How the school’s schedule will influence your planning
Schools all over the country and the world conduct business on various different schedules. The most popular are the seven period schedule, the block schedule, and the four-by-four schedule. Let’s take a look at how those schedules work and what they mean for you as a teacher.
A seven period schedule
There are some major benefits to a seven period schedule. First, kids have a short attention span and in a seven period day they’re in each class for a shorter period of time, therefore, the content changes more throughout the day and their odds of paying attention, theoretically, increase.
The seven period day is particularly great for math classes because there is just enough time to review an old concept and cover a new one. As an English teacher, the short classes pose difficulties. I find that the moment I get the students into a book discussion or on a roll with an essay, the bell rings. As stated previously, it is very important to be consistent with classroom procedures. The seven period day may require you cut back on “do now” type activities at the beginning of class. Warm ups may need to be shorter so that the true content can come to the surface sooner.
A “do now” is essentially a short warm up activity students do on their own at the beginning of class. In math, it may be a couple of review problems. In English, it may be a sentence correction or a question that gets them thinking about a theme related to their reading.
Projects pose difficulties with seven period schedules. Planning is key. It is so important to plan what students should be working on each day of the project. There needs to be more structure if they’re going to be working in shorter spurts, because each day you’ll need time to take out materials (laptops, poster board, whatever it may be) and each day you’ll also take time to put it all away.
Also, make sure you have a system in place to ensure that no project materials or student work gets lost. If students are saving to a computer for work the next day, ensure that they save correctly, whether that may be to the desktop, Google Drive, or to their personal space on the network. You’ll find that many struggling students will save incorrectly or not put their work in the proper storage place and use that as an excuse to not complete the project. “I’m not starting over,” they’ll say. You’d better be able to back up the fact that you showed them where and how to store their work, and therefore, it is their own fault that their work is gone and it’s their responsibility to re-do it. For this reason, I love using Google Drive. It auto saves and there are never any “I forgot to save” excuses.
The seven period day can be exhausting because there are so many classes and they each feel so short. Others find the seven period day invigorating for the same reasons. Many teachers love the seven period day because they get to see every student every day and they feel that makes a real difference in the connections that can be made with the kids.
Block scheduling is a completely different animal. In a typical block schedule, students have an “A day” and a “B day.” They have four classes a day on a rotating schedule so you teach each class every other day. Each class is approximately ninety minutes long, which is a long time given that most research shows that teenagers have an attention span of about twenty minutes.
What does that mean for you? First, it means that you can employ do-nows or warm ups that are more extensive. These warm-ups can have more parts or you can spend more time going over the skills involved. It also means you have more time for in depth discussions, extended projects or labs, and group activities.
It is very important that you plan well so that the activities change about every twenty minutes. For example, a math class might do a do-now in a workbook, then go over the homework from the previous night on the projector, then learn a new skill in a tactile way, then review that skill in groups. In an English class, students may do a thematic warm up, then have a book discussion, and then work in writing groups. Do not have them doing the same thing for the whole ninety minutes unless it is a project which allows them to move about, for example an in-depth science lab.
A crazy schedule that is neither block nor a seven period day
You might find yourself in the circumstance where your school is on neither block scheduling, nor the seven period schedule. Many schools have implemented hybrid schedules in an attempt to “keep everyone happy.”
My schedule was crazy in a previous school: On Mondays students had all classes, the rest of the week was modified block with first, second, third, and forth being rotating blocks and fifth, sixth, and seventh meeting every day. Confused? Yeah, me too. It was insane for planning!
With a crazy schedule like this, you may have the same class, for example Honors Chemistry, both in block format and in seven period format. How do you plan for that? You have to teach the same thing to classes with very different schedules. Each class meets for essentially the same amount of time, but you will not accomplish the same amount. The class you have every day will usually get less done. They have to come in, sit down, and settle twice for every time the block class does. It doesn’t sound as if it would make that much of a difference, but it does, and you’ll want to keep both classes relatively on pace with one another. Take that into consideration in your planning.
I’ve found it is most effective to plan as if you’re planning for a block class. That way you’ll be sure to mix up the activities enough to keep the block class engaged. Then just modify those plans for your everyday class.
Four-by-four is less common than the other schedule formats, but it has its plusses and minuses and is growing in popularity. A four-by-four schedule mimics the college format. They are on a block schedule with four ninety-minute classes a day, but those classes meet every day for one semester and then classes switch second semester. This schedule is great for teachers because you do all your planning the first semester and then just modify those plans the second semester rather than start from scratch all year, but that first half of a year is intense. Another benefit is that you get to see the kids every day and that creates a consistency that regular block scheduling lacks.
In my experience, while the four-by-four schedule is great for teachers it is not so great for students. If you think about it, students can go a whole year without key classes. For example, a student may have English their first semester freshman year and their second semester sophomore year. That is a long time without guided reading and writing. The four-by-four schedule also poses problems for AP, Dual Enrollment, and IB classes. If a student has an AP class during the first semester, they have to wait several months until the AP test is given in the spring. If they have it second semester they only have a couple of months to learn everything they need to learn for the test. Some schools have solved this problem by making AP classes everyday classes year round, meaning students have those classes for ninety minutes every day all year, but many students don’t like this because it removes a slot in their schedule that may have been used for an elective or other content class.
The four-by-four schedule necessitates new and innovative activities more than any other schedule. Not only do you need to mix it up during each ninety-minute class to keep their attention, but you also need to mix it up day by day because they see you every day. Not that it isn’t important in any type of schedule, but it is of upmost importance here. When these kids see you every day for ninety minutes for a whole semester, they will get bored with you and what you’re teaching if you don’t get creative.
Whatever schedule you find yourself working under, the most important thing is to remember to keep kids engaged by changing activities, or modes of learning frequently.
Avoid having students sitting in one place, doing one thing, for any extended length of time.
I have worked in all three of these schedules and my personal favorite is the standard block schedule. I think it allows for year-long consistency with the same group of students and the 90 minute blocks are enough time to dig deeply into the content.