ERIC Identifier: ED424788
Publication Date: 1998-10-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and
Linguistics Washington DC.
Scheduling Foreign Languages on the Block. ERIC Digest.
Educators have only recently begun to realize the potential of scheduling to
improve schools. One such attempt, block scheduling, affects many aspects of the
school environment, both organizationally and educationally. It comes in many
complex variations, including four-block schedules (see descriptions below)
(Canady and Rettig, 1995).
Block scheduling rests on the premise that it will give teachers more
instructional flexibility (Carroll, 1990), reduce the fragmentation of the day,
and allow teachers to adapt their instructional strategies to address the
different ways in which students learn. In North Carolina, interest in block
scheduling became apparent after the State Board of Education decided to
increase the graduation requirement from 11 to 14 courses in 1991. The increased
number of graduation requirements made it much more difficult for students to
select electives or concentrate on the extended study of one discipline.
SCHEDULING ON THE BLOCK
Block scheduling is a
reorganization of school time. One type of block scheduling is referred to as
4x4, or a concentrated curriculum or semester plan. The typical 4x4 schedule
consists of "four blocks of 90 minutes each.
By doubling the length of class periods, students complete the equivalent of
four 180-day courses every 90 days. After the first session ends, students take
four new courses in the second 90-day session" (Edwards, 1995). Another version
of block scheduling involves eight blocks taught on alternate days (A/B days)
throughout the year.
ADVANTAGES OF BLOCK SCHEDULING FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGES
block scheduling offers a variety of benefits for all teachers and students,
there are some advantages that are especially promising for foreign languages.
For example, block scheduling allows for more concentration in the foreign
language being studied. The longer class periods offer exciting opportunities
for both learners and teachers at the higher levels of language study, where
students are able to comprehend the language and work with a variety of texts
(oral, visual, and written) and communicative activities. In block scheduling,
students have more opportunities to work with teachers and with one another.
Other advantages include these:
There are more opportunities to offer and to take advanced courses (see
Figure 3 at the end of Digest).
Students have an increased number of possibilities for selecting electives.
Under block scheduling, there are 32 different slots (8 per year x 4) for course
work as opposed to 24 (6 per year x 4 per year) under a traditional schedule.
Students have more time to internalize the language.
There are several areas of concern that
specifically affect block scheduling and foreign language education. These
concerns need to be taken into consideration when planning a quality program.
"Sequencing of foreign language courses." It is especially important when
planning the schedule to ensure that courses are offered sequentially so
students have the option to continue the study of the language without long time
lapses. It is equally important for students to realize that extended
interruptions will have an impact on their level of language proficiency.
"Availability of courses." Students pursuing more advanced levels of language
study are frequently enrolled in advanced courses in other disciplines as well.
For this reason, it is essential to guarantee that singleton courses in the
upper levels are scheduled in order to avoid potential conflict. In addition,
students who delay their study of the foreign language until the last two
semesters of their senior year must have the courses available to meet their
college entrance requirements.
"Development of language proficiency." Foreign language educators are greatly
concerned about the impact of the block schedule on the development of foreign
language proficiency. Their concerns are based on the belief that language
development occurs during a long, uninterrupted sequence of language study. At
this time, there are no data, other than anecdotal, to support the positive or
negative effects of block scheduling on language development.
"Articulation." Teachers on block scheduling have found articulation to be a
difficult issue. It is of particular concern for language teachers who teach on
a 4x4 plan. The alternate day (A/B day) is less bothersome, because it is set
over one year. Foreign language teachers are concerned that unless students
avoid long interruptions in foreign language learning, language loss will
prevent students from reaching the necessary goals for functioning effectively
at the next level of instruction. In addition, students who do not take the
foreign language course sequentially (i.e., who wait one or more semesters in
between courses) will be placed at a disadvantage when enrolled in a class with
students who have just completed the previous course the previous semester.
"Retention." Anecdotal accounts of students' language retention seem to point
out that the loss of language is no greater after a one or two semester break
than it would be after the summer recess. Canady and Rettig quote research
dealing with retention rates at the college level: "Students retain 85% of what
they had originally learned after 4 months and 80% of what they had originally
learned after 11 months." They also point to another study that states that
students have a tendency to forget the factual information they have learned
very quickly, whereas when students have been involved in critical thinking and
have had an opportunity to internalize information, they retain the information
The following issues must be addressed
when scheduling foreign language courses on the block.
"Availability of courses." Courses must be available and scheduled
sequentially to ensure smooth articulation between the various levels of
language instruction. When the beginning levels of language are offered each
semester, students can plan their language study without suffering from extended
"When to begin language instruction." When students begin and end their
course sequence will be largely affected by their previous involvement with the
foreign language. Students who have had an elementary or middle school
experience may place directly into a level II or Level III course in high
school. These students will also need opportunities to continue their study at
more advanced levels.
"College-bound students." Students who are not interested in extended
language study, but who are planning to attend college, may not opt to complete
the college foreign language requirement until their last two years of high
school. This can have a major impact on the enrollments in level I and II
foreign language courses. Therefore, the availability of those courses will need
to be closely examined to guarantee that there are no conflicts with singleton
courses in other areas needed or recommended for college entrance.
"Class size." Teachers in North Carolina are reporting increased enrollments
at all levels of foreign language instruction. Consequently, in the absence of
additional faculty, class sizes are also being affected. Because the beginning
levels of foreign language study are so focused on the development of oral and
aural skills, students must have the opportunity to be directly involved with
the language in a variety of ways. Smaller classes can promote the interaction
needed for successful development of language skills.
"Combination classes." In many instances, there may not be enough students at
advanced levels of the foreign language to warrant scheduling individual
classes. When necessary, advanced levels can be combined provided the students'
levels of language are not too far apart. In North Carolina, Level III/IV or
IV/V combinations are widespread. In several cases, teachers combined Level IV
and Advanced Placement courses.
Although there are many ways to schedule for
the block, the majority of North Carolina schools have chosen the 4x4 schedule "with the four courses per semester option" over the A/B alternate schedule,
because the 4x4 schedule provides for continuity of daily instruction. Following
are several additional suggestions for scheduling foreign language courses on
- Add additional levels of language for extended studies in one language.
- Have students take levels I and II of the language in "back-to-back semesters"
- Use three 90-minute blocks, and break the remaining block into two 45-minute
periods that are offered throughout the year as singletons to address selected
courses needing continuity such as foreign language and band.
- Offer first- and third-year classes during the second semester and second- and
fourth-year classes during the first semester. With this scheduling option, a
student takes the first course and only misses a summer of instruction before
the second one.
- Allow students to enroll in college courses when the foreign language courses
are not available at the high school level for continued or extended study
(Rettig and Canady, 1995).
Successful block scheduling requires fundamental
changes in instruction. To make the transition from traditional to block
scheduling, teachers need training to expand their repertoire of strategies
(Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers, 1995). Administrators can
help foreign language teachers make the transition from the traditional schedule
to the block schedule by providing staff development that emphasizes
instructional strategies and the use of technology; affording teachers the
option to observe foreign language programs that have successfully moved to
block scheduling; scheduling time for teachers to evaluate and adjust their
local curriculum; and giving teachers time to plan and to adjust to their new
Canady, R.L. & Rettig, M.D. (1995). "Block
scheduling: A catalyst for change in high schools." Princeton, NJ: Eye on
Carroll, J.M. (1990). The Copernican plan: Restructuring the American high
school. "Phi Delta Kappan," 28-33.
Edwards, Jr., C.M. (1995). The 4x4 plan. "Educational Leadership," 53, 16-19.
Shoenstein, R. (1996). The new school on the block. "The Executive Educator,"
Wisconsin Association of Foreign Language Teachers. (1995). "Redesigning
school schedules." Author.
This Digest is drawn from "Foreign Language on the Block" (1996), a report
published by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.