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What Is Block Scheduling and Is It Effective? Pros and Cons

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: April 4, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: April 4, 2020


Not all schools adhere to the same scheduling systems. Between the wide array of online schools to traditional schools, there are different possibilities within education for how to manage students’ and teachers’ time. If you’ve ever heard of the term “block schedule” and wondered, “What is block scheduling?” we are about to shed light on everything you need to know about this scheduling method.

Students in classroom holding a notebook and taking notes Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

What is Block Scheduling?

Block scheduling is a way of designing classroom schedules for students. It means that students will have fewer classes per day, but the subjects will be on a rotation.

Block rotation is typically practiced more so in middle and high schools than in elementary school. This is because elementary schools generally have one teacher for all subjects and are not broken into periods.

Block Scheduling Examples

What does block scheduling vs traditional scheduling look like? Here’s how it works!

Traditional Schedule

A traditional schedule is typically set up such that students have 50 minutes of class time per subject, per day. With about 180 days of each class, it results in 9,000 minutes of total class time.

Traditional Block Schedule

A traditional block schedule is set up so that a student can attend the same four classes every day for 90 days. For the second semester (remaining 90 days), the student attends a different set of 4 classes every day. This means that with 90 minutes per class for 90 days, a student will receive 8,100 minutes of each class by the end of the year.

A/B Block Schedule

Rather than dividing the block schedule by semesters, some schools may opt for an A/B block schedule structure, in which classes rotate by day. For example, on Mondays and Wednesdays (Block A), students may have: Geometry, History, English, and Biology. Then, on Tuesdays and Thursdays (Block B), they’ll have: Economics, Computers, PE, and Spanish. The schedule will rotate each Friday between Block A and Block B.

Pros of Block Scheduling

There are numerous benefits of block scheduling. Some of the most notable are:

1. Promotes Cooperative Learning

Block scheduling means that teachers can take advantage of smaller group lessons more frequently. With smaller groups, collaborative learning can take place more easily.

2. Quality Time

Teachers will see fewer students over the course of the day. This means that teachers can build closer bonds with students and get to know their individual learning needs more deeply.

3. More Focus

Students have less classes per day, which means they can remain more focused on their subjects.

4. Less Daily Homework

Since students have less classes per day, it can translate into less homework per day. When students have less daily homework, they have more time to pursue their interests, hone their skills, and even reduce stress levels through relaxation methods.

5. Individualized Teaching

All students have different ways of learning that works best for them. When class sessions are longer, it can give the teachers the time needed to work closer with each student and address their needs.

6. Longer Planning Periods

When there are less classes per day and semester, teachers have longer planning periods to develop their curriculum.

Cons of Block Scheduling

1. Loss of Continuity

If schools elect an A/B block schedule, then a student’s schedule is changing on the daily. This could cause a loss in continuity for their learning as they will only revisit the same subject after a day’s delay.

2. Greater Loss If Absent

When students are out sick for a day, they may miss more in a block schedule than a traditional schedule. This is because classes are longer, so the day’s lesson may actually be like missing two lessons rather than one.

3. Too Fast

Since students have less days of each subject, the curriculum may feel sped up. This could hurt some students who find it difficult to keep up with the pace.

What Does Research Say?

While it’s hard to say one way is better than another, some studies have found that block scheduling is ineffective. Some research has shown that students in the block schedule format have scored lower in science, biology, physics, and chemistry.

Block schedules may be harder on students because of the pace and lack of continuity. For teachers, it means developing longer lesson plans that should be compressed in a shorter amount of days.

Teacher in front of a whiteboard Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

Effects of Block Scheduling

Beyond students and teachers, block scheduling has even more far-reaching effects:

  • Culture: Both students and teachers may feel initial stress at the thought of introducing a block schedule. However, after it becomes the new normal, the culture within the school can be more relaxed.
  • Performance: The 4×4 (traditional block schedule) has proven to have better performance results for students when compared to the A/B block schedule.
  • Retention: The traditional block schedule can cause an issue for students in AP classes who have to take AP tests at the end of the year. If they have an AP class in their first semester, but only take the test at the end of the semester, the results have shown they do more poorly than students who have traditional school schedules.
  • Considerations: The best way to implement a block schedule is to have the buy-in from teachers and parents. One way to do this is to allow them both into the decision-making process.
  • Lesson Plans: Many teachers may require assistance to develop block schedules. Having long class times may require different activities during the same class period. Successful implementation means that teachers have the right support to create engaging lesson plans.

Best Practices for Block Scheduling

To implement block scheduling successfully, consider these 6 best practices:

  1. Don’t lecture for 90 minutes straight — involve other activities and time for questions and feedback
  2. Break up the class and even consider giving students time to do homework in class
  3. Foster a culture of collaboration and peer learning
  4. Switch activities every 15 or 20 minutes
  5. Use a smart pacing guide
  6. Overplan rather than underplan

More Out-of-the-Box Learning

Block scheduling is just one of many alternative methods of teaching and learning.

For students who are seeking to earn their higher education degree, but may have hurdles in doing so at a traditional college campus, consider online universities! Online universities like the University of the People offers degree-granting programs that are entirely online.

With tuition-free programs, students can design their own schedule of when and where to learn at a fraction of the cost of traditional colleges.

The Bottom Line: Inside or Outside the Box?

Every school and its respective administration has the right to choose whether or not a block schedule is the right way to go. While there are some obvious benefits of block scheduling, there are also downsides to its implementation.

Regardless of the schedule you have as a student or teacher, the ultimate best practice is to maintain open communication and ask for help when you need it!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.