Site icon Laura Randazzo – Solutions for the Secondary Classroom

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.

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