Friday, January 20, 2017

Moving Toward a Modified Block Schedule

In what may have seemed at the time like a wild three days returning from Winter Break, our school did a "Modified Block Pilot" to allow teachers and students the opportunity to experience what a modified block schedule will look and feel like. Next year we will be moving from a 7-period day to something a bit different:



There will be so many benefits - and, to be fair, challenges - to moving to this type of schedule. But that is not the purpose of this post!

I just wanted to reflect on a few of my experiences with the Pilot to give me an opportunity to think about how my instruction and teaching strategies will need to change for next year.

1. The skinny periods and the block periods will not have an equal number of minutes.

I did the math. The skinny periods will meet for 280 minutes per week. The block periods will meet for either 170 minutes or 255 minutes per week, depending on if we are in an A week or a B week, which means that every two weeks, all of the block periods will meet 425 minutes, where the skinny periods will meet 560 minutes. That's not a small difference!

So what does this mean for instruction? 

It means that we will have to reframe our thinking of courses because even if I teach all English II Honors classes - which is my schedule right now - I will have two very different preps. I will not be able to prepare my English II Honors skinny periods the same way I will prepare my English II Honors block periods.

Surprisingly, where I expected my skinny periods to get a lot of extra instruction during the Pilot, they actually missed out on an entire learning experience. The reason for this was that after teaching a full block, my team and I redesigned the next class period based on what we felt our students needed. That's a pretty normal occurrence. The difference was that we didn't get the opportunity to implement this into our skinny periods because of the time it took to turn over a new lesson.

This gives us a lot to think about as we begin to prepare for next year! Which leads me to...

2. Implementing UbD to its fullest extent will be crucial next year.

Our district is a UbD - Understanding by Design - district. Without getting too technical with it, UbD means that we design everything with an end goal in mind, and create learning experiences to help our students create their own understanding toward those ends.

How will this be important in a modified block? 

There are three major components to UbD. In the first, the enduring understandings and essential questions are designed, and the TEKS we will focus on are selected. In the second, performance tasks are created to align with the first element as well as create authentic assessments aligned across teams. The third is the design of the actual learning experiences that will lead to the big understandings of the unit.

This third element in UbD will have a huge weight in the modified block environment. As the skinny and block periods will have to function as different classes, it will be more important than ever to have a strong bank of lesson plans and learning experiences ready for all teachers using each UbD to pull from. As my campus has focused on deeply understanding and strongly implementing the first two elements of UbD, it will be so important for us to continue our work and push ourselves to work on that third element.

3. Sitting for 80 minutes will not be an option.

Kids sit all day. Like really. All day. And if you haven't tried it, it's surprisingly exhausting. As teachers, we will have to remember even more that it is important to get our kids up and moving during class, and to keep "chunks" of instruction to 15-20 minutes. Otherwise, it won't matter that we have more time with them during the day - they won't be paying attention to what's going on in class after the first 15 minutes of sitting.

4. I'll have time to go to the bathroom during the school day!

I know, I know. But seriously, if you're a teacher, you know - this is a big deal. On the modified block, we will have 12 minutes between classes (versus the 6 we have right now). Our students will have more time to socialize, take care of personal business, grab a snack, and talk to their teachers. 

If you haven't been in school in a while, or on a 7-period day like ours - where it feels like a bell rings and moves us around every 10 minutes - you may not appreciate how much of an impact this makes on you. I often feel like my heart beats faster during the school day than it does when I'm at home. During the Pilot, I had so much time in the passing periods that I even had time to make this amusing video (it amuses me at least!).


via GIPHY

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