Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just Got Home From My Son's Back-to-School Night

I certainly have some issues with my son's school. A week and a half into his sophomore year the world hasn't collapsed, so I'm not going to complain too loudly--but they do some odd things there.

First, they're on a block schedule--they have 4 90-minute classes a day. A year-long class at an "ordinary" school is only half a year long at his school, but they get credit for a year's worth of material. Let's do the math: they're in class 1.5 times as long per period as students at a traditional school (90 min vs. 60 min), but only half the number of days per class. That comes out to 3/4 of the amount of time per class to learn the material as they'd have at a "traditional" school.

Even better, they get entirely new classes in January. So a student who takes geometry August through January has been force-fed a year's worth of material, but the state standardized test isn't given until late April, giving the student plenty of time to forget the material because by the time the test rolls around they haven't seen geometry in 3 months.

One advantage of this block schedule is that students get 8 different classes a year, as opposed to only 6 at a school like mine. Teachers love it, because they have only 3 classes a day (plus a 90 minute prep period) whereas I have 5 classes a day (and only a 60 minute prep period). How our union can tolerate this inequity, I don't understand!

Besides the block schedule there's a second thing they do screwy. Far be it from me to challenge another teacher regarding what goes on in their class--I wouldn't tolerate it if someone were to tell me how I should run my classes--but I'll comment on that screwiness here.

Have you ever heard of an "interactive notebook"?

First off, what the heck is "interactive" about a notebook? "Interactive" is one of those overused words in English--the menu screens on my DVD's aren't "interactive", either, unless interactive means "you push the button and the scene you want pops up". If that's the new meaning of "interactive", then my garden hose is "interactive" because when I open the faucet the water pours out.

Ok, so we know an "interactive notebook" isn't interactive, but what is it? Well, it's a notebook in which you store all your homework assignments, worksheets, notes, and stuff like that. Everything has to be in the correct order and on the correct page, noted in the Table of Contents, or you get marked down. And the winner? Students cut/paste papers into their notebooks.

Remember, they have only 3/4 of the class time as is available at my school to teach exactly the same content to the exact same (in theory) standards. Why are they spending time having 15 and 16-year-olds cutting and pasting in class? Who thinks that's a productive use of student time in anything but an art class? I admit, I doubt I can be sold on the supposed benefits of these workbooks, but even if there are benefits, I just cannot believe they outweigh the wasted time.


On the plus side, I like the enthusiasm and dedication shown by my son's teachers. He likes them, too. I guess that's something, an important something.


Anonymous said...

The killer for block scheduling seems to be the lack of practice for 7-8 months in subjects that actually build over time. Like math and foreign languages. Not having done any geometry for 3-4 months before the big test in May seems like a bad idea. Not having done any math for 8-12 months between, say, algebra II and pre-calc/trig seems like a disaster. Also taking 8-12 months off between French 2 and 3.

How does the school not see disasters like this? Any idea?

-Mark Roulo

mrelliott said...

Interactive notebook you say? Hmmm....someone went to a teacher inservice session this summer, and came back with an idea that has been around for years, but with a fancy new name. Probably invented by someone who can't teach, but went back to school for another degree, did a little research, wrote a couple articles, and way-laa, they are the expert, and took their "shpeel" on the road.

Cutting and pasting? I don't know that is it a waste of time, it would depend on the content, the lesson, and how much time is spent. I'm doing a cutting and pasting exercise with my students in a few days, but we are also talking about SHAPE and FORM as it relates to an artist's concept. Now, I probably will not cut and paste again with my students this semester, but for this particular lesson it works well. If a teacher is having students cut and paste everyday, then thats going way overboard.

I've used notebooks in various classes for years. And, for the most part they have worked well. It really helps keep the students organized. It's also a good way to show parents how well their child is doing. I had the parent of an honor student question why her daughter was receiving an F in my class at mid-term. I believe her initial response was to call the school, and demand to know "what was wrong with that teacher!" I simply handed the girl's notebook to her counselor, which was completely unorganized with most of the work unfinished, and had my evaluation sheets wadded up inside. The parent took one look, and that was that. They can be used to keep student's accountable for their work in class.

Elaine said...

I once taught at a school like that... state testing was horrid because 2ndI semester students were too far behind, and first semester students were too rusty. And the really advanced kids who took math both semesters were testing for the higher classes, dropping scores on the lower classes even further.

Additionally, students who struggled just got overloaded and pushed faster than they could work - they needed the slower pace of a year course.

Everyone agreed it was a bad choice for the higher students but it was too convenient for the teachers to ever change. SO glad I don't teach there anymore.

I require notebooks with my kids... but I don't call them interactive. (Buh?) However, after the first few days, organization happens on their time, and they keep a table of contents, so order doesn't matter. Handouts are attached, but staples are acceptable, so they don't have to waste time with scissors and glue. I find they are less likely to lose things, more likely to study, and easier for me to keep up with the grading than noyhaving them.

Darren said...

I absolutely believe that teachers like block scheduling because they have fewer classes, fewer students, and more prep time. Winner!

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, I dont understand.. what do you mean you get new classes in January? And why would you only be taking geometry until August?

I am a teacher in England, and this makes no sense to me!

Left Coast Ref said...

I teach at a school with a different kind of block. We have 3 classes a day for 2 hours each. Students go to class every other day. Many teachers love it but a few of us (including science, math and language) hate it. We need students to be involved with the materials daily. however, everytime it comes to a vote among the teachers to change, it fails. I wonder why? For a lot of our teachers, 2 hour blocks means teach for 1 hour, give homework for the second hour. It's lame. Homework is for home to reinforce what you have learned. I don't get it.
And, the 4x4 block you mentioned, what about AP classes? Do they take the same course both semesters to have more time to prepare?
Cutting and pasting is just as reprehensible as coloring a worksheet in a Trig class, or wordsearches in any HS class.

Anonymous said...

I have a relative who taught HS history and a son who started HS in block scheduling; they hated it equally. My relative said the only possible way to cover the material was to lecture and the kids - his state has outlawed ability grouping - couldn't handle it. My son was taking all honors classes and was bored stiff; he said the second half of each class was a total waste. He would have been grateful for full-time lectures. He doubled on math and took extra classes, out of school, on languages and thankfully escaped from that school to a traditional one for his last two years. The only reason for them would be for labs; I know one HS where each class had 3 days of regular periods, one with a double period and one with no class each week.
That being said, the excellent HS my older kids attended did - and still does- have double periods every day for all the AP sciences, which must be preceeded by the appropriate honors class; a better situation for both kids who take the AP and those who don't (my opinion).

Darren said...

To my anonymous British guest:
In a "traditional" American high school, students will take 6 classes all year long (from August/September until June).

In my son's school, they're on a "block schedule". Students take only 4 classes per day, and the classes end halfway through the school year, in January. At that time, they get 4 *new* classes. So they take 8 classes a year, instead of the 6 at a traditional school, but if you add up the time spent in each class it's only 3/4 as long as it would be in a class in a traditional school.

So let's follow with my example of geometry. A student could take geometry class in the first "term", from August to January. They'll have covered a year's worth of geometry, but they'll only have 3/4 as many hours in class as students in a geometry class at my school would have at the end of the course. So this student *finishes* geometry in January, and from January to June might have an art class during that period. In fact, all 4 of their classes will change.

My son is taking history, biology, Spanish, and a 4th class this "term" (August-January). For January-June his classes will be PE, web page design, English, and geometry.

Ellen K said...

I teach the same type of accelerated block schedule your son has and I hate it. It feels like I am stuffing a turkey some days. Plus I don't get to truly benefit from the growth kids experience by being in a class the entire year. Trying to compete with schools on traditional or AB blocks we suffer in comparison. Schools like this because kids can graduate early and because athletics and programs such as band, orchestra, choir and theater must be double blocked in order to participate in fall and spring competition seasons. This narrows a student's ability to get into other courses and quite often makes kids less likely to get involved. Next year, due to budget constraints, the rumor is that we will go to either a traditional day or a modified block. I would like modified block because it would allow for AP classes at the start and end of the day to meet every day all year which can only benefit those kids.

mazenko said...

Hate, hate, hate block schedules. What a scam and crock of ....

It could drive me out of education.

Darren said...

Just like the old days--we agree!

Donalbain said...

Completely different to the way we run things. Here, you do the same subjects all year. And most of the subjects you do all the way through from first year high school to the end of compulsory schooling.

SMiller said...

Students in my school are on a different type of block schedule -- 8 classes, 4 each day. I guess it's slightly better than fitting everything in half a year, but it has the problem of only seeing students every other day.

Up until this year, I taught 3 classes per day (and yes, it is a sweet deal). As a cost-cutting measure, my district gave all high school teachers an additional class, which means we have one day in which we teach 4 90-minute classes and one day with 3 90-minute classes and one 90-minute conference period. The general consensus of people I have spoken to has been that we wish the district would have gone back to a traditional schedule if they were going to take one of our conference periods. This new schedule is a killer.

SMiller said...

Oh, and on "interactive notebooks" -- two of my Geometry classes are co-teaching, which means that they are around 50% SPED. I have found that using foldables keeps the students on-task more than traditional notes. I've also found that holding them accountable for keeping up with the notes and foldables keeps them on-task as well. Yes, my room looks like an arts-and-crafts room sometimes, but the kids are taking the same notes they would have taken had I lectured the traditional way. I now have some notes done traditionally (my school is pushing Cornell notes) as well as the foldables, depending on what the topic seems suited for.

Hube said...

One of my district's 3 high schools had a block schedule for 3 years ... they ditched it this year because kids and staff (and parents) despised it.