How schools structure the resource of time is the province of course scheduling. Beyond designating where students and teachers need to be at various times throughout the school day, course scheduling can impact students' achievement, teachers' strategies in the classroom, and the overall climate of the school. Course scheduling can be traditional in nature or adapted to a format such as block scheduling. Efforts to envision schooling in new ways have led to modification of the school calendar, for example, in year round education, that will also have ramifications for course scheduling.
Keywords 4x4 Block Schedules; A/B Block Schedules; Academic Learning Time; Achievement; Block Schedules; Course Scheduling; Master Schedule; School Calendar; Time; Traditional Schedules; Year Round Education
The standard perception of schooling for K-12 students is that it takes place in one or more buildings between the months of September to June with school days starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 3 p.m. on each weekday (Stedron, 2007). School calendars typically have nine months of schooling and three months of vacation yielding at least 180 days of school per year and an average of slightly over six hours of instruction each day for students (O'Brien, 2006). It is course scheduling that provides structure to what students do during the hours they spend in school each day. Riehl and Pallas (1999) define course scheduling as "the mechanism by which students are matched with human resources (i.e., teachers and classmates) and intellectual resources (i.e., curriculum) in the school" (p. 117). Furthermore, course scheduling can influence school climate and shape how time is used as a resource in schools (Canady & Rettig, 1995).
Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (1998) asserts that "[t]ime determines class schedules, structures the curriculum, influences teaching, and shapes the interactions between teachers and students" (p. 1). O'Brien (2006) refers to allocated, engaged, or academic learning time in reference to how time influences learning and is used in school systems. Allocated time is the amount of time that students must be in school. Engaged time is when students are involved in the learning process. Academic learning time is when instruction and preparation coincide for students such that learning takes place. Making sure that students and teachers are assigned to the appropriate classes seems to be an important step in promoting engaged and academic learning time in school while allocated time can be viewed as the parameter course scheduling must work within so that students and teachers make effective use of the school day.
Fundamentally, course scheduling entails creation of a master schedule, student placement in courses that teachers have already been assigned to lead, and schedule revision (Riehl & Pallas, 1999). Course scheduling can be traditional in nature or involve an alternative approach. In a traditional schedule, a student has the same six to eight classes every school day during the week for a period of 45 to 55 minutes (Dexter, Tai, & Sadler, 2006; Irmsher, 1996; Nichols, 2005). Concerns about traditional schedules include students having multiple courseloads in one day, the large number of students teachers must interact with and prepare for each day, and discipline problems that take place when students transition from class to class (Irmsher, 1996).
Implementation of alternative scheduling plans is one way to address concerns about traditional course scheduling. Flexible block scheduling, for instance, has been described as the most appropriate type of scheduling to bring about a personalized learning experience for students (Neubig, 2006). Cunningham and Nogle (1996) suggest that prior to undertaking a change in traditional course scheduling a school should obtain teachers' opinions on changes, make sure students and parents are comfortable with the idea of change, and provide professional development to staff throughout the process.
Block scheduling adapts traditional scheduling so that students take fewer courses during the day due to the increased length of each class period (usually 90 minutes for each course). The 4x4 block, A/B block, trimester, 75-75-30 block, and Copernican schedules are types of block scheduling plans (Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998). A 4x4 block schedule is comprised of four class periods with an allotted lunchtime. Classes take place over the course of one semester so that a student should complete eight classes during the school year. An A/B block schedule, or alternate day schedule, also has four class periods in a day but classes differ on "A" or "B" days. The trimester schedule consists of two or three classes taken each trimester, or 60-day period, so that students complete six to nine classes over the school year. In a 75-75-30 schedule, students enroll in three classes for a period of 75 days, take another three classes during another 75-day period, and then enroll in a class, or microcourse (Queen & Gaskey, 1997), for 30-days. A Copernican schedule, also referred to as "macroscheduling," consists of terms from 30 to 90 days where students enroll in classes that occur over extended periods of time.
The potential advantages to block scheduling are numerous. In a block schedule teachers are thought to have more class time for instruction, there might be a reduction of discipline issues due to fewer transitions between classes, and extended class time could allow for activities and projects that require more time to complete (Ediger, 1998). Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (1998) posit several benefits to block scheduling. For instance, each type of block schedule allows for fewer classes in each semester. Furthermore, students and teachers have fewer courses to attend to in each semester; this lets students engage in a more in-depth manner with material and teachers prepare for fewer courses and students. Additionally, in a 4x4 or trimester schedule, students who fail a class may be able to take the class again in the same school year if it is offered in the next semester. Finally, 75-75-30 and Copernican schedules offer students the opportunity for intense study in an area of interest or access to enrichment programming.
Concerns about Block Scheduling
There are aspects of block scheduling that cause some concern. For example,
• How to schedule classes that need to continue for more than one semester such as music and Advanced Placement (AP) classes;
• Making sure students' schedules are balanced;
• The reduction in overall instructional time and the notion that less material will be covered in this time;
• How to hold students' attention and ensure that students retain information; and
• The amount of work a student misses when absent (Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory, 1998; Rettig & Canady, 1997).
Efforts have been made to address some concerns about block scheduling. Hansen, Gutman, and Smith (2000) reviewed the process by which one high school implemented a 4x4 block schedule in their AP program. AP classes were scheduled in the spring semester and students were encouraged to spread the desired number of AP classes across their 11th and 12th grade years so that they would be able to take all the AP classes they wanted. Queen and Gaskey (1997) suggested using microcourses throughout the year for students in AP classes so that they are consistently exposed to course material that will be on the AP exam scheduled toward the end of the school year.
Research on Block Scheduling
Bowman (1998) notes that the research evidence for block scheduling is inconclusive and limited in scope. Many of the studies used individual schools or school districts as sites of investigation. Most research has examined block scheduling in relation to student adjustment and achievement though the relationship between block scheduling and teachers' use of instructional strategies has also received a good deal of attention.
With regard to discipline matters, Evans, Tokarczyk, Rice, and McCray (2002) found that suspensions stayed the same for students while the amount of detentions given decreased by approximately 50 percent after implementation of block scheduling in three high schools.
In terms of academic achievement, findings from several research studies indicate a positive relationship between block scheduling and achievement. In their 2002 study of a high school that implemented a block schedule, Evans et al. found honor roll representation rose from 22 percent to 31 percent in the school. The number of Advanced Placement courses offered at the school increased with 25 percent more students enrolling in the classes and passing the AP exam. Nichols (2005) investigated the relationship between block scheduling and academic achievement over time. Five urban high schools were the sites of the study with a focus on achievement in English and language arts classes. There were small gains in the grade point average of students in language arts classes at two high schools. In all but one school more students enrolled in and completed language arts courses.
O'Neil (1995) detailed the positive effects of block scheduling in another high school that implemented a 4x4 block schedule. Attendance, honor roll representation, course credits completed, and number of students matriculating at four-year colleges increased after the block schedule was put into place. Veal's (2002) research examined traditional, block, and hybrid scheduling in relation to science achievement. For students in hybrid schedules, comparisons were made on course grades received after traditional and block schedule segments were completed. Students had higher GPAs in science courses when taught in a block schedule than they did when they were taught in traditional scheduled classes. In comparing grades across the tri-schedule format, hybrid scheduled students earned significantly higher grades than did traditional scheduled students. There were less failing grades in all of the block scheduled classes in the four science courses of interest.
Other research studies have shown negative or mixed effects of block scheduling on achievement. Lawrence and McPherson (2000) examined the relationship between type of course schedule and test scores in several course subjects. Comparisons were made between block and traditional schedules for students in a North Carolina high school. Students with traditional schedules exhibited higher scores on the North Carolina End-of-Course tests in four subjects....
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