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Block schedule offering deeper learning for students, more teacher collaboration

Grand Island Senior High started its first year of an AB block schedule this fall and initial reaction has been positive.

GISH Principal Jeff Gilbertson said rather than having eight 45-minute periods each day, there are only four 90-minute periods. The AB schedule means classes are taken every other day. For example, one week a student may have a science class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a math class on Tuesday and Thursday, with the next week being the opposite.

Gilbertson said the schedule is similar to some higher education institutes, so it helps prepare students for the future.

“It slows the day down for students,” Gilbertson said.

Students also could have a free period where they leave and then come back. That option allows more flexibility within the school day and gives students ownership and responsibility. These longer periods will eventually offer students more time for job shadows, internships and other experiences.

Gilbertson said students who are involved in extracurriculars also benefit from the block schedule in the way of not missing as many classes when they travel for events. In the past, if a student had a track meet and missed one day, they would miss eight separate classes. Now, that student would only miss four classes, or even less if they had a free period. In addition, students also have an extra day to reach out to teachers to see what they need to make up before the next class.

The block schedule makes better use of the day’s time, with less passing periods. Longer classes also allow students and teachers to dive into deeper learning.

Amy Voss, a science teacher at GISH, said she was uncertain about the change, but found the longer periods helpful.

Amy Voss, a science teacher at GISH, said she was uncertain about the change, but found the longer periods helpful.

“I was a bit hesitant during the summer about the longer period of time with students, but I have found that the 90 minutes actually goes by rather quickly,” Voss said.

She said the 90 minutes seems more effective in students’ learning.

“It is great for science. In class we have time to front-load a lab with the students so they see the purpose of the lab and it seems more relevant to their learning. They carry out the lab, then we have time to discuss and analyze the results within the 90 minutes,” Voss said. “Before, a lab would take two or even three class periods by the time students set-up the equipment and cleaned up at the end of the period. We would have to discuss the results the next day and often they would forget what the purpose was and things sort of felt disconnected. On days when we haven't done a lab activity, I try to break up the block into smaller chunks of time so that students are not being lectured to for the entire block. I try to keep the pace lively and upbeat for myself and my students.”

Voss said her hesitation has “completely worn off” and she’s loving the new schedule.

“I have also heard positive comments from the students as well,” she said. “A lot of the students have said they like having an extra day to do their homework, too.”

Tracy Jakubowski, an American history teacher at GISH, also sees the benefit to the block schedule.

Tracy Jakubowski, an American history teacher at GISH, also sees the benefit to the block schedule.

“In the past, it sometimes felt like right as we were getting into the groove of digging deeper within an task, it would be time to pick up and head to the next class,” Jakubowski said. “It was frustrating for me that we lost valuable time the next day due to reviewing the previous day's info just to begin where we left off. I appreciate how the block the scheduling gives us the time we need to extend lessons and reach those higher levels of thinking.”

Kathryn Langrehr, a science teacher at GISH, said students are able to tap into critical thinking more than when there were eight class periods.

“There is time to deepen knowledge and understanding for all learners,” Langrehr said. “A positive experience I have with students is collaborative group time in Biology. Students are working on projects and being successful and engaged.”

Classes are typically five credits each, but longer double block classes are 10 credits. Students are still expected to reach 240 credits to graduate, so that hasn’t changed. If students take 30 credits a semester (six classes), they’d be right on track. High schoolers have the flexibility and responsibility with their credit load. If a student knows he or she will have a tough class and doesn’t want a heavy load on top of that, they have the freedom to choose.

GISH students have fewer passing periods with the new AB block schedule.

Dave Woods, a counselor at GISH, said as with any change there will be growing pains, but the block schedule has already been positive.

“This has been the most smooth start to the year we’ve ever had,” Woods said.“We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for our students.”

Woods said students are handling the change with ease and feel more empowered in their education. The block schedule is individualized and personalized.

Voss said the block schedule also allows for more collaboration time with teachers.

“Before the block schedule, we would have to find bits and pieces of time throughout the day or before or after school to discuss what we were teaching and how we were teaching the content,” she said. “With the time allotted during the day for content planning, we have designated time for collaboration with our peers and it has been great to be able to sit down and actually plan our lessons and discuss teaching strategies that enable us to better focus on learning for our students.”

Jakubowski said the change has encouraged her to differentiate her lesson styles and activities when planning, allowing her to personalize the learning for students.

“The additional time built in now for content planning is so valuable that we couldn't do this without it,” Jakubowski said.

She said the change doesn’t come without kinks, but this is the right path.

“I can acknowledge it's been harder getting to know students with only seeing them every other day,” Jakubowski said. “It will take time for accountability and routines to settle in, but I have faith we'll get there.”

Kathryn Langrehr, a science teacher at GISH, said students are able to tap into critical thinking more than when there were eight class periods.

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