Staff and Students Weigh In: Is Block or Period Scheduling Better?

Staff and Students Weigh In: Is Block or Period Scheduling Better?

Scheduling at Norristown Area High School is never truly set in stone. Administration is always looking for ways to improve the school experience for students, and the thought of scheduling change has been brought up frequently.

While current students only know block scheduling, just one year before our current seniors were freshmen, the school used an 8-period schedule that had 42-minute classes all year long. As we near the end of the school year, we can look into what we can change for the better for future years. There are pros and cons to both period and block scheduling, and people’s opinions on the two are varied and divided. 

Social Studies teacher Mrs Kristen Carmona wants to switch back to periods because she believes block scheduling takes a toll on students’ attention spans. 

“It’s hard to keep students’ attention for an hour and a half in one space,” said Carmona. 

Research published by the American Physiological Society conducted back in November of 2016 shows that when students are in a classroom for 30 minutes or less, they tend to pay attention better and stay concentrated for the whole class. If students’ attention spans are already hard to keep, a pro to the period schedule would be that classes are only 45 minutes each.

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“Students have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time, due to attention spans because of our phones and things like that,” said Career Counselor Nicole Mitchell

While period scheduling might be better for short attention spans, some teachers brought up the positives of block scheduling. One is that, in a period schedule, students have to balance 7 or 8 different classes and all of the work that comes with them, as opposed to 3 or 4 for block scheduling. Having classwork for 8 classes would also disproportionately affect working students with less time to finish work outside of school. 

English teacher Jill Myers is one of those teachers who prefers the blocks to periods since blocks allow for more time to make connections with students since there are overall fewer students to manage in a year. 

English teacher Misty Cincotti agrees that blocks are better for younger students who have short attention spans, and teachers still have an outside-of-school life and don’t always have the time to sit at their computers. 

“An English teacher teaching 7 classes a day sounds like a nightmare for grading purposes,” said Cincotti. 

 Once you get into the grading part of the argument you also have to think about if students will even have enough time to get work done. While some teachers acknowledged that period scheduling might keep students more focused, some said that students need the extra time in blocks to complete assignments or even bigger projects that require uninterrupted time.

 “I would be afraid if we switched to period scheduling science classes, we would never be able to do labs,” said science teacher Lee Speers.

Many other schools in the area around us use different types of scheduling, and they are still able to run their school day smoothly. For example, Lower Merion High School uses lunch and learn. This is a sixty-five-minute long period where students can eat lunch where they like and also use this time to catch up on assignments or even seek academic support from teachers. Norristown Area High School’s Assistant Principal Nicole Vanbuskirk has worked at three other schools before coming here. She said that all of them have worked through different scheduling plans and have each found their own success. 

Mrs. Vanbuskirk conducted a survey at the end of January open to anyone in the town who wanted to have a say about our scheduling. She said that the results were surprisingly almost 50/50 support for blocks and periods from community members, staff, and students as well. Some students are okay with change and don’t mind it, but some students are really set on wanting to keep the same schedule that we have been running for the past four years. When they looked into what the parents thought, the results were very split up this time as well. Some parents’ answers were aligned with their children’s answers, but some were the opposite. 

The reasoning behind those who picked block scheduling is that they wanted classes to run how college classes would since colleges run on a semester schedule with students taking fewer yet longer classes. When the students go off to college, they will already have a hard time adjusting, so block scheduling in high school might make it a little bit easier. 

After looking into all of these aspects of our scheduling we will still be using block scheduling next year, but there is still a chance that something might change in the 2025-2026 school year.

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    Ms. VillalbaApr 26, 2024 at 10:17 am

    I like that you surveyed various teachers and different opinions. Very well researched article!
    I had a block schedule in high school and I understand both student and teacher perspectives. While it is a long period of time in one room, I do feel that block scheduling prepared me for college!