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Block scheduling is a type of academic scheduling in which each student has fewer classes per day. It is more common in middle and high schools than in primary schools. Each class is scheduled for a longer period of time than normal (e.g. 90 minutes instead of 50). In one form of block scheduling, a single class will meet every day for a number of weeks, after which another class will take its place. In another form, daily classes rotate through a changing daily cycle.
Blocks offer more concentrated experiences of subjects, with fewer classes daily. There may be less regular amounts of homework for any given class.
Conversion to block scheduling became a relatively widespread trend in the 1990s for middle schools and high schools in the United States. Prior to that, many schools scheduled classes such that a student saw every one of their teachers each day. Classes were approximately 40–60 minutes long, but under block scheduling, they became approximately 90 minutes long.
In some cases, such as in medical school or other intensive university program, a block schedule may mean taking one class at a time, all day, every day, until all of the material is covered. A normal university course might then be completed in three or four weeks of focused effort on a single topic. This is sometimes called "One Course At A Time" ("OCAAT") (see Colorado College and Cornell College). When used as a supplement change instead of the normal schedule, this approach is sometimes called a mini-mester.
Waldorf schools traditionally employ a mixed approach. Certain academic subjects are taught in intensive three to five week blocks known as main lesson blocks, while other subjects are taught in regularly meeting skills classes.
One variety of block scheduling, called A/B block scheduling, is shown in the example table. Instead of taking six classes every day, students attend three classes every other day and spend double the amount of continuous time in each class. Students can take 4 classes during one semester and another 4 the next. The example given here reverts to a six-period day on Fridays. Another way of distributing the classes would be to have "A" and "B" days on alternate Fridays, or to alternate "ABABA" weeks with "BABAB" weeks.
Another common block system exists in which students spend up to 100 minutes per class, and earn four credits each semester. Excluding very rare occasions, students at schools using this system take two core classes and two electives per semester. Some schools modify this system further to use one of the mid-day periods for students to take optional year-long classes (usually band) that take half of the period length and take another year-long class during the rest of the period (such as math or journalism). Under such a system most of the classes taken on a year-long basis have all students participating, however it is not uncommon for journalism or yearbook classes to operate under the normal system and only have a few students who leave or arrive halfway through the period. It is also not uncommon for these classes to be scheduled as two credits, and taken both semesters.
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