I'll be honest, when I first heard about the changes coming for our schedule, I was very apprehensive. In my district, we had always seen the students in grades 1-5 two times a week for 35 minutes, and Kindergarten once a week for 35 minutes. I had gotten used to this schedule and it worked just fine for me and my students!
But sometimes, we have no choice, and we have to make the change. I am a half-glass-full kind of girl, so I tried to be optimistic.
Still, though, I was scared. We were going from 35 minute blocks twice a week, to 50 minutes, typically once a week. I didn't see how seeing them less could be a good thing. And the first draft of the schedule that was pitched to me had Kindergarteners coming to specials for FIFTY MINUTES. Yikes!!! I also had reservations about seeing all six grade levels in one day. I had gotten used to seeing two or three of the same grade level in a row.
Luckily, my principal knows I understand scheduling well, and given the parameters of each grade level having blocked specials time every day, he let me adapt the schedule so it worked best for everyone. It's a bit confusing, but my schedule now looks something like this:
- Kindergarten: Three times over the course of two weeks, for 25 minutes each
- 1st and 2nd grade: One semester--once a week or 50 minutes, another semester--twice a week for 50 minutes
- 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade: Once a week (or really, once every five days) for 50 minutes, and once every four weeks, twice a week for 50 minutes
I have lived the schedule for almost half a year now, and I have to say...I love it way more than I thought it would! Here are some insights I've learned along the way that have worked for me and my students. Of course, every building is different, each student population is different, but here are my thoughts:
- Try to balance your own needs with the needs of everyone else. This is a hard balance. If you can try to be involved in any decision-making process, it can be very helpful. However, keep in mind that even though any change to the schedule can be very disheartening to you, as this is your daily schedule, sometimes change is what's best for everyone, including the students.
- Having a rotating schedule is SO much better than Monday-Friday. Why? Think of those classes that end up getting stuck with a Monday/ Friday music schedule, and how much music class they typically lose. With a rotating schedule, if we don't have school Monday, and Monday would have been an A day, then Tuesday becomes an A day and those kiddos still get music. Yay! Same holds true for snow days.
- Having shorter periods more often with Kindergarten is amazing. My Kindergarteners are singing so much better than in years past because I see them so much more! 25 minutes seems like a perfect amount of time for them, attention-wise, and because they see me more often, they are progressing quicker!
- Variety is key if you have longer periods with younger students. Throughout my district, I think the biggest complaint about the schedule is first grade for 50 minutes. It can be challenging to keep them engaged the whole time, but I have found variety to help so much. Instead of adding two or three extra singing games to the lesson to tag 15 minutes onto the lesson, I might have one extra singing game, but then I teach them a dance, have them do creative movement, and/or add a book into the lesson, etc. My favorite folk dancing resources are Chimes of Dunkirk and Rhythmically Moving; I also love Eric Chapelle's Music for Creative Dance for creative movement (you can find all of those resources on West Music). My friend Karla at C Major Learning blogged about this awesome creative movement activity that my kids absolutely love (and she links to free visuals for the activity!)
- During my "extra" lesson, in which I see them an extra time once every four weeks, I decided to take part of that lesson to focus on melody. After a great discussion with my friend Matt about melody and rhythm, he pointed out that melody is typically harder for students. So I take the time during this extra lesson to really focus on melody. Whether we are playing a melodic game, using solfa manipulatives, or writing on staves, the time has been very valuable.
- Have a longer class feels far less frantic. I didn't realize before how much I had to rush through the lesson in order to get to everything. It's not that my pace is super slow now, but I have more time to play another round of a game, to listen to a child play the piano, etc.
- Having a longer class allows for so much more depth! Even though I technically see my older students less than I did before, having the 50 minutes to stretch out discussions, recorder playing, composition, small group work, world music drumming, iPad work, etc., is amazing! I feel like I'm able to delve deeper than I was able to before.
- Change is hard...but it can be good!
The jury is still out on whether I can get through as much content as I was getting to before. So far, I'm pretty much on track, but we shall see what happens with the second half of the year! Do you have any thoughts about block scheduling in the Kodaly-inspired classroom? Comment below, and thanks for reading!