Friday, September 20, 2013

The Block Schedule

At the behest of many of you, I have decided to delve into the way the block schedule should look and work in my classroom.  I say 'should' because even the best-laid plans can diverge from their original intent.  Let's face it, there are 21 different minds and 21 different agendas in each of my classes.

The beauty of the block schedule is the opportunity it offers us to dig deeply into what we are learning.  For example, we can look closely at a passage in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry from a multitude of angles and have ample time to do it.  We can explore the background knowledge needed to appreciate the message, analyze the author's intent, think critically about what is being said, evaluate the writer's craft, study vocabulary, and examine structure.  Then, we can start to write.  It could be a response to the passage, a piece in the style of what was read, a deeper exploration of a topic that was discussed, a method for thinking through a difficult idea, or a way to confront personal feelings about an issue. Because of the ability to do all of these things, reading and writing become intertwined, and students begin to see them not as separate entities, but rather as two interdependent disciplines.  Below, is a typical 90-minute block in English.

15 minutes
Self-selected reading
  •     Teacher models reading
  •      Confer with individual readers (monitor texts and progress)

5 minutes
Book Commercials
  • Based on self-selected reading
  • Students must complete two per quarter

10 minutes
     Whole group

Direct Instruction Reading (mini-lesson)
  • Comprehension strategies and skills (based on text being studied)
  • Group discussion (thinking critically, analyzing, evaluating)
  • Reading like writers (Daybook, Story Grammar)

Direct Instruction Vocabulary (mini-lesson)
  • Content-area terms determined by teacher
  • Vocabulary from reading to be determined by students and teacher
  • Marzano and Frayer strategies, games for reinforcement

15 minutes
Reading and Conferring
  • Strategies and skills practice (whole-class novel)
  • One-on-one teacher-student conferences

10 minutes
     Whole group
Direct Instruction (mini-lesson or Read Aloud)
  • 6 Trait Writing
  • Writing process
  • Writing like readers (Daybook, Story Grammar)

Alternate with
Writing Circles
1-2 minutes
     Whole group
Status of the Class
  • Record individuals' plans for writing

20 minutes
Writing and Conferring
  • Teacher and student-driven
  • Conference with teacher
  • Peer response

5-10 minutes
Personal Spelling Lists
  • Practice and assessment

5 minutes
     Whole group
  • Students rotate within 6-day cycle
  • Group acknowledgements 

* Adapted from Nancie Atwell

As you can see, it's pretty tight.  There are days when we get through every part of this schedule, and there are others where we get stuck in a specific area and don't have the opportunity to move forward.  Today, for example, the kids needed an extra dose of explicit instruction in annotating their novels.  This took more than the time I allotted for the teaching of reading skills, so we had less time to work on our writing task for the day.  It's not a setback, just a necessary focus on an immediate need.

I am thrilled to be teaching in the block schedule.  It allows me to dovetail all of the aspects of my curriculum together.  One of my goals is for your children to read and write as much as they can this year, and the 90-minute block will facilitate the integration of the two, naturally and logically.  I can't wait to hear your thoughts at the Back to School Night on Thursday, September 26.


  1. Thank you for the detailed info on the block schedule.

  2. You're very welcome, Stephanie. I am very excited about the possibilities!

  3. Thanks for the update - sounds like a great way to really work in-depth with your students :)

  4. You are welcome, Jen. It will give me the time to work with them one-on-one.