Hey, PLN: What’s the best high school day structure?

I had a good conversation with another teacher at my school yesterday about the pros and cons of the different schedules that are possible within our high school system. 

Our school has the same Day 1/Day 2 structure that I experienced as a student (four periods a day, Day 1 ABCD, Day 2 BADC). She had a desemestered high school with six classes a day on some kind of rotation (I can’t remember the details now).

We discussed MSIP, repeated block (like ABCDA), Cooperative Education, homework completion, prep time, and the possible impacts on science, math, language, Bistro (restaurant services class), lunch, sports, and so on. 

But in the end we concluded that we don’t know a lot; we just speculate a lot. 

So I’m looking for two things:

  1. What’s your high school’s schedule like, and what are the pros and cons from your perspective?
  2. Can you point me to research or books about the impact of different schedule structures on achievement, well-being, satisfaction, special programs, etc.? 

If it matters, my school has around 1000 students in grades 7-12, and there is a significant population that is bussed every day. 

Thanks, PLN!

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3 thoughts on “Hey, PLN: What’s the best high school day structure?

  1. I don’t actually work in a high school at the moment. When I was in high school, and when I did my practicum with the same board, it was a 9:30–3:20 kind of day, two semesters, four classes a day and a lunch period in between. Teachers with a full allocation would teach 3 periods and have 1 prep period.

    I like the longer periods. When I taught in England, we had 5 hour-long periods the first year I was there and 6 50-minute periods the second year I was there, and it was a little insane. We need time in our lessons, especially when it comes to all that prep, or giving presentations, etc.

    I’ve never done a Day 1/Day 2 (or in England I know some schools had Week 1/Week 2), so I’m not sure how I feel about that.

    For me, the obvious downfall of the 2-semester system is the skills atrophy that can happen if you take Grade 9 math in semester 1 and then don’t have it until Grade 10 semester 2. The semester after I finished my first practicum, my associate teacher ran a pilot program where she got to teach Grade 9 applied boys Grade 10 applied math in their second semester of Grade 9 (and then they would do Grade 11 the next year, I think).

    So I’ll throw another question out there to your readers! Has anyone proposed a schedule where the year is still semestered for most courses, but some subjects (e.g., math) run year-long?

  2. Our school recently changed its daily schedule from a Day1/Day2 (ABCD/ABDC, 75-minute periods) schedule, to a full tumbling schedule through the week:
    Mon: ABCD
    Tues: BCDA
    Wed: CDAB
    Thurs: DABC
    Fri: ABCD
    First, third and fourth periods are 70 minutes in length. Second period is 90 minutes in length, and teachers have the option of releasing students after 70 minutes for early lunch (depending on the activity in class, or as an incentive for individual students to be caught up on the week’s work). Each class has one longer period a week, with the exception of class B, which has the longer period Mondays and Fridays. Mondays, though, we do 20 minutes of DEAR during that period, so instructional time remains 70 minutes for that class (no one gets released early).

    At first, there was a lot of reluctance to change, citing “it’s too confusing” (compared to the original schedule where only 2 classes flipped), but there have been a number of advantages.
    1) Even with the tumbling periods, students are better able to keep track of what day it is (previously, Day 1 was any odd day; Day 2 was any even day. Students seemed to have a HARD time remembering what the date was, so they were constantly asking “What day is it today?”)
    2) It’s nice to not always have certain classes only in the morning, or only in the afternoon. Also nice to not always have our prep period at the same time each day.
    3) Early release is great – a wonderful incentive for students, or a chance to do a longer lab/activity/lesson.
    4) It’s quite easy to keep a routine, even though each day is different, because the order of the classes doesn’t change (ie. I always have MDM4U right after I have SNC1D).
    5) It sure makes the week fly by to not be stuck in the same schedule every day :)

    Disadvantages include:
    1) Staff who are 0.67 no longer have their classes in morning-only or afternoon-only, so that makes being part-time tougher to juggle with day-care, etc.
    2) This makes it nearly impossible for students to participate in dual credit courses with Cambrian, because the tumbling periods makes it hard to schedule classes with the college. Similarly, it’s tough to schedule only 2-periods of co-op a day (rather than students always being able to go to co-op in the afternoons).

    Our school is 9-12, about 450 students, with about 95% of the students bussed in.

    Post Script: The school I attended was also non-semestered, like your colleague’s, and we had a tumbling 4-day timetable with six 50-minute periods a day. I enjoyed the variety that each day brought, which I also like about our current schedule.

  3. When I taught in Colombia, we had a desemestered year, with all subjects all year long, with some rotating schedules that I can’t quite recall all this time later. Shorter periods, but I found the abillity to build relationships so much greater. I loved it and wish we did it here. When we were able to offer English full year at the Henry, I thought it made such a difference on so many levels. Now, I always feeling like I’m cramming the learning into a really short period. In the cases of students who are reading below grade level, too, I wonder about the wisdom of possibly going a full year between English classs. There has definitely been research on the disadvantages of breaking for the summer, so what does that mean for students who take something like English in semester one of grade nine and then don’t take it again until semester two of grade ten? It’s also tougher to build cross curricular connections as well. If I’ve got a great inquiry unit that matches the history curriculum, I’m out of luck if half my students don’t have history until semester 2. If someone would make me ruler of the educational world, I’d definitely be gettng rid of as many compartments as possible, and that would start with semesters!

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