Many educators have grown accustomed to a traditional period schedule for middle school. However, there are several different types of schedules that schools currently use. The schedule your middle school uses may be slightly or even starkly different from the schedule of a nearby district, or perhaps even another middle school within your own district! Examining ideas of different middle school schedule examples can help your school make decisions about what’s best for your students.
While each schedule has certain advantages and disadvantages, less traditional schedules often allow for more flexibility. Such flexibility, if used well, has the potential to further support the needs of students. When time is structured into the master schedule for flex or advisory periods, this purposely creates opportunities to incorporate SEL, differentiated learning experiences, alternative learning opportunities, and lessons focused on school-wide expectations and norms.
There is a lot to learn from looking at how other schools structure their daily schedule. Let us take a moment to look at the pros and cons of several middle school schedule examples as well as consider ways in which to creatively incorporate flex time into the school week.
Note: Regardless of the specific schedule, schools are bound by a specific number of instructional minutes that must be provided for students.
It is likely that the schedule we are most familiar with is the period schedule. Here, students attend the same classes during the same time of day, Monday to Friday. At the middle school level, it is common to have a science or math teacher teach five or six periods of science or math each day (depending on how many periods are in a day and considering a prep period) while the same teacher will teach both English and social studies together. For example, a student may attend English and social studies periods 1 and 2, math period 3, and science period 4 each day. While it is common to group students into “blocks” for English and social studies and keep them with the same teacher for both classes, it is not necessary. How you schedule your students will depend on several factors, such as class sizes (student to teacher ratios based on your district’s collective bargaining agreement), the types of credentials required for your classes, and the credentials the teachers at your site hold. In addition, site administrators should work with teachers to consider specific student groupings and what is best for each classroom.
It is said that consistency is key. One thing to consider with a period schedule is the constant reinforcement of routines, procedures, and content that a schedule based on daily attendance can help reinforce.
Another advantage to a traditional period schedule is timing, although this can be argued both ways (see the cons section below). Some teachers may prefer their lessons and time with the students to be around the one hour or less mark. Bell to bell instruction is a common phrase amongst educators. With a period schedule, it may be more realistic to ask both students and teachers to engage in bell to bell instruction. When class periods begin to extend beyond the one hour mark, we have to consider at what point are we approaching cognitive overload for our students (and fatigue for teachers). Being able to stop, reset, and take a break every hour is one benefit of a traditional period schedule.
Prep periods may be easier to plan for in a period schedule layout. When schools begin to step away from period schedules and approach a block schedule (more on this below), site administrators, district officials, and the teachers’ union all have to agree on the frequency of prep periods. Do teachers have daily prep periods when in a block schedule and thus have two prep periods? Do classroom educators still only have one prep period, yet their preps are every other day? How does this impact the master schedule? With a traditional period schedule, this is more straightforward.
From an attendance perspective, a traditional period schedule would have the least impact on student learning when a student is absent or there are holidays to work around. In the block schedules below, missing a day of school could mean that a student will not see the teacher and content for several days. If a student misses a Thursday, for example, but returns on Friday, then they miss one day of instruction and return to the same course the following day. In a non-period schedule, if a student misses Thursday, and typically has a Monday/Thursday block split (A/B block schedule), then while they still missed one day of instruction, it would be three days until they returned to the same course.
Classroom management is something to consider when discussing the difference between a period schedule and other types of layouts. In general, it is hard for people to continuously stay focused for large periods of time. While movement in the classroom, brain breaks, and an engaging lesson with a specific focus on pacing can help, it is still a lot to ask educators to maintain the attention of students, especially middle school aged students, for long periods of time. Shorter classroom blocks that are more typical within a period schedule may better support the teachers’ classroom management efforts.
Middle school students, especially at the lower grades, are coming from an elementary environment where they were likely with the same one or two teachers for the entire day. The idea that they will rotate to a new classroom on a nearly hourly basis is something that younger students typically are not accustomed to.
This shift in how they perceive the school environment can be particularly difficult for some students as each classroom often has a different set of expectations that students are asked to learn and abide by. It may take a few weeks for middle school students to become accustomed to this routine.
Due to periods often being an hour or less, one of the common arguments against a period schedule is that such a schedule makes doing science labs or project-based learning more difficult.
Make it Flexible:
In a period schedule, as in other schedules that will be discussed below, flex can be planned at any part of the day. The day could begin with a flex period and then proceed to period 1. Here, the flex teacher would always be whichever teacher students have for their first period.
Or, flex can be an additional time allotted to a period, similar to how many schools do announcements. As seen the schedule example above, third period every day could always be ten to fifteen minutes longer than the other periods. Around 5 minutes could also be taken from each period to create a flex period, depending on the needs of the school. Regardless of how flex is structured, the overall time students are in class likely would not change much.
Middle School Block Schedules
Block schedules are instructional blocks that last longer than traditional period schedules. Generally, a block schedule is four periods in a day that run for approximately an hour and a half each. Below, we will discuss two types of block schedules as well as some pros and cons for each.
4x4 Block Schedule vs A/B Block Schedule
While there are schools that enact block schedules at the middle school level, currently, block schedules are more predominant in high schools.
Both a 4x4 and an A/B block schedule would typically consist of four instructional periods each day. The main difference between a 4x4 block and an A/B block is when students take their classes.
4X4 Block Schedule
In a 4x4 block schedule, students split their yearly classes into semesters. For example, a student might take social studies, English, math, and an elective during their first semester. Here, students would take these classes every day, just for a longer period each day than they would in a traditional period schedule. At the end of the semester, pending that they passed their classes, students would move on to their next classes for the year. Thus, in semester two, the same students might take science, world language, physical education, and a performing arts course.
A/B Block Schedule
An A/B schedule separates the block periods into distinct days. In this model, students remain in the same courses for the duration of the academic year. Using the example above, students would take all eight classes (or seven or six pending how many “off” periods they have-although the usage of “off” periods are typically not used at the middle school level) throughout the year. On “A” days, which could be Mondays and Thursdays, a student might take social studies, English, math, and an elective. On “B” days, the same student might then take science, world language, physical education, and a performing arts class. On Wednesdays, a day that is generally shorter for students, the school would likely rotate between “A” and “B” days every other week.
Both 4x4 and A/B block schedules work particularly well for science labs and project-based learning. In a block schedule, students have longer to engage in inquiry and collaboration than they would in a period schedule.
Some educators may prefer block schedules for prep period reasons. Having a longer prep period could allow for more time to lesson plan, grade assignments, and take mental and bio breaks during the day. Again, this depends on how prep periods are negotiated and organized within the district.
If teachers have prep periods each day, then having longer time to work on all the work teachers have outside of instruction would be helpful. If teachers have to alternate their prep periods, resulting in only two to three days a week that a teacher receives a prep, then this is something to really consider and discuss.
A 4x4 block schedule allows for students to focus on just four specific classes each semester, instead of seven or eight. This can allow them to have more time to get involved in projects.
Some argue that from a learning theory perspective, certain subjects, such as math and world languages are better when covered daily.
In a 4x4 block schedule, an entire semester would pass before a student reengaged with certain content. Here, there is a concern for learning loss that might be difficult to overcome by the time the students were asked to build upon their prior knowledge.
While an A/B block schedule allows for student to teacher relationships to develop over the course of the academic year, a 4x4 schedule limits student to teacher connections over this same timeframe. It takes time to develop relationships and continue to learn how to differentiate the learning experience for your students. A 4x4 block schedule could potentially hinder this development in a way that another schedule option might not.
Make it Flexible:
Like a traditional schedule, the incorporation of a flex or advisory period into the schedule would mean that time would be allocated from the other blocks. Depending on how your school chooses to incorporate flex would determine how much time from each block would need to be deducted.
Some schools may decide to have a flex period built in every day, regardless of a 4x4 or A/B schedule. Another approach might be to have an advisory period every Wednesday. Having a flex period every Wednesday should allow for the other block periods for the other days to remain constant. If Wednesdays were shorter, as seen in the example above, Blocks 1 through 8 could still be rotated week to week, and the last period would be a lengthy flex block where students could work on projects, get intervention and support, or pursue enrichment activities. A schedule like this could actually be a great opportunity for an entire flex day.
Rotating schedules rotate the time students attend a specific course each day. Regardless of a period schedule or a block schedule, the concept here is the same. For example, on Monday, a student may have math during their first period and science during their last period. On Tuesday, the same student might have science during their first period, math during their second.
A rotating schedule could potentially alleviate learning loss due to other factors. If a student is habitually late to their first period, even though this is a concern that should be addressed through a tiered system of intervention and support, the student would not always miss time from the same class. Likewise, when certain students are pulled out of class for various supports, there is less of a risk that they are pulled from the same class due to the time schedules of the various professionals supporting our students.
A rotating schedule is one of the most complex schedule option for teachers, students, administrators, families, and community members. This complexity may be especially difficult for younger students.
Make it Flexible:
In a rotating schedule, a flex period could be added into the rotation for the length of a full class period on one or more days of the week. Schools have instructional minutes that need to be met of course, so the ability to do this may vary from school to school.
As with other schedule types, some schools take a few minutes from each period to create flex periods. When these occur daily, it can really help students get the support they need the most. Some schools may rotate how flex is used as well -- for example, flex time on 'A' days in the rotation may always be Advisory, and the other days a more traditional choice-based or need-based flex period. Or, as seen in the image above, flex could replace an entire class period. This could still allow for the rotation of classes your school needs, while ensuring there is built-in time for support.
Middle school is certainly not an easy time for students. Looking at different middle school schedule examples can help educators come up with unique and innovative schedule plans that will work best for their students. Flex time can teach middle school students how to plan their day and manage their time - skills that will get more and more important as they get older. Having a flex period can also help middle school students to get whatever additional support they need - be it academic or social-emotional. The transition from elementary school to middle school and then on to high school involves increased responsibility, and shifting social pressures. A flexible schedule can give students what they really need -- more time.