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July 21, 2004
Disadvantages of Block Scheduling
In order to properly research a topic, first an adequate definition is required. Kellough (2003) defined block scheduling as:
The school programming procedure that provides large blocks of time (e.g., two hours) in which individual teachers or teacher teams can organize and arrange groupings of students for varied periods of time, thereby effectively individualizing the instruction for students with various needs and abilities. (439)
Traditionally, schools schedule six or seven 40- to 55- minute classes per day. These classes usually meet for 180 school days per school year. Block scheduling differs from traditional scheduling in that fewer class sessions are scheduled for larger blocks of time over fewer days. For example, in block scheduling, a course might meet for 90 minutes a day for 90 days, or half a school year. Block scheduling came along with many problems for school students and teachers. Disadvantages include attention span problems, retention problems, problems in transferring and difficulty when school is missed.
One of the first flaws of block scheduling is longer classes, which tend to lead to students loss of interest in the subject material. Queen found the average attention span of most
students is between twenty and fifty minutes (online). After this time frame, students are fidgety and ready to do everything except learn. Instead of trying to cover twice as much material in a longer class period, the natural tendency is to water down the material to maintain interest, resorting to movies, games, and doing homework in class. Either due to attention span limitations or to the watering down of material, learning is likely to be less effective, especially in courses such as math and science.
Another disadvantage related to the use of block scheduling is retention problems. Students taking all of their English, math, science, or other topics in one semester may experience a gap of eight to thirteen months before taking the next course in that series, whereas students under traditional schedules experience the longest gap of four months which is summer vacation. The long gap in learning a particular topic may translate into poor retention and the need for more than the usual two or three days of review at the beginning of a semester. Many students take tests, like Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test, Exit Exam, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, at the end of the school year on topics that were covered in the first semester only. This time gap of several months between the course and the test may hurt student performance on these standardized tests (Lindsay). Block scheduling has not been proven to increase performance on objective tests in any longitudinal study. In fact, Canadian studies have shown that block scheduling can hurt academic performance when assessed through objective tests (Schreiber & Veal).
Problems also arise when a student transfers in the middle of the school year from a school using block scheduling to a school using traditional scheduling and vice versa. Students may have missed half a year of material in required courses that they would have taken in the second semester under block scheduling, and they may needlessly repeat half a year of material
for courses already taken (Queen).
Difficulty when school is missed also has been proven to be a disadvantage of block scheduling. For a given course, missing a week of school due to sickness under block scheduling can be like missing several weeks under traditional scheduling. If the course is a challenging, content-based course like math or foreign language, catching up may be extremely difficult for the student. Of course, since the total amount of material covered in a day of block scheduled classes will be no greater and perhaps even less than the average under traditional scheduling, the problem of missed classes would appear to be no disadvantage under block scheduling. However, when it comes to a few truly difficult classes, missing the equivalent of two or four weeks instead of just one can be devastating (Lindsay).
Implementing block scheduling in the classroom requires more than simply extending the class periods. Teachers must alter their teaching for the new system to be successful. For example, Joan Bush, a researcher with the Irving, Texas, school district, observed forty-eight randomly selected high school classrooms