Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Block Scheduling

Cell Block?
My school is moving to a 12-day rotating schedule where class times range from 40 minutes to 90 minutes. Moving classes to different times of the day reduces the likelihood that students will do poorly because of their physiology. Classes meet sometimes when students are at their best and sometimes when their attention is not at full strength. In addition, only four of major subjects will meet on any given day. I am excited because the longer class periods are more conducive to projects and I am a huge fan of activity-based learning.

A side effect of block scheduling is that teachers need to prepare and be FLEXIBLE. For example, a class can meet three, four or five times a week. When a class meets three times a week, the classes will be on the longer side, but it still takes PLANNING. Looking at the calendar, it is possible that when a class meets three times, it will do so on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday or Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In these situations I will not see a class for four days - two week days and the weekend. It is CRITICAL to spend time summarizing each class for reinforcement and reviewing at the start of each class. The biggest wildcard will be events that interfere with the normal rotation, such as standardized testing, play/musical rehearsals, and special assemblies.

Block scheduling is good because it provides for longer class periods. This may or not be good based on faculty. If they do not plan carefully, then students will get lost from the lack of continuity. The extended class periods should be used for more project-based learning. I believe that successful implementation will rely on teachers being flexible. Teachers must be willing to try new activities and projects and revisit topics when necessary. I would love to hear from teachers who have been teaching in this format.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Year that Was

Summer is an excellent time to reflect on the past year and make improvements for next year. Our school completed our first student surveys for student to provide numeric and qualitative feedback. At the same time I was writing this post, I was reading similar posts and comments on Paul Bogush's blog (link). Here are the things that I am going to work on to be a better teacher:

  1. Give a brief assessment at the beginning of each unit to know how much students already know.
  2. Students that do exceptionally well on the pre-assessment should be given a challenging project so they are not bored.
  3. Relate the assessment at the end of a unit to the pre-assessment so students can reflect on how they have grown and learned.
  4. Make an effort to listen to your students during the year. Perceptions are important. Are you moving too fast or too slow? Are you are available for extra help as you think? Are you warm and welcoming outside of class? Do students believe that you are an export? Are there social aspects to the class that you are not seeing? Are the students engaged or bored?
  5. Use more technology and do more group projects. Have a range of activities for different levels of students. Have backup activities in case it is not providing the desired outcomes. Have extra activities to challenge students.
  6. Experience what students are experiencing. Take time to sit in on a class that you know little about so you can better empathize how some of your students may feel.
  7. Communicate the purpose of each unit and review what was learned at the end of the unit.
  8. Bring real world projects into the classroom.
  9. Get to know students better and understand stress in their life. Keep alert for sadness that might be disguised as a smile or a missed homework assignment.
  10. Make sure that you practice what you preach. If you are a math teacher, do math in your spare time. If you are an English teacher, then write in your spare time. If you are a science teacher, do experiments in your spare time. (link)
  11. Have students write a paragraph about the teacher that influenced them the most.
  12. Blog about teaching experiences.
  13. Have two projectors in class. One for me to show demonstrations and one for students to ask questions or collaborate with other students.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr (link)