Welcome to my Journal: One Teacher's Experience

A Teacher's Journal: Day 5
July 12, 2002

"The Block Schedule: Going Where No One Has Gone Before "

Returning to the 88-minute teaching module will seem familiar but it will also present new challenges. In my previous block scheduling incarnation, I worked with ninth graders in a US Government class. The coming school year will bring me face to face with eighth graders who may or may not have reach the maturity level of the population I previously instructed. The summer between seventh grade and eighth grade is pivotal when it comes to building brain cells that will allow for the smooth transition into formal thinking. According to Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, eighth graders should be reasonably adept at abstract thinking. They will need that specific ability to process concepts such as democracy, communism, capitalism, fiscal discipline, and foreign policy. The longer class period will tax their ability to pay attention during one activity and to make smooth transitions from one activity to the next. As a teacher, it may be necessary to become adept at keeping multiple plates spinning in the air, so to speak, by allowing students to learn through a number of activities taking place simultaneously or in quick succession. Indeed, the block schedule forces all of us old dogs to learn new tricks. Without those new skills, the educational establishment will lose an entire generation of youth to the outdated, obsolete factory model of education, churning out underinformed little clones into a world that is rapidly undergoing globalization and heightened levels of interconnectedness.

The questionThe block forces educators to re-examine all of their values as professionals to arrive at a conclusion dealing with the question "to teach or not to teach?" How many of the members of our profession are not really in the teaching business because they want to reach out and affect the lives of the people they teach? It is too easy in our educational climate to become complacent, to give lip service to the myriad of educational trends that come down the pike, and to wait for it all to go away. The extended class period calls for an overhaul of pedagogical assumptions and a massive revision of lesson plans to the point that the teacher must choose to make a difference through relationship-building and meaningful instruction. A wider variety of activities, ones that tap into multiple intelligences, technology, as well as lessons that help shape students' social interactions along with mastery of the content, will all be part and parcel of the extended class period. Alternative assessments and innovative approaches to evaluating students' progress will also become critical in the extended period classroom.

The logistics of dealing with the A-B schedule will be a new challenge for me. I have always been a proponent of the "four-by-four" block schedule because it reduces the teacher's workload to teaching and checking the work of three classes at the most. With the A-B format, the average teacher may still have to teach between six and eight groups of kids over the span of two days. The workload is not reduced, just spread out over a longer period. The four-by-four schedule only works in communities where there is little transience within the school population. Coming into a class from another school outside the district may be easier when the class meets all year rather than changing at the mid-year semester break. So I must accept the decision to stay with the A-B schedule and develop coping mechanisms for the strain this places on one's professional and personal life. Maintaining a plan book that covers two days per activity will also be new, but there are strategies that will help keep lessons organized and students on the right track.

The world in which we teach is constantly experiencing accelerated change. The diversity of the population that we teach continues to grow, and teachers must help push the educational establishment along so the needs of that diverse population are being met. With longer class periods, the teacher can put a wider variety of approaches to work, allowing all students to succeed without regard to ethnic background or nationality or handicapping condition. The movement toward inclusion and English as a second language will find itself more at home within a school schedule that allows for greater one-on-one interaction between teachers and students. As my new school starts its service to the population of our county, so will its staff become aware of the value of the block schedule as well as its ancillary methodologies such as cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, and technology integration. These teachers are, for the most part, already veterans in their subject areas. It will be a refreshing and fascinating school year as we watch the staff coalesce and make learning a fascinating experience for the young people that will enter their doors.

Thanks for reading...

Email: George Cassutto