4 Ways to Build a Better Schedule 4 Ways to Build a Better Schedule

4 Ways to Build a Better Schedule

Erin Werra Erin Werra Advancing K12 Blogger
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**Editor's note: This article originally appeared in Getting Smart.

"A master schedule must be built with the same level of care and attention as a new home where a family will spend the next 20 years growing together." –Dr. Ashanti Bryant Foster 

(No pressure, right?)

District leaders face the annual challenge of creating hundreds of schedules to fulfill graduation requirements while supporting each student's individual goals. Developments in edtech have saved schedule builders uncountable hours once spent puzzling together schedules by hand. It's only the beginning of a shift toward increased flexibility. How do schools break out of the traditional scheduling mold, offer students greater choice, and make the most of the physical space available?

Before committing to any new scheduling technique, district leaders must pose the question: What do students in our schools need to become college and career ready? Of course, the answers will vary immensely depending on the current culture: More one-on-one time with teachers, increased options for enrichment courses, carefully structured (or not) free periods, and access to community resources all may be addressed by restructuring the school day. 

Nationwide, schools are bucking the traditional model (6-8 periods repeated daily over the course of the week, students placed in mass study halls, limited self-reliance, increased conflicts, etc...) in favor of scheduling methods which allow their unique cultures to shine. Let's explore four nontraditional approaches gaining popularity. 


Future Scheduling

Small changes can lead to big improvement. For proof, consider future scheduling. Although schools retain quite a bit of control over the schedule, students are able to make some choices to determine which courses they take.

First, course offerings are set by school leaders, and students are assigned to recommended and required courses. Then students are able to choose electives, typically via an online course request system. Finally, staff analyze the requests to determine the number of courses offered.

Online tools can simplify the process for staff, save time, and eliminate paper. Since students choose which courses will be popular, future scheduling helps determine staff requirements and allocate resources. Still, future scheduling places most of the scheduling responsibility on staff rather than encouraging students to take ownership, and it requires a fair amount of staff hours to resolve conflicts and release student schedules. 

Future scheduling can offer a taste of choice and freedom to students without completely shattering the traditional model—an attractive option for districts looking to ease their way into a new way of scheduling. It's worth pointing out a traditional 6–8-period schedule isn't obsolete. With some tinkering, it can work just fine alongside future scheduling. 

"Kids get a lot more choice in electives, as opposed to a four-block schedule," explains Alex Christianson, a science teacher at Auburndale Middle School in Auburndale, Wisconsin. "On the other hand, offering hands-on activities is harder with less time. I have to split the instructions into one day, do a quick recap the day of, and we still don't usually get to finish our activity."


Arena Scheduling

Students are stepping into the spotlight in schools nationwide to try their hands at arena scheduling. Schools offer courses on a first-come, first-served basis, and students build their own schedules through online requests, university-style.

Arena scheduling requires schools to plan ahead for staff requirements, resources, prerequisites, and co-requisites, but allows for maximum efficiency once scheduling is underway. Since students build their own schedules and courses close once filled, nearly all of the conflict resolution happens automatically, which saves hundreds of hours staff would normally spend reconciling conflicts.

Ownership is placed squarely on students' shoulders. It's their responsibility to be aware of graduation requirements (although some districts use a scheduling lab to ensure a counselor approves each schedule). However, students also get to choose from a variety of courses aligned to their interests. Online course request tools can allow seniors first choice at scheduling, then juniors, and so on, to help ensure students have the best shot at completing required courses in time for graduation.


Flex Mod Scheduling

Midcentury modern is back in style in the living room and the classroom. Dating back to the late 1960s, the flexible modular schedule (flex mod) splits sessions into small modules of time to allow for maximum flexibility and access to courses and resources. A module, or mod, could be between 15 and 30 minutes long, course sessions may take up only one mod or several, and may meet once or a few times a week. 

Stack several mods together for a lab or large group lecture, or set aside a single mod once a week for a Response to Intervention check-in session. Mods give students more responsibility to wisely manage their own schedules. They may find themselves with pockets of unstructured time, which used to be filled with mass study halls. Now their time is free to pursue resource labs or self-directed projects like career research, as seen in this example flex mod schedule. 

The flexibility in scheduling allows students to take more courses and increases one-on-one time with teachers. Class sessions take multiple forms, including small-group study sessions. There's no mistaking it though; flex mod schedules can end up looking very complicated. It's organized chaos with encouraging results. Students and staff eventually get used to the idea of a full schedule with daily fluctuations in free mods and lunchtimes.


Rotational Scheduling

What if a district isn't quite ready for a full-blown flex mod implementation? There's nothing wrong with mixing some methods to create flexible options to fit into a more traditional approach. Rotational scheduling gives students a taste of the freedom (and responsibility) flex mod schedules offer.

Students may take the same course but with separate sessions taught by teachers with different specialties. Course schedules may alternate on an A/B basis, with students having different schedules every other day. The scheduling team considers student needs, teacher skills, and the district's priorities to come up with creative, fresh solutions.

"There's no bad way to schedule. Every teacher does their best to make a positive impact on students," says Christianson. "You might try a double period once a week, especially for science, math, or English/language arts. It's important to make sure class sizes are manageable—keeping 35 kids focused for 90 minutes is really difficult!"

The rotational concept may remind secondary school leaders of stations in elementary school, with good reason. Just as different subjects required different instruction and practice in younger grades, a rotational schedule for English may look very different than a science course. The rotational model gives teacher teams flexibility to structure course timing and classrooms to fit the subject matter, not the other way around. 

What's important to your district's culture? If it's flexibility, increasing student ownership, or maximizing electives offered, one of these scheduling options may be the answer.

Follow-up Resource: Positive Attendance

Versatile scheduling sometimes requires a creative approach to attendance. Learn more about how schools are evolving beyond roll call in When Teachers Don't Take Attendance.​

Erin Werra Erin Werra Advancing K12 Blogger
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