Tackling the Block (Schedule)

Now that we’ve hit the smooth cruising altitude of November, I have a few minutes to check in, dear blog friends. Life in my new home in Idaho is sweet. The walking trails are canopied in gold, red, and purple (yes, purple!) leaves and the people have been nothing but sugar. The biggest adjustment has actually been one of timing, since my new school runs an A/B block. Instead of leading 55-minute classes that meet five times a week, I now see my classes every other day for 90 minutes.

Some elements of this time shift have been awesome, while others…not so much. Let’s start with the positive.

Things I like about the block:
• Fewer kids are in my room each day, so there’s less time lost to transitions/passing periods and I feel less fatigued at the end of the day.
• Kids have two nights to get their homework done and most of them manage this well.
• I can get all the way through a lesson plan while giving class discussion the time it deserves. I’ve always overpacked my daily plan because I live in fear of Dead Air, that dreadful moment when the class has finished everything and you still have 10 minutes left before the bell rings. With this new schedule, my tightly packed lessons are breathing and expanding to fill our time nicely – and I don’t feel as rushed anymore.
• My kids have the time they need to think and write. When I assigned an in-class essay, I still had time to launch with a bell-ringer and a brief writing prep lesson before their essay writing began.
• Computer lab time is more fruitful because, again, we’re not rushing through everything or losing a fifth of our total class time traveling to the lab.

Things I don’t like about the block:
• I feel like I rarely see my kids. In October, we had two four-day weekends; I’m not complaining about the time off, but this meant I saw each class only eight actual days last month. In November, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving breaks mean we’ll have another month where we see each other, again, just eight times. (Usually, I’ll see them for 10 classes in a month.) Before, I had about 20 monthly 55-minute sessions with my classes (or 1,100 total instructional minutes per class). Now, I have between 8 and 10 monthly 90-minute sessions with them (or 720 to 900 minutes per class). I’m no numbers genius, but some scratchpad math tells me this is between 200 and 380 fewer minutes each month with each of my classes. That difference is significant and I’m feelin’ it.
• It seems harder to build momentum when we’re working through a longer piece of literature. My juniors just finished The Crucible and we spent more time than usual reviewing the plot and characters, understandable since there were sometimes five days between our class sessions.
• We start school at 7:40 a.m. when it is still dark (and, I mean, pitch-black inky dark) and we eat lunch at 10:52 a.m. After two months, this is still weird to me. (I realize this isn’t caused by the block schedule, but it definitely qualifies as odd timing.)

In the daily experience, I’m loving the block. I enjoy the luxury of more time with my students than I had on the traditional schedule, where I always felt rushed. Taking a larger view of the school year calendar, though, I’m realizing now that I actually have far less overall time with my Idaho students and won’t be able to fit in all of the things I love to teach. A little research shows that the school year for California high school kids is 1,080 hours while Idaho teens attend just 990 hours per year. Whoa, this means my school year is 90 hours shorter than before! No wonder these calendars feel so tight.

To make things work, there have been some painful cuts. First, I’m not using SSR in the classroom at all this semester. I’m hoping to bring it back for the spring semester, if only for a 30-minute session each week. My students need some free-choice reading and I need that time to individually confer with strugglers. Second, it’s looking like 20Time will have to sit on the shelf this spring. I’m the new kid on the block, so to speak, and haven’t yet earned the unwavering trust of my administrators. Also, 20Time eats up quite a bit of spring semester time, something I’m already severely lacking.

That’s the latest from my chilly little corner of the world. How about you? How’s your fall semester going? Ever taught on a block schedule? Feel free to leave a comment below. I miss our chatter!

Teach on, everyone.

26 thoughts on “Tackling the Block (Schedule)

  1. Lunch at 10:52? That IS weird! And to think that we have lunch here between 2:30 – 3:00pm – and it’s our main meal!!! What time do you leave school? You must be starving by then! 😉

    I can so relate with you and the lack of hours! Trying to fit everything in is hard enough, but with a cut in hours, it certainly makes continuity in longer tasks seem impossible, not to mention eternal!

    All in all though, you seem to have settled in very comfortably in your new school and home!

    Way to go, Laura!!!! Keep up the GREAT work!

  2. Oh yeah, Carolyn, I’m starving when we get out at 2:42 and my husband’s surrendered to my need to eat dinner at 5. Old lady stuff, I know.

  3. Hi, Laura,

    I’ve always taught on block schedule and agree with your list of pros and cons. My school day begins at 6:55 a.m. Can you believe it?

    I have added SSR back in this year as a warm-up for 10-15 minutes most days. Yes, it takes time away from other things, but I do think it is worth it as many of my students do not read outside of the classroom.

    Thanks as always for all of the great resources you provide!


  4. HOLY SMOKES, Karen! 6:55 a.m.?!?! That’s all kinds of crazy. Guess I’m not alone in the dark drive to school…

  5. Thanks for posting, Laura! I am also on A/B schedule for the first time this year, and I struggled to find time for SSR during the first nine weeks. I definitely did not provide enough SSR time this nine weeks because once a week seemed like too much class time to spend on SSR, but waiting every fifth class for SSR did not provide enough time. It also never became a routine since every fifth class would fall on a random day. This nine weeks my plan is 15 minutes if I see my students on a Thursday, and 30-40 minutes if I see my students on a Friday. I also made some bookmark reading logs on card stock for my lower level classes to better keep track of their Book Talk due date and pages read each week. Hopefully SSR will run smoother this time around.

    It’s been a challenging adjustment switching from three classes to six classes and seeing my students every other day. I am trying my best to write down everything I get done in class, but I still find myself constantly asking my students, “Did we go over this already?” I couldn’t imagine such a big adjustment on top of a big move. Thank you for continuing to take the time to post!

  6. Yeah, MsHrm, the SSR routine is definitely tricky to fold into our routines. I’m thinking I’ll make it a half hour each week on the last day I see them, usually a Thursday or Friday. I’m guessing it’ll be those three- or four-day weekends that throw my kids off schedule, though. Still, I really miss that conferencing time and my kids just aren’t reading anything out of class on their own, it seems.

    And, yes, I’m constantly checking and double-checking my calendar to make sure I’m prepped for the right day. I haven’t scrambled my A/B days yet, but it’s definitely something I would do. 🙂

  7. Laura,

    I’m only a second year teacher and luckily I have an 8 block day. I’m not sure I would enjoy the less time with students and the extended breaks between readings. I work with middle school students and they sometimes struggle with remembering what we read the previous day, let alone, a whole 2-5 days previous. Our first period starts at 8:20 and many students eat breakfast at school right before. We have lunch at 10:50, but it seems normal to me since this is the only thing I have been used to. Luckily, I have a well spaced day and have three classes, then lunch; two classes and then a plan period. I have to bring a snack everyday for plan period because I’m always hungry by that time. Our students who have after school sports definitely struggle with being hungry and fatigued for practice because of it. All of our coaches try to encourage students to bring a snack to eat right after school, but such an early lunch can definitely be an adjustment. My school is K-12 and we have the first lunch shift so if we didn’t some other kids would. Thank you for the continued advice. I cannot tell you how monumentally helpful you have been for me as a new teacher. I love your resources and your positive personality. I look forward to more posts.

  8. Yes, Amanda, you seem to have already unearthed the secret to a successful day at school – SNACKS! No food = Crankiness (them and me)

    So glad you found the blog! 🙂

  9. Thanks, Laura, for the insight. As an administrator/ teacher, I’ve flirted with the idea of trying to bring a block schedule to my school. Our school works on 45 minute lessons, which we all know bubbles down to about 35-40 given settling time, etc. So as a teacher, I’ve always felt rushed and that we can’t gain any momentum. Thus the desire for a block schedule. But you’ve pointed out some of the cons as well. Food for thought…

  10. Yes, Jennifer, I think I’m starting to realize there’s good and bad in every system. We just need to focus on the positive and maximize the things that’ll work for our classes within our given parameters. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  11. jessibooks says:

    This is my first year doing block scheduling at a new school and I totally agree. Overall I think it’s better for my at risk kids to spend less time traveling the halls and getting situated in new classrooms, but I’m caught between cramming in everything for kids I may not see for five days and terrified we’ll be stuck with 30 extra minutes! (Can’t wait til the snow days start – they keep a fixed schedule!)

    SSR has been a great way to settle them and get them reading while also giving me a minute to breathe, take attendance, and quickly conference, but many of my non-honors kids just refuse to try. It’s a battle to get them to open the book and not sit there rolling the cover like a burrito. I just gave them a pep talk and revised some routines, but if I don’t see a change I’ll have to replace it with more grammar or assigned reading.

  12. Oh yeah, Jessibooks, I definitely NEED to fold SSR back into the mix for the spring semester, though I already know which of my students will be the cover rollers. (“sit there rolling the cover like a burrito” = genius simile) For those kids, there’s a lot of quiet cheerleading, finding a slightly adult title (Banks’ Rule of the Bone has worked well with many of my at-risk juniors), and allowing audiobook support when necessary. Trust me, this is an on-going challenge in my room, too.

  13. Our school starts at 8 (yay!) and we are on block, except we have the students everyday for 87 minutes, but only ONE semester.

    Pros: pretty much what you mentioned. I have 70 students this semester. Also, if I have a really difficult class, they are gone by Christmas!

    Cons: We definitely don’t have time to do everything we need. I follow this basic outline: 1 month of seminal documents and nonfiction works, 1 month of short stories, 1 month of poetry, 1 month for Julius Caesar (I’m all 10th). And, yes that is 0 novels, but I find my students gain much more interest in shorter works. We do one memoir during the nonfiction unit that is novel-length.

    Another part of our schedule that I love: flex block. A 30-minute block after lunch for study hall, test prep, make up work, club meetings, etc. It’s great for students who cannot come early or stay late, and I can pull students for extra assistance!

  14. That flex block would be a welcome addition to my life, Ashley. I’m forever tutoring students, having kids make up quizzes/tests, and having one-on-one discipline meetings with kids during my limited lunch time, often shoving down a sandwich minutes before my sophomores arrive. Ugh! I’d LOVE the freedom of a half hour for everyone to catch our breath and take care of that business. Sign me up!

  15. Block scheduling, although something I always wanted, is causing a lot of issues for me this year. I work at an alternate school, which already leaves me behind curriculum-wise. Unfortunately, block scheduling only makes matters worse. I love being the class that the students in my school love to come to, but it is honestly taking its toll on me. I find myself having to refresh their memory more often. I’ve noticed that juggling all different high school grades, on top of the issue with constantly having to refresh their memories, is causing some serious delays in my curriculum structure. Sigh!

  16. Yup, af15817. With different levels in one class and a slower pace overall, something’s gotta give. I’m getting more and more comfortable with the reality that there’s no way I can get it all done. And maybe that’s okay, too.

  17. Welcome to the Great White North! Although I am on the other side (Anchorage, AK). We begin at 7:30am, lunch at 10:30 and final bell at 2:00. I thought I was crazy because I could not fit SSR often enough, and it takes time to get through texts because the day between allows for a lot of forgetting (oh, and I don’t assign homework reading, because students simply will not do it, and I will lose most of the class texts).
    I am going to try the 20T Projects in the spring. I will begin on Fridays and slowly build to more time on projects and less time on Literature hopefully ending with Project Presentation conference for our Final Exam.
    Thank you for all of your suggestions and posts. I love what you do and only hope to develop into such an energetic teacher.

  18. Thanks for the warm reception, JAG! It’s definitely a different world up here, but I like the friendliness of everyone and the slower pace. I’m not loving the low homework completion rate in some of my classes, though. On Friday, for instance, about half of my juniors didn’t have their essay rough drafts to peer edit in class because they were certain we’d have a snow day called and that would get ’em off the hook. It snowed, but school was open (apparently, it takes A LOT for the schools here to be called off) so those sad souls lost some easy points and, more importantly, the opportunity to get some writers’ workshop feedback before final drafts are due next week. Ugh.

    As for 20Time and using less literature, that’ll be my move this spring, too. Gotta adapt and meet kids where they are, right? Thanks for reading and commenting! I appreciate it.

  19. We have block scheduling too and our lunch is at 10:20am. We start at 7:25 and get out at 2.

  20. Oof, Katieny1974, that’s a cruel schedule. Hard to imagine teen brains (or teacher brains, for that matter) are functional at 7:25 a.m. Madness!

  21. Natalie F. says:

    Hi Laura!
    We just finished our first year on the alternate A/B schedule. I was wondering how you adjusted your MUGS Monday, Literary Term Tuesday, Words on Wednesday, etc. to work with this schedule. I loved following this in the previous years; it helped to keep me on track. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


  22. Hi Natalie,
    Great question! I just finished a year on the A/B block and ended up just cycling through all three routines, one after the other. I dropped the “Monday” from “MUG Shot Monday” and the “Tuesday” from “Lit. Term Tuesday” etc., and just presented them in order in the rotation. My schedule was funky this year and sometimes I’d see some classes just twice a week. Also, the school year is two weeks shorter in Idaho than in my old district in California, so I wasn’t able to get through as many MUG Shots and vocab. words as usual; still, it all worked out in the end. The kids got a big ol’ scoop of foundation skills and I had a smooth way to launch each class. It was different, but it still worked.

    Thanks for checking in with me. As you know, the block can be a little awkward, but it does have some benefits. Hope this is helpful! 🙂

  23. I have been hired to start my first year this coming August. I’ve been told I’ll be teaching four sections of Sophomores and two sections of Juniors. I love your blog, and I’ve been reading through posts. What do you think is most necessary for me to do this summer to be ready to go in and teach? I’m excited, but also freaking out!

  24. Congratulations, Sarah! I’m so excited for your new venture. Prepare yourself – this first year will be exhausting no matter how much you prep this summer, but there are some concrete things you can do now to be ready. Most importantly, you gotta nail down your systems. Have a plan for how you’ll run your room. What’s your discipline strategy? How will you handle the paper load? What’s the procedure to get an absent student caught up? How often will you contact parents with positive feedback?

    Curriculum will come in time. Feel free to scratch out a rough calendar, but know that curriculum is an easier piece than systems because your dept. will have materials (hopefully), you’ll find a mentor teacher willing to share her lesson ideas (hopefully), and you can always scoop up free and low-cost lesson materials at TeachersPayTeachers once the year is rolling.

    For now, just think big picture about how you want to run the show. Last year, I built a 10-part YouTube series with new teachers like you in mind. If you haven’t already seen the videos, they might be worth some time:

    Hope this helps. And I just have to say, you have a pretty sweet schedule for a newbie; I’m taking that as a sign you’ve landed in a good department with folks who care about building talent. Have fun with your kids and memorize their names quickly! 🙂

  25. Great ideas shared about incorporating SSR when you are pinched for time! We start the day reading, anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending, and I have a bit of time to talk with stragglers and students returning from absences, etc. SOMEDAY I would like to pull out my book and read with them! I love SSR, most of my students do too, but some think it’s a waste of time. Do you know of any interesting articles about the benefits of reading?

  26. Thanks, LMB201! I don’t have a link to a specific article to share, but Penny Kittle is definitely the expert in all things reading. Definitely dig into her work: http://pennykittle.net Hope this helps!

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