Dealing with the Block Schedule
My middle school uses a block schedule, which for us means a bi-weekly schedule (there’s a “blue” week and a “yellow” week) in which most classes last for 40 minutes but once a week last for a full hour and once every other week doesn’t meet at all (it gets “dropped”).
It’s difficult to keep in mind which classes are dropped or extended when, so I make a bi-weekly planning template that looks like this:
I make multiple copies of this template and plan a mid-trimester (a little over a month) at a time. Upon penciling in the reading schedule, I quickly found that I had to adjust the amount of time it might take to read a book once I had to work around drop blocks.
Make a General Week-to-Week Strategy
I also realized that I still wasn’t able to fill in every single available space in my template with activities. Nor would I want to; I want to give myself a comfortable level of flexibility.
Instead, I devised a week-to-week strategy. About 20 pages of reading a night, and then a period of review, and then a test or writing assignment. Overlapping, or in addition, to that period of review is a week devoted to a creative project. Present a formal lecture on matters of reading or writing once a week. Dedicate one class a week to vocabulary or grammar. A vocabulary or grammar quiz once every other week. Devote other regular 40 minute blocks to more informal discussion sessions on the reading.
And I came up with a twist for my hour-block classes. In an effort to incorporate more writing and technology into my classes, I’ve decided to come up with a scheme where two or three students every week from each of my classes are given a five-paragraph essay assignment to write. They turn in their essays to me ahead of time so that I can make copies for the rest of their class. During the hour-long class session, we spend part of the time reading these essays silently, and then recording a podcast discussion with the authors about what they wrote.
I don’t always follow this plan, but after I made my strategy I’ve never felt like I don’t have enough to do. And I feel at ease about the balance of objectives I’m trying to pursue.
Meet with Others and Change Your Plans
One of the wonderful things about my school environment is how much collaboration goes on. I meet with the other English teachers of the grades I teach once a week, sometimes to check in on each other’s progress, and sometimes to aggressively plan some activities and deadlines.
The best way that I’ve found to have a strong influence on these collaborations is to come prepared. Those who haven’t made their mind tend to give sway to those that already have. (This has been especially helpful as I have made my case for doing books in a certain order). Having said that, I’m a pretty accommodating guy, and I feel it’s important not to constantly dominate the decisions.
Usually things don’t end up conflicting much with what I’ve already planned. Occasionally, though, I’ve found I had to radically rethink my timeline for things as other teachers move through their units much quicker or slower than you had anticipated. This has not necessarily been a bad thing; it’s forced me to step back and reconsider what areas I’ve not paid enough attention to or could cut out without disrupting the flow of the year.
Much of teaching, after all, is about improvisation. You can set some chords down and get a groove going, but you ultimately have to play it by ear.
Next: Yearly Planning as a Story Arc