Block Scheduling Research Paper Starter

Block Scheduling

(Research Starters)

This article presents an overview of block scheduling in U.S. public schools. The general types and variations of block schedules that have wide application and that are discussed in this article are: (1) the straight block type, semester 4 × 4 variation; (2) the modified block type, alternate-day A/B variation; and (3) the mixed, hybrid, or composite type, 2day block/3-day traditional variation. Block schedules have both advantages and disadvantages and have had inconsistent and sometimes conflicting outcomes even in similar school settings. The number of empirical research studies relating to the use of block scheduling has steadily increased since the 1990s and provide stronger evidence of its beneficial application in certain school settings. Replicable experimental research studies with multiple designs simultaneously under the same treatments will ultimately yield more conclusive evidence and more generalizable findings with regard to the performance and success of block scheduling in variant contextual and situational school settings.


Block scheduling originated with precursor block-time and flexible/modular schedules of the 1950s, found resurgence in the late 1980s, and has been used more extensively since the 1990s. Block scheduling has been utilized predominantly in departmentalized secondary school settings, especially high schools, and to a lesser extent in elementary self-contained classrooms. The chief common feature of the different types and variations of block-schedule designs is that class periods extend beyond the relatively short 40- to 50-minute class periods of the traditional Carnegie schedule.

Block scheduling is an alternative time scheduling arrangement used in U.S. public schools in which students take classes in extended and more flexible periods of time called "blocks." The block scheduling model reorganizes the school day and instructional time into longer periods that are double, triple, or more in length, typically 90 to 120 minutes. Classes and subjects that are offered and taught in different time blocks can vary or alternate from day to day, week to week, semester to semester, and year to year. There are many variations of the main block schedule types, and schools may use a mixture of schedule types simultaneously (Mattox, Hancock, & Queen, 2005; Vladero, 2001; Zepeda & Mayers, 2001).

Block scheduling was developed to overcome the rigidity, inadequacies, and limitations inherent to the relatively short 40- to 50-minute class periods that have characterized the use of the traditional, conventional, Carnegie scheduling in high schools across the U.S.A. for many decades (Beane, Toepfer, & Alessi, 1986). Although block scheduling has also existed for decades, experimentation with the design began in earnest in the 1990s and has continued since then in U.S. schools (Mowen & Mowen, 2004). A few high schools and junior high schools in the 1950s used what might be called a precursor form of block scheduling in which a single teacher taught multiple subjects known as "block-time (core) programs" or "unified studies" during class periods of two to three standard-lengths duration (Beane, Toepfer, & Alessi, 1986). J. L. Trump (1959) is credited with originating block scheduling in something closer to its modern forms with his so-called "flexible/modular scheduling design" (Zepeda & Mayers, 2001).


Approaches at Various Grade Levels

Four of the many general types of alternative time scheduling arrangements that have historically been used in U.S. schools are shown in Figure 1. These are displayed in a 1980s perspective of the different types of schedules that were being used at that time. It should be noted that there were many other scheduling designs then and many more have been developed since that time. The four types of schedules depicted in Figure 1 are the self-contained classroom schedule, the Carnegie schedule, the modular schedule, and the so-called block-time schedule. The subjects offered and taught in the different time slots or time "blocks" can vary from day to day, week to week, etc. (Beane, Toepfer, & Alessi, 1986).

Teachers in flexibly scheduled self-contained classrooms such as those typically found at the elementary school level and in some secondary schools are able to select and teach units of varying length (Beane, Toepfer, & Alessi, 1986). The Carnegie schedule, also called the traditional or conventional schedule, is the most common type of alternative time scheduling arrangement and it is the standard time format that is still used in most high schools today. The Carnegie schedule breaks the school day up into six to nine periods of 40 to 50 minutes each. The modular schedule, or flexible/modular as it is sometimes called, is another alternative time scheduling arrangement that allows for class periods of varying lengths ranging from a fraction of a standard Carnegie period (e.g., 20-minute or 30-minute modules) to some multiple of those periods. The modular schedule was used in some schools in the 1960s and is still used in some schools today. The blocktime schedule reserves lengthy blocks of time equal to several standard periods in which teachers and students may engage in different activities (Beane, Toepfer, & Alessi, 1986).

Practice in the Public Schools

Although block scheduling has shown its viability for use in high schools, there has been a paucity of research concerning its use in middle schools (Mattox, Hancock, & Queen, 2005). Several different types and variations of block scheduling have found practical application in U.S. public schools. Here, three main types and three variations or subtypes will be described. These types and variations, which are diagrammatically illustrated in Figure 2, are: (1) the straight or full block schedule type and semester 4 × 4 variation; (2) the modified block type and the alternate-day A/B variation; and (3) the mixed, hybrid, or composite block type and the 2-day block/3-day traditional variation.

In the semester 4 × 4 variation of the straight block schedule type, students take four classes for half a school year schedule or first semester and four different classes the second half of a school year schedule or second semester and over a full year spend a comparable amount of actual time in each class as they would in a traditional hourly class (Mowen & Mowen, 2004; Vladero, 2001). In the alternate-day A/B variation of the modified block schedule type, students take eight courses for the year but attend each class only on alternating days. That is, they typically spend four odd periods (i.e., 1, 3, 5, and 7) or so-called "A" days and four even periods (i.e., 2, 4, 6, and 8) or so-called "B" days of a traditional eight-period hourly schedule in block periods alternating on MWF of one week and TTh the following week (Mowen & Mowen, 2004). In the 2-day block/3-day traditional variation of the mixed, hybrid, or composite schedule type, students meet in block-scheduled class periods on Wednesday and Thursday, for example, and in traditional-scheduled class periods on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Obviously, there are many other variations of these schedule types that a school can use to...

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