The Problem With A/B Block Scheduling

Honors English 10
Los Alamos High School

Waiting. The teacher’s monotonous voice buzzes. The seconds pass by slowly. The boredom is excruciating. All focus is completely lost. How long has it been? Not even half of class. Wait. That’s all I can do. Class will finish eventually…right? Perhaps tomorrow will be better. Truthfully, it never actually is. Be it A-Day or B-day. All classes stretch too long. Finally, another minute has passed.

Have you ever found yourself staring at a clock, counting down the minutes until you can leave wherever you currently are? Whether it be staff meetings, management meetings, or other meetings you simply don’t have the energy for, everyone hates the feeling of boredom and watching their precious time waste away. 

Unfortunately, students at Los Alamos High School (LAHS), Topper Freshman Academy (TFA), and Los Alamos Middle School (LAMS) experience this same feeling every single weekday, waiting for each class period to end. This is a result of the A/B block schedule, which simply stretches class periods too long to be productive or enjoyable. Despite the benefits of block scheduling—including more uninterrupted lesson time, and more planning time for teachers—LAPS should transition from an A/B block schedule to a schedule with shorter class periods, to increase student engagement, education, and productivity. 

Student’s attention spans are not long enough to focus on and absorb all of the material taught in a 95 minute class period. Studies, including one reported on by BBC News, have found that “students have average attention spans of just 10 minutes”.

 In another study conducted in 2010, students were asked to press a button on a clicker whenever they caught themselves losing focus. The study revealed a pattern that the longer a class period stretches, the more often students tend to lose focus, until they zone out ‘“…about every two minutes.”’ 

Having longer class periods is actually detrimental to students’ learning experiences because they simply cannot pay attention long enough to understand and process all of the material presented in one lesson. Students silently suffer through the blocked class periods that seemingly stretch on forever. 

This needs to change. And soon. 

A shorter class period would cater to the short attention span of students’ because, as a student myself, I can say it is a lot more manageable to stay focused in a 50 minute class, such as our current 4AB, as opposed to our other classes that are blocked. 

Of course, it is important to acknowledge that shortening class periods is not the only solution to this problem. One could argue that teachers can alter their style of instructing to work with the attention span of their students. For example, since students are more attentive at the beginning of class, an Arapahoe College professor explains that to maximize productivity, it is smart for teachers to lecture at the start of class, “and shift to an activity about 20-25 minutes into the class period.”.

 However, it is impractical to ask teachers to change their style of teaching—especially since teachers have the most knowledge of how to run a class since they went to college specifically to become an educator. Furthermore, it will be almost impossible to enforce the active learning methods that are key to maintaining the focus of students. Shortening the class periods is a simple change that does not require teachers to adopt a new way of instructing their students; therefore, shortening the class periods is the easiest, most practical way to cater to high school students’ attention spans. 

Decreasing the length of class periods will allow students to better process the material, and result in class time being used more efficiently. Shorter class periods maximize student productivity and—unlike block schedules—do not lack continuity by only attending classes every other day. This continuity allows the students to process the material faster due to them revisiting it every day. 

Hesitant students are concerned that having more class periods a day—a result of shortening the class periods—will lead to more homework being assigned to students daily. However, since shortening class periods would effectively cut them in half, the lessons and the homework would also be cut in half. Therefore, homework would not increase because it would not be necessary to assign homework between class periods if teachers spread their assignments out over multiple class periods. This would ensure that students don’t get more work just because they go to class more often. 

While block schedule enthusiasts argue that having longer class periods results in more work getting done—due to a longer stretch of uninterrupted learning time, quite the opposite can be found to be true. Tenney School, a private school in Texas, claims that when class periods are longer, “Teachers spend more time on classroom maintenance.” because they believe the cushion of 90 minutes will prevent them from losing valuable class time. In actuality, making a habit of spending extra minutes on trivial things like attendance can infringe upon the instruction period—what a waste of time! In shorter class periods teachers recognise that they have a limited amount of time, so they use it much more efficiently. 

The traditional schedule, also described as the 7-period day by the Education Partnership government agency, would be a great starting point as a baseline for a new schedule. Most of the highschool students have experienced 7-period days in middle school, so it would not be a difficult adjustment. Additionally, most of the staff at LAMS have taught lessons prepared for 7-period days, which would make the transition seamless across all levels.

There are concerns that classes would be too short if LAPS instituted a 7-period day schedule, which is where the rotating schedule comes into play. The rotating schedule may seem foreign to the Los Alamos community, so here is a quick explanation: instead of having 7 class periods in a day, a typical school day would have 5 or 6 classes. Each day, classes would get bumped down a period so that all 7 classes could be incorporated into the schedule. 

For example: say a student has math 3rd period on Monday. On Tuesday that student would have math 4th period, and their last period would be a class that they didn’t have on Monday, whereas their last period on Monday would not happen again until the 7th class had been cycled in. The rotating schedule would allow for enough time per class for a quality lesson to be taught, without stretching the period too long.

The primary role of schools is to provide an education for the youngest generation, so catering to the students’ needs should be the number one priority. How can admin claim to care about students, when they won’t even adopt the most beneficial format of bell schedule? When will our schools step up and support us, the students, the future generation? 

The A/B block schedule is resulting in ineffective use of instructional time, lack of student engagement, and inadequate use of the students’ time. Therefore, it is time a change is made to the LAHS, TFA, and LAMS’s bell schedules in order to increase student productivity and learning during class time. Both the traditional bell schedule and a rotating bell schedule would be a good fit for LAPS—so take initiative and make a choice! Reformatting the bell schedule may present a difficult task, but with collaboration and motivation it will be extremely beneficial to the LAPS education system.