TEACHING 90 MINUTE TIME BLOCKS
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Author: Jennifer Prileson TEACHER'S NOTE: Here's an adaptation of a resource someone passed on to me relating to how to deal with switching to 90-minute blocks. For those who were interested in tips on the "nuts and bolts" of doing it: EDITOR'S NOTE: Make sure you read Jennifer's article at the end of these great tips/suggestions. It provides a great insight into the topic -- Thanks Jen! 1) WARMUPS: as the students walk into class, have some kind of activity waiting for them:journal entries, SAT prep questions, review from the previous day, preview of activities for today's lesson, a puzzle to solve, etc. These can be turned in daily, weekly or monthly at teacher's discretion. 2) MOVEMENT: plan opportunities for students to move around during the class period. Change seats, turn in work, move to another area of the school; give students the much-needed time to stretch their legs in a purposeful way. 3) COOPERATIVE LEARNING: group activities offer time for sharing ideas as well as socialization. Any of the cooperative learning structures can be effective, especially midway through the class period. 4) MEDIA CENTER: use the media center as a change of scenery and as a location to do meaningful work (see #13). 5) COMPUTER LAB: use the computer lab (or have a computer station in your classroom) and available software programs to enhance classroom activities whenever appropriate. Investigative program software, word-processing of reports, using the Internet to research, etc. are all productive ways of using 90 minutes. 6) VIDEOS: use videos when appropriate, but don't use the entire period to show the film; make sure to have written work or other form of accountability accompany the video. 7) OTHER MEDIA: use recorded music, speeches, poems, plays, novels, or drills; filmstrips, pictures/photos, other artwork, experiments/labs, are all appropriate and can make the lesson "come alive". 8) LARGE GROUP DISCUSSIONS: teachers guide the discussion with challenging, higher level questions, but may need to pull the more reluctant learners into the discussion. Students are more willing to participate when they know the focus ahead of time and can come thoroughly prepared. 9) INTERACTIVE LECTURES: teacher lectures, stopping at intervals to discuss the material with the students, ask for individual and written student responses in journals prior to discussion, etc. 10) INTEGRATION: plan integrated activities with other subject area teachers; natural connections often occur. Team teaching can also be used during integrated activities in a block schedule. 11) PEER TEACHING: use the higher achieving students in your class to tutor low achievers. "Teaching is learning twice"; the tutors will be practicing their skills & at the same time helping other students in the class. 12) GUIDED PRACTICE: after teaching a new skill, have the students practice the skill during class so they can obtain assistance if necessary. Guided practice that isn't completed during class can easily become homework. 13) DISCOVERY METHOD/CREATIVE PROJECTS: have students research topics of their choice related to curriculum, work towards a final "exhibition" or other performance assessment/presentation. Give students an array of different methods of presentation and allot class time for research (on-line, library, or in-class) and work. 14) GAMES AND PUZZLES AS TRANSITIONAL ACTIVITIES: use these diversions after tests or when moving from one concept to the next. These activities can be used to reinforce skills, practice for the SAT, review previously learned material, or simply be a challenge problem for them to solve. 15) STATIONS: remember when you were in elementary school and did "centers"? Well, in middle and high school it's still a possibility. Having students work in pairs or small groups to complete a series of different activities/work, allows students to rotate from one station to the next, experiencing different facets of interrelated material. Pay attention to different learning styles when designing each station so that all learners will enjoy at least one station that they are strong in and spend time boosting their skills in other areas. Note: try to make each station take approximately the same amount of time so there aren't students backing up others in the sequence. Teaching in a Block Schedule: An article There are two levels of staff development that I think teachers need when moving to longer time periods. The first is on a day-to-day level: what do I do with kids during 90 minutes without driving myself and the kids nuts or boring them to death? (I've seen: the t-a-l-k s-l-o-w-e-r strategy or the show lots of 90-minute movies every week campaign!) The nuts and bolts stuff really does need to be dealt with. The details, however, can easily take over if the big picture on curriculum isn't there. If your staff has the flexibility to re-examine existing curricular units and use a "Planning Backwards" approach, you'll find that when you design units that guide kids towards final performance assessments and you know where you're going, the 90-minute sessions become very easy to plan. This is because you're giving the kids a reason to do everything you ask them to do during that 90 minutes (and outside of class time too). And the more authentic the performance, the more driven your students will be to learn what they need to learn along the way. It's also a great opportunity for you to look for natural connections that integrate different subjects, and also to invite colleagues to plan and teach collaboratively. Use next year to look at curriculum! A couple of comments on process: first, those who are fearful or resentful of change need to feel better soon. Whatever the benefits of blocking, there are tradeoffs that you will be experiencing and it's important to acknowledge them and look hard at how you as a staff will deal with them. Brushing those concerns aside will only fan the flames. I think that using this upcoming year to visit schools currently utilizing this type of schedule will be very helpful. Make sure that skeptics go along and talk to teachers "doing it", asking hard questions too. Make sure you actually see teachers working in and out of the classroom, and talk to students - a lot! The 3 schools that I've worked with who moved to block scheduling have all done this prior to taking any sort of faculty vote, and when the votes came in, the one thing that staff felt made their vote go one way or the other was how those site visits went.
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