Middle School Modified Block Enhances Learning

Sep 11, 2020

Next week, all Frisco ISD middle schools will begin operating on a modified block schedule, joining four campuses that piloted the initiative last school year.

The move to modified block scheduling has been in the works since 2018 as part of an ongoing effort to maximize student learning. Input from middle school principals, teachers, parents and students have led to this change, which has proven to maximize instruction time. The new schedule also bolsters opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, which integrates skills from multiple subject areas in hands-on lessons.

Hunt, Pearson, Stafford and Staley middle schools had the opportunity to pilot the modified block schedule in the 2019-20 school year.

“What I like about block scheduling is that we get more class time to work on stuff,” said Stafford Middle School student Maya Waid. “We had a research project in ILA and we had quite a bit more time to work on it because even a few minutes helps a lot.

“It adds up to a lot of time and helps students who are struggling to get their test scores up. The whole thing has been amazing.”

Students also expressed that they get more one-on-one time with teachers to ask questions.

The modified block schedule will apply to all middle school virtual and on-campus learners. It adds more than 1,100 minutes of instructional time over the course of the year due to fewer transitions between classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays of each week.

Each Monday, Tuesday and Friday, students will attend their full, eight-period day schedule. On Wednesdays, students will only have to attend their “odd” classes. On Thursdays, students will attend their “even” classes. Click here to find the new schedule.

With only four classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays, students and teachers have an optimal amount of time to dig deeper into concepts. This includes virtual students who will login to four classes instead of eight on Wednesdays and Thursdays, a move that simplifies their day. 

Once students and teachers began reporting the benefits of the modified block during the 2019-20 pilot, it was immediately apparent that all middle schools would benefit from the new schedule.

Band Director Laura Bell had the opportunity to pilot the initiative at Stafford Middle School last year and saw the overarching benefits for her students.

“The modified block schedule is a fantastic format for fine arts students and teachers,” Bell said. “Having students for 90 minutes one day a week really allows us to take a deeper dive into our content. 

“My students regularly tell me their favorite days are our block days together!”

By the end of the 2019-20 school year, nearly 94% of core content teachers at the pilot middle schools wanted to continue the modified block schedule and reported numerous benefits, such as:

  • More opportunities for interactive learning for students

  • Increased collaborative planning time for teachers, which positively impacts instruction

  • Increased one-on-one conference time with students

  • Increased time for students to work on more projects, resulting in deeper understanding

  • Increased time for science lab stations and data collection where students consistently exhibited an improved quality of work while not feeling rushed

  • Increased time for hands-on and collaborative learning

“Block scheduling has allowed us to go more in depth with topics since the class doesn’t end as quickly,” said Staley Middle School math teacher Jon Morey. “The time allows students to work to understand the material during the same class period.

“It’s a continuous block of time that allows us to get lots more done and allows for a higher level of student understanding.”  

While the District knew it would implement these changes in the 2020-21 school year, it was also sensitive to students and teachers who would start the new school year in a virtual environment and decided to ease into the change once the school year started.

“While the change may seem intimidating at first, the increased time to focus on subject matter and student relationships is an exciting opportunity for all students and their teachers,” said Amanda Ziaer, managing director of secondary instruction. 

Middle school teachers have recently been actively preparing for the schedule change. Professional learning over the summer included training on multiple strategies to support the classroom structure of chunking instructional time to allow for more small group time and one-on-one time with the teacher.

Pearson Middle School special education instructional coach Zach Summers saw that the block scheduling benefits learners of all abilities.

"Some of the things that I thought would be major issues with students, like adjusting to longer class periods, have not been a problem for our kids," Summers said. "With modified block, students can really dive into a concept and complete the work all in one class, instead of starting something, then stopping, and picking up the next day."

Click here to watch a September 14 presentation to the Board about the perspectives of principals, students and staff who piloted the initiative last year. 
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