Middle school block scheduling has become a popular alternative to traditional school schedules in many schools across America.
Block scheduling is a method that schools use, generally in middle and high school. The purpose is to have fewer large blocks of time to concentrate more on their subjects so that learning can progress better.
Block scheduling was first implemented into school systems around 1989. with the publication of Turning Points by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. It has consistently developed and grown from there. But as classes across America have switched between traditional and block scheduling, some issues on both sides have come up.
So what are the pros and cons of middle school block scheduling? Most of them have to do with attention spans, attendance patterns, and testing. Here is a chart with a list of the biggest issues regarding block scheduling:
So let’s go ahead and take a look at what some of these look like in the middle school classroom.
Table of Contents
The Pros of Middle School Block Scheduling
This list is by no means complete. But it should give you a good idea of what some really good reasons are for block scheduling in middle school.
More Time to Focus
On an almost daily basis, teachers in traditional scheduling need to quickly get their students attention (read more about this in my article on the anticipatory set), then get the most critical points across to them, and make sure they truly comprehend them before rushing on to the next subject to do the same. That happens daily for 6-7 periods a day for a lot of classrooms.
And while there are certainly advantages to this method that has been used for well over a hundred years now, there are also some disadvantages.
One of those is that it is hard to focus when there is such a rush to get things done and move on to the next class period. Having a larger block of time allows teachers to be able to truly concentrate on the discipline they are teaching. And it allows the students to be able to take it in, apply it, and reinforce the learning with activities related to it.
Because so many elements are being brought into the larger block of time, real focus on what is being taught can take place. And that will allow students to better retain what they have learned because it wasn’t just briefly touched on before moving on to the next thing.
But one of the biggest advantages to having more time to focus is that teachers can do projects with their students that they traditionally either had to split up or forego because there wasn’t enough time in the traditional schedule.
The Teacher Spends More Time With the Students
Because there is less rush to get from one class to the next, teachers are able to really get to work with their classes. They have fewer classes, which means fewer students to work with overall. And this allows them to get to know the students they have better.
Teachers can work with them better because they learn more easily what works for the students they have. When they implement those things that they know the students will do better with, their classroom becomes so much more productive.
Teachers getting to know their students better is such an advantage in so many ways. The more they know their students, the better they can serve them in the classroom. And the happier and more productive the students become.
Research Shows Lower Dropout Rates in Older Grades
Studies have been done that have shown that when students are more engaged and learning productively, the dropout rates decrease (O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997). While this is not necessarily a middle school statistic, it certainly affects middle schoolers.
If they are able to learn productively and well in middle school, it tends to continue on into their high school years. So maybe those students who were having a hard time in middle school but turned it around while still in middle school will not later become a statistic.
I was not able to find any more recent studies done. But I plan to look more into it and write about it at a later time.
Higher Test Scores
In the summer of 2015, Yancy Jason Ford conducted a study on testing scores between traditional and block scheduled classrooms.
He concluded that, indeed, students in a block schedule did perform better on tests in all subjects discussed in the study. But interestingly, he seemed to attribute it more to teacher attention and ability to get lessons across to their students than to the tests and dissemination of material.
I know I’m a nerd, but I found his study to be really interesting and good reading.
Getting More Things Done That Were Put Aside
I touched on this point a little bit above, but one of the things that teachers loved about block scheduling was that they were able to take on projects and get them done that they couldn’t before.
When they previously had a large project to do, they would take a couple of class periods to do it. And that would actually take extra time because they would have to pick up and then set up materials for the additional classes.
So not only were they able to get more done in the block schedule, but they were able to cut out extra busy-work along the way. That was a win-win for both them and their students.
More Opportunity for Review of Important Material
This is a huge benefit to block scheduling in middle school. Because there is enough time to do several activities within the subject they have scheduled, they are able to sufficiently review material that the students have been learning. This allows them to fully learn the material before going on with the new lessons.
And because of the extra time, teachers can be more creative with how they conduct their review time. It can be in the form of a game show, classroom discussion, or video. Or it can literally be anything they can come up with to reinforce the material already learned.
These are the things that students will remember the longest. And they will remember a lot of the facts that went along with those fun moments. Helping your students to learn lifelong lessons in this way is a pretty awesome way to do school.
The Cons of Middle School Block Scheduling
Again, this list is certainly not a complete list. But it should give you an idea of what the major cons are regarding middle school block scheduling.
Learning Retention Could be Compromised
So this statement seems a little bit contradictory since I just said in the list above that student retention could be higher based on a couple of the pros of block scheduling.
The reason for this seeming discrepancy is that while retention throughout a course has proven to be higher, unfortunately, it doesn’t always play out that way long term.
Once a course is done for the semester, it could be a full year or more before the subject is covered again. And with no reinforcement or review for such a long period of time, students could actually regress in their study of those subjects.
One of the best ways to combat this is to spend a certain amount of time reviewing in the beginning of the new semester. And this isn’t so different from having to review concepts after summer vacation.
But either way, significant time is needed for the sake of getting students back on par.
Transferring to Other Schools Could be Detrimental
This is probably one of the biggest cons that I found in block scheduling. The reason why this is such a problem is because if the blocks are significantly different from one school to another, students can miss half or more of a book or course that they have been doing.
Unfortunately, this is just not something students can make up for in a viable way. The closest thing I would think they could do is find the equivalent of the classes they are taking and take them independently of their classmates. Then go back and take the new ones with the new semester. But that is a whole lot of shuffling around. And that could be even more detrimental for students that are new to the school and trying to make a new social life on top of their new studies.
While there aren’t a whole lot of students that would find themselves in this situation, there are still enough students that would experience this. And the number of students doesn’t really matter if any students are working through this. We don’t want them to feel like they are slipping through the cracks.
Attention Spans for Middle Schoolers Could be Difficult to Deal With
This sounds like a problem because middle schoolers are so active. But honestly, it really isn’t a problem if the teachers are getting to know their students and those students’ strengths/favorites.
Learning that is fun and experiential is way more productive than book learning and lectures. And the best part of block scheduling is that the teacher can now do this more effectively and for more students. There is enough room and time for everybody’s strengths to be celebrated and capitalized on in the classroom.
I don’t have room to write about that here, but here is another article I wrote about differentiated instruction, and one about the seven styles of learning.
Music, Sports, Art, and PE Could be Hard to Work In
These have been issues for longer than block scheduling has been on the table. I remember this being an issue when I was in middle and high school myself (I won’t discuss how long ago that was!).
One of the things that I have not seen implemented specifically but that I think could work is to maybe split one block between two of those things for each semester and then you have all four of them taken care of for the year.
Don’t you love how simple I made that sound? Seriously, though, I know there are so many moving parts to this, that it may sound like a good suggestion. Until someone tries to do it.
Other than that, maybe students could choose between music and art for one year. And then they get at least a whole year of each one.
Absences Could Cause Students to Miss Large Amounts of Material
This sounds like a pretty big hurdle at first. But honestly, if a student misses a day of school, they are missing the same seven hours whether they are in a block or traditional schedule. So they are either going to have to make up work in 4 subjects or 6 or 7 subjects. But it will all basically be about the same amount of material.
If the teacher can share the notes that she worked on with the class or extra reading material that could be helpful. Recorded classes could also be an advantage.
All of these things take extra prep work on behalf of the teachers. And if there are absent students every day, which is pretty normal, that is a lot of extra work for the teachers.
But if there is regular review done in the class, that is an opportunity for students to catch up. Maybe having a study time for students to help other students catch up is also something that could be worked out in the schedule.
So this is what I have learned about middle school block scheduling. I would love to know what your experience has been with it. The truth is that because there are pros and cons of both traditional and block scheduling, teachers and administrators need to work together to find what works best for their classrooms and schools.
Everything is going to need to be worked with to make it better because nothing is perfect. And at the end of the day, we aren’t trying to show our students how to be perfect. We are trying to teach them how to get along in the real world. Which is what teachers are doing too!
If you would like to read more scheduling in middle school, I found this book, Scheduling Strategies for Middle Schools to be extremely helpful!
And I also have a couple more articles that you may find helpful as well:
Are Shorter Class Periods Better for Students?
This Post Has 70 Comments
I can see both sides! I know my daughter would love more time with certain teachers, but she’d flip out if she had to spend more time in math.
This is interesting to read – I can see how it would work well for some and not for others. But then again the whole education system is a bit like that as well all learn so differently.
Yes, Sarah. And that is what makes it so hard. If you choose one way, it can hurt certain students’ progress. And if you choose another, it can hurt other students’ progress. Keeping the balance is soooo hard.
Very interesting read…love your take in the education space. Remember reading another blog on traditional and home schooling.
I know that my son had this in high school The younger boys do not have this schedule in middle school
It seems like the pros outweigh the cons to me… until you mentioned that a student trying to transfer would have a very hard time doing so. Interesting topic!
Yes, Holls! Keeping it all balanced is so difficult. Thank you for your thoughts!
I think more time with a teacher is great, but I think children also need to get up and move. With more and more kids diagnosed with ADHD and things like that, they need that movement to recollect or destress. Sitting for longer amount of times is not going to help with that. Great article, I know it has its pros and cons regardless.
I agree with the moving. Just because the time is longer in class, they don’t have to be sitting for longer. It is an opportunity for more projects and activities related to the designated subject of that block. It actually gives way more options than just taking in the information the teacher is handing out!
I don’t think we have block scheduling here in UK. But it sounds like a interesting approach.
I never had this when I grew up. I definitely see both sides and I guess it just comes to preference.
We had block schedules when I was in high school. It was great for MOST classes, but my god it was HORRIBLE for math and chemistry.
My college senior son says the same exact thing!
I can definitely see the pros and cons here. Unfortunately there is no one size fits all in these cases. It’s all about finding what works best for you. I imagine it’s very challenging.
Yes, it is, Lisa. And both ways have advantages as well as disadvantages which makes the choice even muddier. At the end of the day what is really important is a resourceful and attentive teacher.
I can see the pros and cons of block scheduling for middle school. I think it really just depends on so many factors. We didn’t have block scheduling when I was in middle or high school and i think i wouldn’t hvae liked iut
It would have been an adjustment for sure. I think I would have liked it depending on who was teaching and what they were doing with the time. I graduated before it became a thing so I never experienced it either.
I think the more they emulate everyday life, the better. Setting up time blocks would come in handy. They can focus on a subject for given periods of time.
I can see both sides here! Everyone should read this it’s informative and interesting
Thank you, Janay.
The middle school I went to changed scheduling to block schedule, and the effect was noticeable. I didnt like not having all my fun classes in the same day, but I really enjoyed not having to see certain teachers daily.
Haha, that’s a spin I had not thought of! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Enriqueta.
I’ve no personalised experience in block scheduling but I can see the pros and cons. What’s good for one isn’t always good for another.
Very true. A good combination of block scheduling and differentiated instruction helps to meet both ends of the spectrum.
Since I passed your blog to my friends who have children they are new people. They love you!
Great post, love to read, I think it just depends on so many factors.
My son is only one years old. I don’t have experience with middle school block scheduling – YET. But at the same time, WHO KNOWS what middle school might be like when my little guy is older!
The world may still be homeschooling, haha! Enjoy your little man while he’s one!!! ♥
I see value in block scheduling but I also understand the cons. It might not work for everyone, for sure, especially when it comes to attention span. I had block scheduling in middle high school and some days it was hard to stay focus through longer classes
Like always balance would be the best solution but it’s hard to keep it in education. Everyone is different some kids need more attention from teachers others do need to feel comfortable with that
Yes, the line in education is always moving, therefore, the balance is always shifting as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I’m a teacher and sometimes with some classes I’d like to have block scheduling, but not with all of them. Sometimes, I’m happy that my lesson lasts only 45 minutes. 🙂
That is so true, Natalia. I feel the same way. 🙂
We always had that especially when the other subject teacher was not around only that we never used to call it Middle School Block Scheduling.
I love that it helps increase the focus, usually the lack of focus is a huge problem. I will need to check the Middle School Block Scheduling more.
That is true, Chad. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
My son did this in high school and I really liked it. He went to the same HS as I did as a teen and we did not do block scheduling back in my day. I cam from a small school with a class of about 20 to a high school class of about 800. His situation was similar. Where is I felt like a fish out of water with new kids in every class, he really formed lasting relationships with kids because they spent a good portion of the day together. Not sure about with middle school though as I haven’t had that experience.
I think it is very useful post for school professionals and parents. nicely written too
I can see why this would be a good thing in terms of spending more time with students and getting things out of the way, like you mentioned. However I have to agree with the retention of learning. We can only hold so much at a time and after that the remainder of the lesson would be lost to the majority of students.
I fully agree with you, Nyxie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
I am a product of block scheduling. Over the years, me and my block mates develop a very strong bond. Until now, even though a decade has passed, we are still the closest! <3
That’s an advantage I don’t see very often! I love it! Thank you for sharing that. ♥
This is so interesting and thank you for sharing. When I was an education major in college, I remember having long discussions about block scheduling.
I would love to know how they were teaching it, lol. I would actually consider those kinds of classes fun because it pertains to real life. I’m pretty nerdy that way, lol. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Hollie!
Being a homeschooling mom right now I am learning that breaks are so critical to learning. I also think that blocks or less frequent changes in classes keep my kids focused.
There is definitely a balance. And because you homeschool, you can just about always do whatever is needed in that minute.
Well…time block seems like a good way to strike a balance. Everyone needs a break once in a while. This should dhelp students
I know that this is for school, but it’s funny because I just started block focusing (time blocking) for myself and my business. It also helps me be more focused and get things done!!
You are totally right, Margaret! Even though my site is primarily for schools, just about every post has something that can be implemented into almost any life. Thank you for sharing! Let me know how blocking works for you!
I am a middle school teacher and we do not use block scheduling… sometimes I really wish we did! I teach Physical Education and would LOVE the ability to do a little more ‘lecturing’ on exercise science and fitness as it relates to their movement in class!
Yes, with block scheduling you could add some more activities and still keep the students well rounded. And you wouldn’t feel as rushed to try to fit things in.
It looks like the pros outweigh the cons. I homeschooled my kids for 10 years and our schedule was always all over the place. But it worked for us.
It’s been a while since I’ve been in high school but I enjoyed block scheduling. It did have its draw backs when I had a teacher or subject I didn’t enjoy.
That is so true, Kristen. Block scheduling is heavily dependent on having a good teacher.
Right now it’s hard to think of anything when it comes to scheduling with school. Although my daughter has done a little of the block schooling, only with online school. It will be interesting when she goes back to a physical school next year.
While block scheduling sounds decent I am still in favor of shorter classes but longer school years. I think it would keep kids interested.
My daughter’s high school has block scheduling. She says it allows her focus on one subject for a longer period of time, which helps her remember more information.
Here in the UK, many state schools adopt different block styles. I can understand the benefits and drawbacks for each. Personally would incline more towards block scheduling as I prefer variety.
Block scheduling is something rather new to me. I haven’t even heard of it being used anywhere but it is a shock that is has been around since the 80’s. I have picked keen interest in the aspect of it having teachers getting to know their learners more and better!
I’ve heard of block scheduling and definitely think its beneficial.
Fist of all, this is the first time that I’ve heard this kind of scheduling. Just reading the article make this a great studying situation. But it all depends on student’s perspective, that’s what I can say about this stuff.
I don’t have a ton of experience with block scheduling. Growing up we had the classic 6 or 7 classes each day for 50 minutes or so. In the mid-2000’s I was a substitute high school teacher for my old high school district, and that is when I was first exposed to the blocks. It was a cool idea, but I was just a sub, haha. Although, it definitely prepares high school kids for college, since it is closer to what they will experience in college.
I’ve never thought about the pros and cons to a block schedule before. It is interesting to think about both sides of the coin.
Wow if any teachers have seen your site this is gold…so much advice and ideas that you have been good enough to share x
Interesting topic! I totally agree with this “Learning that is fun and experiential is way more productive than book learning and lectures.”
It seems that some schools are having to resort to block scheduling because of the pandemic anyway, so they have to make the best pf the situation, to have their students not move too much around the school. Interesting post. Got me thinking!
Great article! I’m sure kids do have the ability to focus more now and I’m sure dropout rates have decreased which is good!
I think it is really a challenge. All we can do now is to really adjust as much as we can.
Wow, learned something today! I never heard about the block scheduling method so thanks for the descriptive post!