Academic Achievement Through Block Scheduling Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

That responsibility is of the school -- to ensure that the adult citizens so needed by contemporary society are produced by the school system -- those individuals being responsible for their views and able to analyze and synergize information so they may "vote intelligently." For Dewey, the central tendency of individuals was to act appropriately to perpetuate the "good and just" society (Tozer, 2008).

This of course set the stage for continuous criticism and requestioning just what it was that the school systems can do. For the last few decades, pedagoglical theory has undergone a number of paradigm shifts. As the classroom changes, so does the theorietical structure behind it -- diversity, technology, globalism -- all contribute to the need to find a robust way to communicate learning activities, to help students move beyond rote understanding, and most especially a way to evaluate progress that is meaningful to not only their personal success, but to the needs of the contemporary school system in its continual justification for funding. It is interesting, but out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of theories, one basic system remains at the heart of modern pedagogical theory, at least in terms of evaluation and supervision -- constructivism.

Constructivism is a theory of knowledge arguing that humans generate knowledge and meaning by way of experience. In science, for instance, this implies epistemology and experimentation, not simply lecture and instructor-generated knowledge (Kim, 2005). In general, social constructivism views each student as having unique needs and backgrounds -- and is quite complex and multidimensional. Social constructivism not only allows for this uniqueness, but actual encourages, utilizes, and even wards it as part of the learning process. It encourages the student to arrive at their own version of the truth, of course influenced by their own worldview as well as the nature of instruction. The responsibility of the actual learning, then, resides with the student, and emphasizes the importance of the student remaining actively involved in the process. The motivation for learning is based, in many ways, on Vygotsky's "Zone of proximal development" -- a theory that posits that learners are challenged in proximity to their current level of development, yet slightly above. By experiencing a successful completion of challenging activities, learners gain self-confidence and motivation, guiding them to even more complex challenges (LaRochelle, 2009).

While this rather broad concept of social constructivism is the most commonly used rubric for the theory, there are other theoretical aspects that are useful templates in science pedagogy:

Trivial constructivism -- the most basic form of the theory, principally an outgrowth of the work of Piaget -- "Knowledge is actively constructed by the learner, not passively received from the environment." Prior knowledge is essential, and interaction with the environment part of the learning process (Gordon, 2008).

Radical constructivism -- Radical constructivism adds a second principle to trivial constructivism and does the manner in which know a process is all about viable interpretations of experience. The student, however, does not necessarily construct knowledge of a "real world." This is in response to the idea that each person expresses a different reality, and needs to find shared meanings between people. A simple explanation shows that the color red is interpretive, yet we can find a view of red that is agreeable so we can discuss that color, and use social and cultural conventions to identify with, and learn about, color (Hardy, 1997).

Cultural constructivism -- A wider view of the universe takes learning into a situation in which the "ecology" of the individual (e.g. customs, religion, biology, tools, and language) is part of the learning experience. The tools we use affect the way we think -- for example, using a label on a folder saves long explanations, telephones change the nature of conversation, the Internet changes the way we communicate globally. This moves into higher mental functions and is a bit like the ever expanding learning universe of Bronfenbrenner. Cultures change, however, and so cultural constructivism would be evolving and fluid and focus on systems (Phillips, 1995).

Critical constructivism -- this theory looks at constructivism within a social and cultural environment, but adds a more critical dimension in order to reform these environments and come up with a more robust epistemology. This theory identifies the learner as being suspended between a mix of cultural, environmental, social, and political influences. It also refutes cold reason (knowledge as external truth) and hard control (instructor" role as a controller locking students into their version of culture). These myths make a classroom a journey into pre-constructed knowledge, rather than knowledge that is available and not predefined (Oxford, 1997).

Constructivism is both a pedagogical theory and a theory of communication for educational leaders -- in other words, a theory of supervision. When an instructor sends a message and has no knowledge of the student, there is ambiguity and uncertainty. Instead, using principles like this establishes messages of communication between teacher and students. However, in the modern classroom, it is necessary to combine constructivism with a more realistic ecology for the learner. This is a synthesis of models, beginning with existing framework and gradually evolving forward. This is known as a conceptual change model which is a way to aggressively move forward with a concept that is plausible and reaches a learning conclusion that is satisfying and robust (Suping, 2003). One might literally view this as "value added learning," most particularly in the sense that it requires active effort on the part of all participants to move further forward in knowledge acquisition.

Further, there is a clear connection between constructivism and block scheduling. Many high school faculties implement extended instructional blocks without completely considering the desirability to incorporate student-focused learning strategies. In fact, throughout most of the 20th century, classroom instruction followed behaviorist theory which advocates approaching the curriculum in very small doses, followed immediately by student practice. A more effective approach is to incorporate the principles of constructivism by allowing student centered approaches to learning with enough time involved (e.g. block scheduling) to adequately master certain concepts. Lacking in theory, many blocked schools may fall victim to the same problem that has besieged schools using the traditional model: the schedule's rigid format does not provide the flexibility to promote varied teaching/learning activities. Uniform blocks force all disciplines into larger time frames, even though some subjects actually may benefit from shorter instructional times (Wronkovick, 1998)For some disciplines, several spaced and evenly distributed practices may be far more effective in facilitating student learning than a few massed practice sessions. Time allocations are arbitrary, regardless of whether they are 50- or 100-minute intervals. When the schedule is chosen without a pedagogical foundation, teachers may continue to focus on the act of teaching - simply "filling up" the blocks - instead of concentrating on the process of learning, as promoted by constructivist principles (Anderson, 1993).

1.1 Problem Issue

What, then, are the effects of block scheduling on academic achievement in the High School (secondary) classroom? Are there mitigating factors that influence these effects and therefore may not be separated as a theoretic basis for any rubric analysis?

1.2 Definitions

Academic Term -- Length of time school districts schedule formal classes, vacations, breaks, and work curriculum into a designated chronological timeframe.

Assessments- Educational assessments are the process of documenting in measurable terms the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and materials that students of any age or nature have assumed.

Block Scheduling -- scheduling mode in which students have fewer classes of longer duration per day or week.

Cooperative Learning -- An approach to organizing classroom activities into academic and social learning experiences by working in groups to complete tasks collectively.

Constructivism- A Theory of knowledge, based on the work of Jean Piaget and then articulated and advanced by others, that argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning between experience and ideas. It is this experience that translates into knowledge.

Flexible/Modular Scheduling -- Type of academic schedule in which a day is broken into many 10-20 minute modules.

NCLB -- "No Child Left Behind" Public Law 1077-110; Congressional Act of 2202 authorizing a number of Federal Programs to improve standards for accountability within schools.

Standardized tests -- An assessment or test that is administered and scored in a consistent or standard manner over time and geography.

1.3 Limitations

Because of the complex nature of this issue, specifically in that the true efficacy of the problem cannot be just limited to block or no block, we will examine the various permutations in constructivism, standardized testing, school culture, etc. But will focus primarily on two case study schools to determine whether block scheduling is or is not more effective. Owensville High School in Gasconade County, Missouri and Sullivan High School in Sullivan, MO.

1.4 Summation

Block-scheduling discussions are currently on the periphery of constructivist dialogue, but the two movements should become more closely aligned. The rationale is simple: when educators' pedagogical beliefs are too far removed from the primary theoretical source,…

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