Editorial: Maximizing the effectiveness of an in person 4-block schedule


Class curriculums will change as Lynbrook returns to in person school following a 4-block schedule for the first time. ( Graphic Illustration by Allison Hsieh and Sophie Au.)

Epic Staff

As Lynbrook moves from more than a year of remote learning to a full return to campus in fall of 2021, plans to keep the 4-block system with a few modifications have been finalized. Students and teachers will physically experience a 4-block schedule for the first time. In light of this, several considerations will help both staff and students maximize the potential of this new schedule.

The change to a 4-block schedule in the 2020-2021 school year was a new experience for both students and teachers. Instead of having two days of 90-minute periods and three days of 45-minute periods each week, the 4-block schedule consists of four days with three 90-minute periods each and one asynchronous day. Lynbrook previously experimented with minor schedule changes including shifting around tutorials, integrating the homeroom period and adjusting start times, but has still stuck with a 2-block schedule.

In 2018, teachers at every FUHSD school voted for either a 2-block or 4-block schedule for their respective schools. Most schools preferred their previous schedule — 2-block for Lynbrook and Monta Vista and 4-block for Homestead and Fremont. After a thorough discussion, Cupertino, which previously had a 2-block schedule, voted to switch to a 4-block schedule.

“What convinced me to go with a 4-block schedule was the research behind it, in that it can reduce student stress,” Cupertino High School Law teacher and ELD coordinator Sean Bui said. “Also, having this longer schedule allows for spending more time in a day covering content and, more importantly, getting to know my students.” 

When schools transitioned into distance learning, FUHSD implemented a district-wide block schedule for the 2020-2021 school year to reduce the stress of teaching many classes in one day and provide more transition time between periods. Additionally, the block schedule would make a potential return to school easier.

“I think the block schedule has actually been very helpful for distance learning,” literature teacher Joanna Chan said. “Focusing on only two or three different classes per day is much easier than focusing on five to seven classes a day.”

However, not all teachers and subjects had the same experience. While some liked the block schedule, it was challenging for others at the start, as adapting to a new weekly schedule forced them to plan and teach differently. With a whole year of practice and adapting, however, continuing with a 4-block schedule in the 2021-2022 school year could promise more success. 

Teachers have more flexibility in terms of planning class material, no longer needing to create plans specific for different block days and 7-period days. For some subjects, creating lesson plans for the 4-block schedule is as easy as stacking two 45-minute periods’ worth of work into one day. For example, Chan was able to give a mini-lesson then have students apply what they learned instantly by having work time on the same day as well. She found that students are able to learn better by focusing on one topic for the entire period. 

“I think the 4-block schedule allows everyone to focus more closely and learn more in-depth because there is less pressure to learn content for five to seven subjects in one day,” Chan said.

Literature teacher David Clarke also felt that students were able to learn more effectively with only 90-minute periods. Students do not retain information the same way during two separate 45-minute sessions compared to one 90-minute session.

“If I try to take all the content in one lesson and break it down into two 45-minute periods, I have to use time to remind the students on what we learned last time and ask them to take out everything again,” Clarke said. “There’s just a lot of time wasted to setting up and taking down, which is quite inefficient.”

The new 4-block schedule was also a success for many students, who had fewer tests in one day because teachers were no longer forced to assign all tests, which usually take longer than 45 minutes, on the two-block days per week.

“Kids have appreciated that because maybe they wanted to take the first 10 to 15 minutes to study or view before they do the test,” math teacher Chris Baugh said. “It gives them more time to be ready for what’s coming.”

In addition, the 4-block schedule meant students had staggered due dates for homework, giving them more flexibility for when to do their schoolwork. 

“I was able to divide my homework between multiple days and take a break from the screen every so often,” sophomore Aarthi Gopalakrishnan said. 

Despite giving students more time to take tests and staggered due dates, a 4-block schedule reduces the attention span of students. 90-minute periods proved to be particularly taxing on students mentally because of the inevitable Zoom burnout, and the problem of decreasing focus will continue even as students return to school. 

To combat this, teachers should provide students with at least one break during the 90-minute period. Some teachers may consider breaks a lost opportunity to fit in more content, but 90 minutes of learning can be exhausting. Students will struggle to retain information covered in the latter half of the period if there was no break to allow students to refocus, and it is better to sacrifice 5 to 10 minutes of learning time than to lose students’ attention to drowsiness. Teachers should also ensure that their lesson plans consist of a variety of activities and teaching styles. For example, teachers can alternate between lectures, hands-on activities and individual work time to keep students engaged, instead of 90 minutes of only lectures or 90 minutes of only work.

“Next year, with everyone in person, that will change how I’ve done things in the past,” Culinary Arts teacher Megan Miller said. “I think, overall, the block periods will again be separated into a main cooking block and one of those block periods, a combination of video, lecture, class discussion and activity, things like that.”

Subjects like mathematics, PE, and world languages consist of a curriculum that would benefit from students practicing their skills on a daily basis. For example, PE classes rely on seeing students as many days a week as possible to encourage exercising daily. 

“When you only get to see students for two or three days a week, it’s not sufficient,” PE teacher Ray Wright said. “You’d like them to have exercise every day of the week.”

Teachers can encourage students to practice their skills on days without class by spacing out homework assignments and having flexibility on the due dates. This way, students can have enough time to make sure that they touch upon the subject every day.

Without 45 minute days, teachers have struggled with teaching all the lessons usually on the curriculum because students cannot focus for a period of time to fit in two 45-minute lessons. However, the new schedule allows for students to dive in-depth into a specific subject, something that would not be possible when teachers are forced to cover a topic each 45-minute day, which often leads to skimming a lot of the material.

“I wouldn’t say block schedule decreased the learning; it just enhanced it in some ways but sacrificed some of the topics that we would normally cover,” Baugh said.

Even though a substantial amount of material is covered, it forces teachers to pick what is important and cover it with enough detail to prepare students for their classes next year.

“Decreasing the amount of content covered forced me to identify what was essential, and then tailor my curriculum to that,” Bui said.

To avoid Zoom burnout, many teachers have implemented asynchronous time in their classes. With the return of in-person school, teachers will have the option to include more synchronous content and to keep some of this independent work time. Increasing the amount of synchronous work is a viable option, but independent work time should still remain a priority.

Miller recognized the challenges that both students and teachers face when holding a 90-minute lecture, so during distance learning, she made sure to give half of the period to students to work on their cooking labs asynchronously. Even in person, she does not plan on increasing the length of live lectures just because there is an opportunity to do so.

“I would never teach directly for 90 minutes,” Miller said. “I won’t lecture for more than half the period. It’s going to be broken up, and a combination of students interacting with each other, watching videos or reading articles, and working independently.”

Lynbrook plans to replace the asynchronous Wednesday of the 2020-2021 school year with a 7-period skinny day. Synchronous instruction on skinny days will increase the workload for students, so keeping the 7-period day as a free workday, even when in-person, will ease the transition from the asynchronous Wednesday to the synchronous in-person Wednesday and reduce stress. Although teachers will have the option to cover more content on Wednesdays, they should not. Providing students with an independent space to work on course-specific content will not only alleviate stress and decrease workload but also better students’ understanding of the materials and encourage more student and teacher interactions, something that office hours do not provide enough of because not all students utilize the time to ask teachers questions. 

By dedicating time for students to catch up on work and ask questions during the specific class they are in, teachers will be able to create an environment where students are able to soak up more material and knowledge. During this time, moreover, teachers will also be able to work on grading while helping students, something that has been very beneficial to many staff members this school year. As a result, FUHSD and Lynbrook administrators should set concrete guidelines to make the skinny 7-period Wednesday an individual workday — in their respective classes — for both students and teachers, which will best serve all in a challenging transition back to in-person learning.

“I wasn’t getting any less out of the kids this year with the asynchronous Wednesday,” Clarke, who is planning to use Wednesdays as workdays, said. “I was able to do everything that I needed to do, and the kids were more relaxed because they had time off.”

A day for review or work time on Wednesday will be more beneficial than covering new material for students because it reduces the stress of homework and allows students to practice material they learned on the block days.

“We usually have a quiz or a test every week, so having that opportunity to take what we’ve learned the last couple of days and review it in preparation for a test that’s upcoming is helpful,” Baugh said.

The 4-block schedule this year was a success overall and has a lot of potential going into the 2021-2022 school year. The schedule provides many benefits, such as staggered homework due dates, scattered test dates, more cohesive lesson plans and in-depth learning. However, the issue of burnout is an ongoing concern, so administrators and teachers should appropriately offer independent work times and breaks to avoid losing students’ engagement and focus. Lynbrook has the potential to achieve success with a 4-block schedule, given that breaks and varied class content are implemented to maintain high student engagement and energy.

*The Epic staff voted 38-0 in favor of this stance.