Tweaks for a block schedule

Teacher from California: How would you modify or adapt your methods for working with a block schedule? We have traditional 50-minute classes on Mondays, then 90-minute blocks for odd/even periods the rest of the week. So I’m only seeing kids three times a week. Any advice?

Mike: One year I taught a similar schedule– 109 minute blocks twice a week and one day with 40 minutes. In general I had two exit quizzes in the long blocks; one midway through and the other at the end. The exit quizzes are not about pushing trivia into long-term memory but rather encouraging kids to simply engage and track the class, so splitting the class into “two classes” with two separate quizzes worked well.

When I do a One Word Image in a block period, we do the image during the first half (20 minutes) and another activity (music, interview, movie talk, picture talk, etc), followed by Write & Discuss and the first exit quiz. There is also 5-10 minutes of quiet pleasure reading at the beginning of class. During the 2nd half of class we make the story (again, only twenty minutes) along with another activity, followed by another Write & Discuss and the second exit quiz.

With only 90 minutes split into two sections, you might have to make the second activity quite short so that you have time for the W&D and exit quiz. Have a student take on the job as the timer to remind you when your time with each activity is over and stick to the schedule. You might feel like a 10 minute picture talk based on a student photo has barely begun, but your students will love that each activity moves along fast. You will also grow to love having a breather planned in frequently.

Life gets even easier once you have a decent-sized class library so that you can take 5-10 minute reading breaks throughout class. Building a library takes time, but is so worth it.
Have you tried the music bail-outs? They are a nice transition between activities.

Finally, resist the urge of planning one mega-activity that will take up tons of time. The mega-activity approach exhausted me and, because I was looking for some way to include a break for me, it led me to add less-than-efficient output activities such as frequent student pair/shares and quick writes. I needed to just occupy the students for a few minutes because being on center stage for 109 minutes straight was tiring! In reality, a quick write once every three weeks is enough. Student pair/share whenever an admin wanders in and wants to see a ‘student centered classroom’ really is enough.

The efficient answer is to plan enough 10-20 minute activities that, even with the block, class moves along fairly quickly. Short activities with a couple of bailout moves not only makes it more engaging for the kids, but also gives you a bit of a break from being “on” all the time.

Simply put, learners ‘get grammar’ by attending to comprehensible, meaning-bearing input; they don’t build a linguistic system up over time oral practice.

– Bill VanPatten, “Evaluating the role of consciousness in second language acquisition”, AILA Review, 11 (1994), p. 28, as quoted in Eric Herman, Research Talks (Acquisition Classroom, 2019), p. 12.