideration, STVM will be transitioning to the block schedule beginning with the 2020-21 school year.
This shift from a traditional schedule to the block schedule has been investigated and researched by the administration during the past two years. When making the plans to implement the House System, we identified very quickly that the vast majority of high schools that have a robust and successful House System also employ the block schedule.
With longer blocks, teachers have more time to complete lesson plans and to examine and re-evaluate practices. 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 in depth study, such as individual student projects, peer collaboration, and one-on-one work between teachers and students.
Most schools which introduce block schedules find that discipline problems on campus decrease, possibly because students are more challenged in class and are better known by their teachers. Decreasing the number of passing periods reduces opportunities for disruption. In addition, teachers of block classes feel more capable of handling behavior problems because they have adequate time to address these issues in class and have a stronger rapport with their students.
The "less is more" philosophy espouses that students better understand and retain material when they have an opportunity to apply information to various contexts rather than merely cramming the facts. With block scheduling, students and teachers are able to focus on fewer subjects, and to explore them in greater depth. Both teachers and students assert that this exploration allows them to become engrossed in the subject matter rather than moving rapidly through material. With a standard 4x4 block program, teachers have only three to four classes to teach in a given semester, greatly reducing the number of students with whom they meet regularly.
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.
The results show that students' grades improve overall. There are fewer failed classes, a higher number of students on the honor roll, an increase in students' grade point averages, and fewer failing marks. Statistics reveal that fewer at-risk students drop out of a school with block scheduling. With a 4x4 model, students can have a fresh start at midyear or re-enter school at the beginning of the second semester.
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. Teachers get to know students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of their students. This extensive personal interaction between teacher and student, frequently touted as the highest motivation for student learning, is strengthened through block scheduling.
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Mr. Robert Engels
"Why move to block scheduling now? I am not just teaching content but also developing the 21st century skills necessary for my student to be successful – skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, communication, using evidence to support arguments and information/technological literacy. Having only a relatively short amount of time each day with students makes it very difficult to develop these skills while at same time teaching challenging content."
"With 90 minutes of class time, I am constantly brainstorming and experimenting with different educational activities, individual/group projects, cooperative grouping strategies, formative/summative assessments and individual interventions. I cannot simply lecture or present for the entire class period; I must step outside of the traditional model and implement new approaches, which constantly keeps me thinking of ways to make the class more interesting and varied."
"I have found the amount of time to be ideal in order to balance both teacher-directed instruction and student-centered activities, so that students have an opportunity in each class to learn new concepts and immediately apply those concepts in some kind of activity (independent work on projects or essay, pair-share work, collaborative group work, etc.)."
For the past several years, the STVM Administration has been exploring different types of schedules to maximize the learning environment and give students the most flexibility in their schedule. In our current schedule, many students can only fit in seven courses, either because of scheduling conflicts or the need for a study hall. This limits the students' potential to make the most out of their high school day. In addition, most college courses are for a longer period of time, and students often have them two or three times a week. This change in schedule will prepare students better for longer time on task and will better prepare them for their future in college and the changes in the state assessments that are coming. Also, with today’s COVID-19 epidemic, this schedule allows for fewer class transitions with less time in the hall.
Students will participate in a variety of activities throughout the block class period. For example, a block may consist of 5 minutes of review, 20 minutes of direct instruction/teacher modeling, 30 minutes of Socratic Seminar (student led discussion), 15 minutes of guided practice, and 10 minutes of summation/review.
Students will not lose class time throughout the year. Minutes of class time are actually increased over the course of one week due to fewer classroom transitions, as well as, students and teachers increasing time on task or “instructional” time. The decrease in attendance taking time and passing time, will allow students to delve into information deeper than previously allowed in a 43 minute period.
Science labs will no longer be scheduled in an additional period. Science labs will take place in the actual class environment. One of the major reasons that science labs were scheduled as an additional class, and given a double a period, was because of time constraints. Now that those time constraints no longer exist, science labs can be scheduled during regular class periods. The benefit to science classes is that now the science teacher can schedule the lab at a more natural point in the instruction of the material, rather than following a specific day that he or she must do labs.
To the contrary, A/B scheduling will increase the number of courses that students can take. Since the need to have an extended period for science labs is eliminated by the block schedule, students will be able to more readily take advantage of course offerings at STVM. This also affords students the opportunity to enroll in multiple science, math, english, and foreign language courses.
STVM students are already accustomed to following “Green” and “Gold” schedule days. While it is an “A/B” Model, we will continue to utilize the Green/Gold “days." Announcements and signs will be available to assist students during the transition, and the “A” or “B” day designation will be made clear. There will also be a calendar that will be included in the handbook to outline the “A” and “B” days throughout the year.
The A/B (alternating day) Block Schedule allows for students to go into greater depth of material having more time on task with each subject area; Students will be able to take more courses (160 total credits over four years); Having each course every other day will allow students to focus on material from only four courses for homework a night, rather than the current eight course schedule that is in place now; There will be less conflicts in students schedules, and it will be easier for students to double up in specific subjects areas, especially those students who would like to take multiple sciences or languages; The new schedule is expected to increase the options and variety of courses that a student can take.
Teachers are encouraged to vary their activities four to six times during a block period. This can mean changing classroom grouping patterns (pairs, small groups, differentiated groups, etc.), feedback mediums (worksheets, communicators, board work, etc.), or even instructional mediums (board work, visual technology, Chromebook, Internet resources, etc). These changes make an 90-minute block feel like 4 to 6 mini-lessons. It's very important to note that many of our faculty do this on a daily basis, especially since the one-to-one initiative came into effect. Much of the feedback that we receive from teachers and students is that they wish they had more consecutive time to complete their lessons.
Schools that have adopted block scheduling have reported fewer discipline concerns. Fewer transitions between classes reduces the number of opportunities students have to engage in confrontational situations.