The Effects of Block Scheduling on Academic Success

The Effects of Block Scheduling on Academic Success

The current research exploring the effect of class scheduling format changes (shifting from three fifty-minute class sessions a week to two eighty-minute class meetings per week) on undergraduate student learning is quite limited. Extending beyond the undergraduate literature, this report also examines research on the assessment of scheduling formats for time intensive courses (nontraditional, part-time, and continuing education), graduate courses, and block scheduling at the high school level. Researchers investigated students’ academic achievement, attitudes, student/teacher interactions, school/classroom environment, instructional methodologies, and challenges of an extended instructional period. Although the ages of these groups of students are outside the traditional eighteen to twenty-two years of the typical undergraduate, the insights on student learning obtained from these studies may be helpful.

In response to the growing number of nontraditional students seeking post-secondary education, many colleges have implemented a variety of class scheduling formats to meet the needs of these students. The research comparing students’ learning experiences in time intensive courses to those of students in equivalent semester-length courses, however, has not kept pace with the increase in nontraditional scheduling nor fully explored ways to maximize the learning opportunities for students. It appears, therefore, that the scheduling format may have a greater impact on the marginal student who may require more frequent contact time for academic success.

Research shows that successful pedagogical approaches for time intensive classes incorporate varying teaching techniques and actively involve the students in the learning process, thus maintaining their participation level and interest. Additionally, intensive classes allow for more in-depth discussions, experiential activities, combination of theory with practice, and enhanced student-faculty interactions.

Time intensive course research has also been conducted across a variety of academic disciplines. These include: psychology, education, mathematics, foreign language, and literature. Comparisons between the academic achievement (exam scores, semester grades) of students in time intensive courses and students in the semester length format of the courses indicated either no significant differences in academic achievement between the two groups or greater gains by students in the time intensive format.

In summary, the literature strongly indicates that time intensive courses, regardless of when they are offered (summer, intersession, weekend, or regular semester) produce comparable or enhanced academic achievement, as measured by exams or semester grades, in comparison to equivalent semester long courses. Additionally, research supports the use of time intensive courses across disciplines. Intensive courses have been found to foster academic achievement, stimulate group discussion, improve student-faculty interaction, and promote active learning and creative teaching techniques.

The literature base for scheduling formats and their effect on student learning at the graduate level is minimal and tends to be concentrated in the field of education. Results indicated that academic achievement, as measured by the average score on two teacher-constructed exams, was not affected by the different scheduling formats.

A new study explored students’ attitudes regarding the course and the degree of implementation of course content in their elementary classrooms. Graduate students enrolled in the “Early Childhood Reading” course had the option of three scheduling formats: (1) four mornings a week for three weeks during the summer, (2) all day for one week during the summer, or (3) one evening per week for fifteen week during the fall semester. For consistency, the same professor taught all three sections. At the end of the fall semester, students responded to a questionnaire indicating their attitude about the course and their implementation of course content. Results indicated the scheduling format of the course did not have a significant effect on students’ perception of the course or on the number of strategies and ideas they had incorporated into their teaching. In summary, the academic achievement, attitude, and implementation of course content by graduate students did not appear to be influenced by the course scheduling format – time intensive or semester course.

The effects of block scheduling on academic performance have been investigated through analysis of GPA, honor roll achievement, number of failures, dropout rates, and standardized test scores. Studies consistently show that students’ grades and standardized test scores improve, honor roll totals increase, and failure and dropout rates decline when block scheduling data are compared to data for traditional scheduling.

Advocates of block scheduling indicate that an extended instructional period necessitates a wider variety of instructional methods and more active involvement of students in the learning process. Pedagogical studies report that teachers in a block schedule environment employ more instructional strategies, individualize instruction more frequently, inject more creativity into their teaching approach, and use cooperative and active learning strategies more often than traditionally scheduled teachers. The longer time blocks, therefore, allow for a more flexible and productive classroom environment and provide opportunities for instructional innovation and interactive student activities. This shift in the instructional approach positively impacts the quality and focus of instruction and thus sustains students’ interest, attention, and learning.

Reports from block scheduled high schools state that the scheduling format has a positive impact on the instructional climate by improving student/teacher and student/student relationships. Survey results indicate that students in block scheduled high schools report receiving more help from their teachers and develop better relationships with their teachers. The results of a pre- and post-test, administered to students as their school transitioned to block scheduling, indicated the amount of individual attention that students received from teachers increased. Students believed that teachers got to know them better during the longer blocks of time, thus resulting in more teacher/student interaction. Teachers also indicated that one of their preferences for block scheduling included better relationships with students.

Block scheduling appears to have a positive influence on student behavior and attendance patterns. Results from the nearly one hundred case studies, dissertations, and reports completed on block scheduling, reported that the number of discipline referrals was typically reduced by 19%. Teacher and student attendance also increased slightly.

Change can often be painful and controversial. Research suggests at least two years of planning should precede implementation of block scheduling and the needs of all constituents be considered. For students, absences or recovery from an illness may be more difficult to negotiate. Unless specific plans are made, students may experience difficulty recovering from class absences since this scheduling format is not as forgiving of students’ absences as traditional scheduling. There are some indications, however, that because of this factor, the more motivated students have fewer absences in the block scheduling format.

Adequate staff development is essential for block scheduling to be successful. Teachers who are accustomed to fifty minute time blocks need assistance in gaining necessary skills and strategies to successfully teach in a longer block of time. Active involvement of students in meaningful and productive activities requires both general and discipline specific training. Additionally, since block scheduling explores and implements new instructional methods, activities, and assignments, appropriate assessment tools need to be designed to accurately evaluate student learning.

Students prefer block scheduling over the traditional format primarily for interpersonal reasons, including: the ability to get more work done in class, more teacher help, more frequent participation in activities and projects, and better relationships with teachers. Teachers displayed a preference for block scheduling for reasons that centered on enhanced teaching strategies. Nearly all methodologies mentioned student-centered, inquiry-based activities such as group projects, writing, and cooperative learning.

The impact of course scheduling formats on student learning was examined across a variety of student populations. Undergraduate research indicates that the course scheduling format was not an important factor in the academic achievement of students. One study did find, however, that a higher course dropout rate occurred for students in classes meeting two days per week compared to students meeting three times per week. The researchers concluded that marginal students might benefit from additional class meetings. The research comparing students’ learning experiences in time intensive courses to those of students in equivalent semester-length courses reports comparable or enhanced academic performance, which was supported by research across a variety of academic disciplines. Graduate research suggests that academic achievement was independent of differing course scheduling formats. High school results consistently indicate that students’ grades and standardized test scores improved with block scheduling.

The pedagogical implications of various course scheduling formats were very clearly addressed in the literature. The combined research indicates that the success of longer instructional time blocks lies with the effectiveness of the pedagogical approach.

The literature indicates that longer class periods demand a variety of teaching methods and active involvement of students in the learning process. To this end, the call for faculty development is evident throughout the literature. Combining lectures or activities from two fifty-minute classes into a lesson plan for an eighty-minute class session is not an appropriate teaching strategy. Thus, active involvement of students in meaningful and productive activities requires both general and discipline specific training. Simply changing the class scheduling format without enlisting the support of the faculty and providing them with the appropriate developmental resources compromises the learning experience of the students.


Megan Wilson is a teacher, life strategist, successful entrepreneur, inspirational keynote speaker and founder of Megan champions a radical rethink of our school systems; she calls on educators to teach both intuition and logic to cultivate creativity and create bold thinkers.



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