4 Ways to Build a Better Schedule

By Erin Werra

“A master schedule must be built with the same level of care and attention as a new home where a family will spend the next 20 years growing together.” – Dr. Ashanti Bryant Foster

No pressure, right?

Before committing to any new scheduling technique, district leaders must pose the question: What do students in our schools need to become college and career ready? Of course, the answers will vary immensely depending on the current culture: More one-on-one time with teachers, increased options for enrichment courses, carefully structured (or not) free periods, and access to community resources all may be addressed by restructuring the school day.

Nationwide, schools are bucking the traditional model in favor of scheduling methods which allow their district’s unique culture to shine. Let’s explore four nontraditional approaches gaining popularity.

Future Scheduling

Small changes can lead to big improvement. Although schools retain quite a bit of control over the schedule, students are able to make some choices. First, students are assigned to recommended and required courses. Then students are able to choose electives, typically via an online course request system. Finally, staff analyze the requests to determine the number of courses offered.

Online tools can simplify the process for staff, save time, and eliminate paper. Since students choose which courses will be popular, future scheduling helps determine staff requirements and allocate resources.

Future scheduling can offer a taste of choice and freedom to students without completely shattering the traditional model—an attractive option for districts looking to ease their way into a new way of scheduling. It’s worth pointing out a traditional 6- to 8-period schedule isn’t obsolete—with some tinkering, it can work just fine in schools.

“Kids get a lot more choice in electives, as opposed to a four-block schedule,” explains Alex Christianson, a science teacher at Auburndale middle school. “On the other hand, offering hands-on activities is harder with less time. I have to split the instructions into one day, do a quick recap the day of, and we still don’t usually get to finish our activity.”

Arena Scheduling

Students are stepping into the spotlight in schools nationwide to try their hands at arena scheduling. Courses are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and students build their own schedules, university-style.

Arena scheduling requires schools to plan ahead for staff requirements, resources, prerequisites, and co-requisites but allows for maximum efficiency once scheduling is underway. Since students build their own schedules and courses close once filled, nearly all of the conflict resolution happens automatically, saving staff time.

Ownership is placed squarely on the student’s shoulders. It’s their responsibility to be aware of graduation requirements. However, students also get to choose from a variety of courses aligned to their interests. Online course request tools can be preset to allow seniors to schedule first, then juniors, and so on, to ensure students have the best shot at required courses.

Flex Mod Scheduling

Midcentury modern is back in style in the living room and the classroom. Dating back to the late 1960s, the flexible modular schedule (flex mod) splits sessions into small modules of time to allow for maximum flexibility and access to resources. A module, or mod, could be between 15 and 30 minutes long, course sessions may take up only one mod or several, and may meet once or a few times a week.

Stack several mods together for a lab or large group lecture, or set aside a single mod once a week for a Response to Intervention check-in session. Mods give students more responsibility to wisely manage their own schedules. They may find themselves with pockets of unstructured time free to pursue resource labs or self-directed projects like career research, as seen in this example flex mod schedule.

Students can fit more courses and increase one-on-one time with teachers. Class sizes stay small. There’s no mistaking it though—flex mod schedules can end up looking very complicated. It’s organized chaos with encouraging results.

Rotational Scheduling

What if a district isn’t quite ready for a full-blown flex mod implementation? There’s nothing wrong with mixing some methods to create flexible options to fit into a more traditional approach. Rotational scheduling gives students a taste of the freedom (and responsibility) flex mod schedules offer.

Students may take the same course but with separate sessions taught by teachers with different specialties. Course schedules may fluctuate, depending on student needs, teacher skills, and the district’s priorities. Alex Christianson, the teacher from Auburndale Middle School, explained how distance learning classes offered at Auburndale high school fluctuate based on several districts’ schedules.

“There’s no bad way to schedule. Every teacher does their best to make a positive impact on students,” says Christianson. “You might try a double period once a week, especially for science, math, or English/language arts. Staffing those double periods can be tough, so it’s important to make sure class sizes are manageable. Keeping 35 kids focused for 90 minutes is really difficult!”

The rotational concept may remind secondary school leaders of stations in elementary school, with good reason. The flexibility allowed in the rotational model lets teacher teams to structure courses and classrooms to fit the subject matter, not the other way around.

What’s important to your district’s culture? If it’s flexibility, increasing student ownership, or maximizing electives offered, one of these scheduling options may be the answer.

For more, see:

Erin Werra is a writer at the Advancing K12 blog. Follow her on Twitter at @erinwerra.

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