School Scheduling Planning Guide

By Michael D. King If our goal is to improve teaching and learning, then what kind of schedule really makes sense?

OVERVIEW
According to the 1996 Report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, schools have been structured for failure. Curriculum goals lack definition as students are placed on an assembly line, moving from room to room for short periods of time to cover challenging material in a cursory manner. As often is the case, teachers stand on the frontline of criticism, when in fact teachers are doing their very best in a system marking time with grandfather minutes instead of with digital precision.

American children are being asked to compete in the 21st Century using a school model devised more than a half century ago. Since the advent of the industrial revolution, secondary schools have been organized into neat slots of 40-50 minute learning periods that start and stop with the ring of a bell, that compartmentalize teaching and learning into subject areas taught by teacher experts specialized in the field. All happens behind closed doors in the isolation of the individual classroom. Although the lecture format of the 40's and 50's gave way to open classrooms with student centered activities in the late 60's, the basic time frame has remained status quo...

Teaching is a dynamic process that constantly undergoes reassessment. The success of innovative and flexible scheduling for the purpose of improved teaching and learning hinges on a serious commitment to professional development. In order to implement the kind of change that comes with a flexible schedule, teachers must initiate new learning in concrete teaching methodology, classroom management, technology training and common planning strategies.

TIME AND LEARNING A look into a typical Middle School classroom today would result in the following scenario. All students are in the halls rushing to lockers, using the restroom and visiting friends before the time expires on their five-minute passing period. Each teacher waits by his/her classroom door, hurrying the kids to class, before the tardy bell rings. When the bell rings, the teacher must make sure that all students are out of the hallway and into the classroom. The teacher must now have
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some type of sponge activity to keep the class occupied while attendance is taken. Five minutes into the class period, the teacher has done all of the administrative duties that are required each period. It is now time to get the students transferred from their sponge activity to the day's assignment. This may take a minute or so.

The teacher usually must deal with several classroom disruptions and make many attempts to get every student focused and engaged on the day's lesson. Throughout class, the teacher may have to stop temporarily to redirect some students. Research suggests that approximately thirty minutes into the class, students begin to settle down completely and become involved in the lesson. The teacher now has approximately ten minutes of quality work time with the students before it is time to begin closing the lesson so that students may prepare to be dismissed to their next class. When the bell rings, the students charge out of the room and begin another fiveminute ritual, which seems to drive the students into a fairly hyper state.

The traditional school day consist of seven periods with 45 to 50 minute classes and a half-hour for lunch. Within the school day, a student will attend the five core subjects, and usually two elective courses. Several critics of the traditional bell schedule have stated that it is not beneficial for the student to spend the same amount of time in choir, for example, as a student spends in math class. Several studies have proven that alternative schedules increase student achievement, decrease discipline problems throughout the school, and increase the overall atmosphere of the school. In order to understand the benefits of alternative scheduling, one must first understand what is meant by the term.

A school can modify the traditional school schedule in several ways. One of the ways schools are making a change from the traditional seven period days is by implementing alternative schedules. The idea of alternative scheduling can be an overwhelming one. Educators must first analyze many things before they make the decision to change the master schedule of their school. Research has proven that students, teachers, and communities have found that the benefits of alternative scheduling far outweigh the costs. Schools must first conduct a need assessment of their students. They must determine whether they have a supportive staff in place to make the transition, and they must allow time for the change to take place. For some teachers, twenty-five years of having 50-minute classes is hard to let go of. Schools must be supportive of the needs of all involved for the transition to be a successful one.
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What is flexible scheduling? Flexible scheduling means designing the length of periods in the school day to allow larger blocks of learning time for both teachers and students. In a broader sense, flexible scheduling means changing the configuration of the school day to allow for the extension of time for learning content based subjects. In the most dramatic time change model, a different class may be taught on a rotating basis by combining multiple methods for conserving instructional time within the school calendar and within the school day. In most secondary schools where they double the usual learning time on task, i.e. 45 to 90 minutes, the change is less radical. However, the key question follows: how is more time used for more effective learning?

What is Sound Pedagogy for the Time? Longer teaching periods must be supported with substantial common planning time for teachers to effectively put interdisciplinary and project based teaching strategies into practice or other methods that include teacher collaboration such as teaming. Teachers need to model the learning environment themselves. Common planning time must be built into the school day so that teachers and students can work together in a fluid and dynamic classroom setting. Experienced teachers bring the wisdom of their years and younger teachers offer the refreshing enthusiasm of discovery. What a powerful combination if only they would talk meaningfully to one another. In the advent of rapid electronic networks, teachers are connecting all over the planet. Why are they not connecting in their very own schools?

Issues Addressed in Scheduling:      Extended time allows for ______________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Teamwork emphasized by _____________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Greater depth and breadth of understanding subject matter by _________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Less time filing in the hallways by ______________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Opportunity for varied teaching strategies by ______________________________________

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            

Individualized evaluations one-on-one by _________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Interdisciplinary teaching by ___________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Common teacher planning time by ______________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Integrating technology by _____________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Cooperative, small group learning time by ________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Extra curricular activities do not disrupt other teachers and instructional time by __________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Student attention span is ______________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Students daily exposure to subject matter _________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________ Instructional strategy promoted through schedule ___________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Homework addressed in schedule by _____________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Students progress reports are distributed __________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________ Students are enrolled into classes by what methods _________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ Number of concepts learned during a day per subject ________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________

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Designing a School Schedule
By Michael D. King

Base Schedule Variables
These base scheduling variables are universal to all school organizations—elementary, middle, and high school. These base-scheduling variables will reinforce important decisions that are made regarding the design of the school schedule. An important first step in schedule design is to establish the working parameters of the schedule. Among these identified scheduling variables, critical elements will emerge that will influence the outcome of the school schedule. The base schedule is in a grid format to allow the time elements to be broken into smaller units. Time units are normally represented horizontally at the top of the grid, while teacher assignments and course selections are represented vertically in columns. This type of grid will give the scheduler a broader view when the scheduling process begins. When adding additional variables to the base schedule, the grid format will play an important role. A grid format base schedule should be designed for every grade level at the school site. This base schedule will provide the foundation for additional variables to be added later in the scheduling process. Additional variables could include change in academic standards, realignment of time constraints, adding additional grade levels or course requirements, and change of personnel. The base schedule provides necessary information that will standardize the scheduling process as unknown variables influence the design of the master schedule.

Scheduling Variables
In designing the base or standard schedule for this grade level, the scheduler must comply with the following scheduling variables:         a teacher-to-class size ratio of _________________________________ a ___________________-minute planning time for every teacher adequate instructional time for all required core subjects _____________________________ a school day that begins at ___________________ A.M. and ends at _______________ P.M. minimum requirements for state-mandated courses ___________________________________ minimum requirements for state-mandated courses ___________________________________ minimum requirements for district mandated courses ___________________________________ at least _________________________ minutes for lunch for each child in the grade level

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Establishing Daily Time Requirements
When establishing daily time requirements to determine the number of periods that will be offered during a school day, the scheduler will need to answer the following questions:     How many periods need to be offered? ________________________ When will the school reporting periods begin and end? ___________________________ What are the minimum state time requirements for core period offerings? ______________________ What are the minimum time requirements for lunch, recess, and special programs?_______________

Grade Seven Base Schedule (Required Subjects) Course Time Required Number of Sections

Grade Eight Base Schedule (Required Subjects) Course Time Required Time Allocated

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Size of School
The size of the school will determine the amount of flexibility the scheduler has to design an effective schedule. The objective, regardless of school size, is to create an effective learning environment that maximizes time and learning. What will be the estimated student population on this school? Grade Seven ____________________________________ Grade Eight ____________________________________ Number of Core Subject Teachers Each school will have a certain number of teachers assigned to it, depending on the grade-level sizes (number of students in one grade), special services requirements (number of identified special education and at-risk students), and elective teachers (music, art, physical education, etc.). To determine a school schedule, it is important to know the number of teachers assigned to a particular school and each teacher's areas of endorsement and content certification. How many core teachers will be needed to facilitate the number of students projected for the upcoming school year? Subject Grade Number of Teachers

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Number of Elective Teachers
Elective teachers play a major role in specialized course offerings such as art, music, physical education, band, computers, and technology education. In addition to providing students an opportunity to explore specialized areas, these courses usually fit into the curriculum to provide the necessary planning time for core instruction. The number of elective course offerings will vary from school to school, depending on state mandates and district finances. In all cases, it is recommended that basic elective course offerings include at least physical education, art, and music as standard to the elective schedule. How and when these courses will be offered during the school day will be major considerations in the design of the master schedule. The number of elective teachers and the courses designed by the curriculum coordinators or department heads will determine the amount of flexibility in the schedule.

Number of Elective Teachers Subject Grade Number of Teachers

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Number of Shared Teachers
In many districts, some teachers are assigned to more than one site. These teachers are normally elective or special education instructors, but are occasionally core instructors. Before the scheduler can construct the master schedule, he or she needs to determine the time available in the schedule for teachers who are shared by more than one school site. The number of shared teachers automatically requires and creates flexibility and should be considered first when designing a school schedule.

Subject

Grade

Time Available

Number of Teachers

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Length of Class Periods
In the traditional school setting, the period length is determined by the number of hours that the school will be in session each day. These requirements are normally established by each state's department of education and passed down to the local school district. In most cases, schools are in session for at least eight hours a day. Thus, the availability of time sets the basic framework for academic learning time. That is why the scheduler should pay close attention to the percentage of allocated time devoted to actual instruction when designing the master schedule. Each element of the school day should be studied and carefully calculated in terms of instruction, routines, and student movement. In addition, time must be devoted to social activities (recess, lunch, etc.). Under the traditional way of setting time periods, the bell schedule divides the content into selected periods of time devoted to learning.

New approaches to designing schedules are being explored in terms of allocated time and the opportunity to learn. However, most secondary schools, as well as elementary schools, still cling to the traditional schedule. There has yet to be any evidence that the traditional schedule has any significant effect on how students learn. In fact, most studies indicate that the traditional schedule has had more of an adverse effect on students because of the rigid time constraint of the standard six- or seven-period day. Even elementary schools have suffered from selected content abandonment due to teacher discretion in the amount of time allocated to the subject matter. For example, one elementary teacher may allocate 68 minutes a day for instruction in reading and language arts, while another may allocate 130 minutes a day. The marked variability in time allocated to particular content areas leads inevitably to differences in student achievement. It is important for schedule designers to recognize the ways students learn and how their learning is affected by time and the opportunity to learn. Every effort should be made to incorporate new elements in the master schedule that will allow flexibility regarding these two important factors.

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Daily Schedule Time Length of Class Periods

Daily Schedule Time Length of Class Periods

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Lunchroom Capacity
Maximizing time and uninterrupted instruction are the primary goals in scheduling lunch periods. Time and numbers of students are the variables to be considered when designing a lunch schedule. However, school lunchrooms rarely are designed to meet the needs of the number of students who require services. A major concern in the design of a master schedule is to determine the number of students who can be served in a given time period. This will allow the scheduler to design a lunch schedule that results in multiple lunch shifts or rotations. In all cases, the scheduler should avoid splitting a class period for lunch. When many students are served, the scheduler should examine various methods of rotation or multi-leveling (mixed grade levels) within the serving time frame of the central cafeteria.

Daily Lunch Schedule Time Number of Minutes

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Additional Scheduling Variables
While staying within the parameters of the base schedule, schedulers can use other types of scheduling factors to help maximize available resources and academic outcomes. In every district, there will be other factors that influence schedule design. These factors may be a result of community expectations, building site limitations, available financial resources, and state and federal mandates for class sizes, curriculum course offerings, and specific special education guidelines. To address these scheduling factors, the scheduler must do the following:      

Determine the classes that must be offered. Match available staff to time constraints. Comply with district, state, and federal guidelines. Establish grouping requirements in the grade level and the type of organizational structure that best fits the needs of the students (self-contained, teaming, individual course offerings, etc.). Align teachers' competencies and endorsements to the appropriate assignments. Provide enough sections to establish appropriate class size or student/teacher ratio.

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Number of Rooms and Other Facilities
One major factor in creating a unified schedule is the number of rooms available for instruction. Sometimes, the facilities can be a major stumbling block for appropriate schedule design. If there are not enough rooms available in the primary facility, additional classrooms must be added or existing classrooms must be used during teacher off periods. It is important that the scheduler creates a school map and carefully examines the number of room assignments available and the types of courses being offered within those classroom spaces. It is also important that student movement within those spaces be considered to minimize wasted instructional time when students are moved from one class setting to another. Too much transition time in a daily schedule means a loss of valuable instructional time. Transition periods can be reduced by changing classroom locations and teacher room assignments, especially when teaming is considered as an organizational option.

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Block Scheduling
One of the most popular forms of modified scheduling is the block schedule. There are several ways to implement a block schedule. The most utilized version is called a "4 x 4" schedule. This schedule entails four 90-minute classes a day, four courses a semester, two semesters a year. Another popular schedule is the alternate day schedule. This schedule has students and teachers meeting every other day (Day 1/Day 2 or A/B) for extended blocks of 80 to 120 minutes. Critics of block scheduling argue that curriculum is being "dumbed down" because teachers tend to spread a 45-minute lesson over 90 minutes. The time issue is relevant depending on what the school is moving from. Less time per class is provided when a change is made from a six or seven period schedule in which courses last for approximately 180 days of 50 minute periods to a schedule where courses receive 90 days of 90 minute blocks. This issue does not arise when eight period schools switch to the 4x4 schedule, as teaching time per course in the 4 x 4 plan generally increases in those schools. There are countless other forms of alternative scheduling. However, this paper will focus on the pros and cons of the 4 x 4 and alternate day schedules, since they embody most of the factors of alternative scheduling. Experts estimate that fifty percent of high schools are now participating in or studying block scheduling. Before we can study how students are affected by block scheduling, we must first learn the importance of in-service for the teachers who will be transferring to the modified schedule. 

4 x 4 Block Schedule: Broadly defined, block scheduling is a restructuring of the school day whereby students attend half as many classes, for twice as long. In a departure from the traditional 50 minutes per class, 6–8 classes per day ritual, students take four classes, in 90- or 120-minute blocks each day. In one of the two most common variations, the roster of class subjects alternates from day to day (AB format). In the other, it alternates from semester to semester (4 x 4 format). Four classes, approximately ninety minutes in length, every day for the first semester. Four completely different classes, again ninety minutes in length, every day for the second semester. Each class equals one credit.

A/B Block Schedule: Four classes, approximately ninety minutes in length, meeting every other day ("A" days) for an entire school year. Four completely different classes, again ninety minutes in length, meeting on alternate days ("B" days) for an entire year. Each class equals one credit.

 

Combination Block Schedule: A combination of 4 x 4 and A/B block schedules. Flexible Schedule: A combination of 4 x 4 and A/B block schedules, but class length varies from day to day. One example: On three out of every five days throughout the school year, each class could be 90 minutes in length. On the other two days, designated as Advisement/Resource Days, each class is 75 minutes in length. An Advisement/Resource Hour is 60 minutes in length.

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Block scheduling is certainly viable under ideal circumstances. It must target appropriate student populations, teachers must receive proper professional training and it must be undertaken with the consent and knowledge of the community. At best, block scheduling is peripheral to the core issue of student achievement. At worst, it is a distraction from and a delay of significant systemic reform. As discovered by the National Commission on Time and Learning in its report Prisoners of Time, schools should test innovative ways of employing alternative time schedules, and many have succeeded in doing so. However, the key is the flexibility afforded by administrators to schools to make changes that may better meet the needs of their students, rather than forcing upon schools a top-down mandate that may not fit all schools. As with any potential innovation, it should be something done at the bottom-most level and with options for parents who don't agree, so that teachers are not just substituting one bad structure for another. When it comes to considering the introduction of block scheduling to a school or district, the possible merits need to be measured against the very real problems that concerned citizens and educators face. Block scheduling should not be a diversion from increasing parental choice and involvement, high and meaningful standards, high-stakes assessment, and student, teacher, school and district accountability.

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Trimester Schedule
After several years of studying block scheduling, Madison High School implemented a trimester schedule beginning in the 1997-98 school year. The schedule finally agreed upon is a 72 minute five period schedule. Students take five classes, instead of six or seven in the traditional seven period-50 minute schedule. Teachers teach four periods and have one 72 minute planning period. Students complete a semester's work in one trimester, 58 days instead of 87. Study halls were eliminated freeing teachers to teach additional courses thus expanding the curricular offerings for students. After reviewing the literature, visiting a high school in Florida, and having some phone conversations with schools using the trimester schedule, it was determined that a trimester schedule could have many positive benefits for Madison High School. Some of the benefits include the following;

Provides for a longer block of time (72 minutes) for students to participate in School-to-Work (Classrooms-to-Careers) job shadows and mentorship’s.

Students may enroll in a greater number and variety of elective courses. Graduation requirements have been increased.

    

Fewer preparations for teachers. Encourages use of a variety of teaching methods. Lectures don't work for a 72 minute period. Lab oriented classes have more time for instruction, setting up, closure, etc. Better use of the school day as there are fewer class changes. Student homework is lighter in that they are taking fewer subjects at one time, however because of a somewhat accelerated pace things move a little quicker.

Students who fail or fall behind have time to catch up and graduate on time.

Students, staff and parents have been surveyed several times regarding their satisfaction with trimester scheduling. In January of 1999 students rated their overall satisfaction with trimester scheduling as 3.17 on a five point scale. This was a .18 increase from January of 1998 but a .06 decrease from May of 98. Teachers rated the trimester schedule 3.94 on a five point scale. This compared to a 3.53 rating in May of 1998. 77% of the teachers agree/strongly agree that teaching in a trimester schedule is less stressful. 82% of the teachers agree/strongly agree that students can focus better under the trimester schedule because they have fewer classes each day. The downside of trimester scheduling according to teachers is that make-up work is more difficult to keep track of and get completed and students have more difficulty recovering from absences. Parents agree/strongly agree (79%) that trimester schedule allows students to concentrate their time on fewer subjects.61% of parents agree/strongly agree that their student's prefer trimester schedule while 55% agree/strongly agree that their student's attitude is better. Parents are not sure if achievement is improved.

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