*Note: Someone recently emailed me a question about using Block Scheduling. I am no expert, but I found out how to make it work for me during the 3 years that I taught on the block. Here are some ideas that hopefully are helpful below.*
A few years ago I was forced (against my will) to teach on A/B block scheduling when I was hired at a new school. I was forced because it was a bomb dropped on me after I accepted the job (if I remember things correctly). I didn't even know to ask that question in the interview! Oops!
The way that block scheduling worked at that school was 90 minute periods, 4 a day. One day was A, then next day B. Early dismissal Wednesdays A or B alternated each week. So if there were no interruptions whatsoever, then in a two week cycle, I would see each class 5 times total. (One week Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then the next week Tuesday and Thursday).
When I first started it, I hated it. Then after I left it, I sort of missed it because I could more easily see the benefits (that I was able to get out of it). Although I still believe that every day instruction is better for acquiring language (shorter more often) than a big chunk every two days.
- Planning was easy since I would teach two levels and had both levels on A/B day. So I would prep one day and use the same prep the following day. When I was "demoted" to only teach level 1, it was really sort of a reward: 1 prep for 2 days!
- Prep time was 1.5 hours a day.
- Deeper discussions occurred as I learned to relax more with my students. I learned to live in the moment better with them and would learn more about their lives during the easiest part of my class that in some of my brighter classes could easily turn into 40 minutes without even trying of discussion in Spanish.
- Seeing students every other day (especially if there is a particular one I am having trouble with building a relationship with, I have an extra day to process how to reach him or her)
- Being forced to think of ways to adding more variety in each class
- keeping students in class for 90 minutes (moving between classes is a built in break from class each day, that everyone needs!)
- not being able to do multiple lessons (the block from what I understand is geared more towards science classes where there is a lesson and then a hands-on lab or something in the same period or the next period they have a longer time to practice. I also once heard a principal say that it was better for fewer fights between periods. Oh... ok?)
- more students needing to leave for the bathroom
- attendance problem of missing 90 minutes for one absence
As you might guess though, it can be hard to teach with TPRS / CI at lower levels and let it be "student centered" as principals might want it to be. Don't get me wrong, my students are the best resource I have. In fact, I don't instruct. I construct (with my students). Ask me to clarify in the comments if you aren't sure what that means.
So as a TPRS / CI teacher, how can I teach on the block when what I do requires so much "teacher-facilitated" language? I'm glad you asked!
Here are some steps I would recommend, especially if you are a teacher using TPRS / CI as what we are often doing requires a lot of input rich activities (especially at the lower levels).
Step 1: Think of the class as chunksThe first thing I learned is that I have to build the class in different chunks. No one wants to do the same thing for 90 minutes! That would be terrible.
At the end of the day, we're there to discuss different things and do different things in Spanish to build their fluency. So I can do that in various ways to trick their brains into acquiring the language. It's also important to build in breaks.
This was always an experiment. I first broke the class up into about 3 chunks (to keep it simple for me ). Especially since I taught Spanish 1, I needed to deliver a lot of language. So I would just start out with a Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA) activity which now evolved into Bryce Hedstrom’s “Special Person” interviews. I talk about one or two people a day and don’t get into all of the questions. I go as slowly as I need to and someone takes notes for me.
Then the next 20-30 minutes I would do TPR (Total Physical Response) to get the students up and moving.
Finally we would do a TPRS story in the last 30 minutes with a quiz. The first few days each segment was isolated but as they got more used to the language, it was fun seeing words spill out from one section to the next. Body parts and action words might spill over into PQA conversations or TPRS stories. Or PQA questions might come up in the TPRS story naturally.
By the end of the year this would evolve into:
- Warm-up (5-10 minutes)
(I would put timer on for 5 minutes while I did attendance… at which point I would go around and spot-check. Some days I would, some days I wouldn’t, but at the beginning of the year, I would do it every day to hold them to the expectation. I might also keep a tally of who did it each day by the time I came by at the 5 minute mark for full credit (1 point). This is more data to help me for later.)
- Go over warm up (3-5 minutes)
Walk to part of class with calendar
- Talk about date today, yesterday and tomorrow. (0-5 minutes)
Walk over to stool and sit down
- Ask how they are doing (5 minutes)*
Walk over to projector (this was in the back of my room. Kind of weird but nice for a transition and to walk down the aisle so they could shift focus.
- Weather report (3-5 minutes) - projector
- Language warm-up of day (3-5 minutes) - projector
This was something I would choose but hold to. I thought it was more fun to know that there was a meme on Mondays instead of it just being Mondays. I am always changing up what I do but I currently like:
Monday - Meme
Tuesday - Joke
Wednesday - Miaucoles
Thursday - comic
Friday - fail
I would read through it with them and then we would translate as a class. I would make sure it was attainable or would help them with words I knew they wouldn’t get. It might take 2 minutes… or with the comics or fails, it could take 5-10 minutes depending on the classes and the discussion that came up.
- Dance to comprehensible song / Work on gestures for story / review (5-10 minutes)
- Continue TPRS Story / reading / Movietalk, etc (25 minutes)
- Brain Break
- Continue TPRS Story / reading / Movietalk, etc (10-15 minutes)
- 8-10 question quiz (5-10 minutes)
If time, they would grade their own with a pen of a different color (I had student pass out) for me and someone would alphabetize them for me.
*In some classes, this could turn into 30-40 minutes by the end of the year because they were having such fun talking about their lives in Spanish. They wanted to share so badly and the class was so supportive. It was magical.
Step 2: Use Brain Breaks / Movement
These are always an experiment. You could do them in English. You could do them in the Target Language. I have a variety of things I do.
These could be brain breaks (in English at first for lower levels or as needed) or other types of activities that get them moving but also serve a learning goal that you might have (ex: dancing with a song and gesturing along, performing some commands you say when your 20 minute timer goes off so they have to move around for a second and perform that).
Directions might be in English or Spanish depending on language ability of the class.
- “Tell the person next to you what I just said/asked in English”
- “Tell the person next to you how this person might respond in Spanish”
- “Tell the person next to you might respond to this question this person Spanish”
- “Get up and say “‘Hola’ to 5 people and sit down”
- “Get up and talk about the weather today in Spanish with someone (based on the weather report slide I have for the day).”
- PAT (Preferred Activity Time), stand up / cheer every 10-15 minutes of being in the language / on task
- Get up, pick up the paper and sit down
- TPR (Total physical response)
- Learn gestures for a song
- Dance to a song we’ve been learning
- Practice gestures from TPR as well as gestures from stories we’ve been doing
- Competition of doing gestures faster than other person
- Acting out quality scene from novel in small groups
Of course there are way more talented teachers than myself out there who have Brain Break ideas. Find some that work for your personality or your students' personalities.
Step 3: Make Block work for you
If you’re being forced to teach on the block, find ways to make it work for you. At first I thought, “Oh no, I am basically losing a day of instruction.” However, if I saw them every day, more time could be wasted on the day to day stuff. Once we eased into class, We would still have a good 60 minutes. With TPRS, I have found that since i am not cramming information into their heads, and there is so much repetition in novel ways, the class isn’t as taxing on their brains. Especially since we were having fun (and that’s something I always strive to do), some students would tell me that they couldn’t believe how fast the 90 minutes went.
Something that helped me was a classroom management technique called PAT (Preferred Activity Time). It is from a book I read called “Tools for Teaching” by Fred Jones.
The basic idea is that we earn time for games. This helped me make the class into a positive place where we were working towards time on games. I told my students that we would work hard in class so we could play hard. It helped the atmosphere be one of them earning time for their games on Friday. I would often times choose the games but even if I let them choose, it was about building a sense of working together for a common goal.
I would tell them that if we were on task in the language for 15 minutes (I had a timer that we would pause when I had to wait for someone’s attention or when they got off task), then we would stand up and celebrate or have an agreed upon cheer to remind us and I (or later a student) would write the bonus on the board for me to later add to their bank of time for Friday. I might give 1 minute of PAT for every 10 minutes on task or every 15 minutes on task (after the warm up section). So they might get 6-7 minutes a day and by the time they got to Friday they could have 30-40 minutes that we would do at the end of class.
I would give bonuses for random things to make it a more positive place. If someone gave me an awesome answer, made me laugh in Spanish, acted amazingly, had great eye-contact, etc, I would give 10 second bonuses. People that did jobs for me would get bonuses too. It really helped.
For more ideas on PAT, you might see some of my previous posts on it.
The block wasn’t so bad. I thought it would be terrible but learned to accept it. What I learned over my three years was to relax and not go crazy. By my third year in the block, it was easy and laid-back and I really think my classes enjoyed it for the most part. Some classroom sections one class would really go to town on (comic, how are you chat, story, song). I would let them enjoy that moment because I learned to not be in a rush. I believe that my relaxed attitude helped them acquire more because we would come to have fun in Spanish and not just “learn Spanish” (eye-roll).
What are some ideas you have for teaching on the block?