New Trier will use a rotating Blue/Green block schedule for the 2021-2022 school year. This page includes information about the block schedule and answers some frequently asked questions.
Explore the 2021-2022 School Year Calendar to see scheduled blue, green, and special calendar days (scroll to the end of the document).
District Exploration of Block Schedule
In 2019, the Board of Education approved the District's strategic plan, New Trier 2030, which includes broad goals for New Trier over the next decade and annual strategies for achieving those goals. One area of exploration in the strategic plan was the District's daily schedule, and a schoolwide committee began setting goals and looking into options around that schedule.
For many years, students had identified the District's 9-period daily schedule as a source of stress because of its hectic pace and the amount of nightly homework it generated, particularly when topics could not be adequately covered in a 40-minute period. Some faculty members also noted the difficulty of delivering in-depth content and limited the use of different instructional practices to address various learning styles in one class period, given that several minutes of each short period were spent transitioning into class and having students prepare to go to their next class. The committee's goals included allowing for more depth of discussion and longer hands-on activities in classes, more variety of instructional strategies within a single block of time, maintaining a similar amount of instructional time, maintaining student course selection choices, reducing student stress over the schedule, and easing the nightly homework load.
Block Schedule during the COVID-19 Pandemic
In March 2020, New Trier had to respond quickly to the closure of schools and a switch to remote learning amid a global pandemic. It became apparent that a traditional 9-period day was not sustainable for remote learning, especially as the pandemic endured and New Trier began the 2020-2021 school year remotely. As a result, the school pivoted to a block schedule in each of those school years that could help students and teachers move more seamlessly between remote and in-person hybrid learning.
These schedules were created amid rapidly evolving guidance from state and local officials regarding the operation of schools during a pandemic. Given that students had chosen schedules under a 9-period option, the new block schedules were built in a 10-period configuration to allow for more flexibility and similar schedules each day. However, with lunch embedded into a period and no classes scheduled during the 10th period X-block, students were often left with large chunks of free time during the middle of the day. In addition, instructional time decreased during the 2020-2021 school year in recognition of the difficulty of teaching, learning, and providing one-on-one help to students during the pandemic, along with the reality of Zoom and screen fatigue.
2021-2022 Block Schedule
As signs of hope emerged that pandemic restrictions might ease during the 2021-2022 school year, the District needed to choose a new schedule configuration that would anticipate a return to full in-person learning but still could allow the District to pivot to other types of learning if conditions changed. The process of building the following year's schedule is always complex, so the District needed to make its decision on the 2021-2022 schedule in the first part of the year.
Surveys of students and parents found a clear preference for a block schedule moving forward, with the schedule presented in the survey as 80-minute blocks. Opinions were more split about a weekly late start for staff professional development, and the District decided to instead increase the amount of paired early dismissal (Friday)/late arrival (Monday) days to eight, or approximately one pair a month. Families often use these times for college visits or long weekends.
Under the final 2021-2022 schedule, classes will meet in 85-minute blocks each day, which allows for the same amount of instructional time as a pre-COVID year and makes building the master schedule easier than the 80-minute blocks. Lunch is not a separate period as it was in the 9-period schedule, meaning students can take the same number of classes in the 8-period day as they did in the 9-period day. Some student services as well as science labs will meet for half-blocks, giving flexibility for students to have the same sort of regular contacts and science instruction as they had under the 9-period daily schedule. Early Bird classes on the Winnetka Campus will meet Tuesday-Friday.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the benefits of a block schedule vs. the 9-period daily schedule?
New Trier's adoption of the block schedule is guided by two fundamental principles: 1) providing opportunities for deeper learning, and 2) reducing student stress related to the daily schedule. Both of these outcomes enhance the learning experience for students, while also maintaining student access to New Trier's robust elective opportunities.
Students should expect to see and feel many benefits of the block schedule, including:
- Preparing for fewer classes each evening compared to preparing for all classes, every evening in a 9-period schedule. This is a benefit to the vast majority of students who participate in after school activities.
- Making fewer transitions between classes and teachers in a block schedule compared to 9-period day
- Flexibility and variability in the daily and weekly routine - not every day is the same - variation makes it interesting and keeps things fresh
- Longer blocks of time to meet with teachers, make up tests/assessments, get help from the Academic Assistance Center
- Variety of instructional strategies used in one block of time promotes engagement and deeper learning, and reflection and collaboration with the teacher and peers
- More in-class time for teachers and students to work individually or in small groups
How will students stay engaged during 85-minute classes?
Some students and parents are concerned that students cannot focus on a single subject for 85 minutes or that such long classes will be ineffective or boring. Effective teaching in block schedule is guided by "chunking" content into three to five different learning activities stitched together to make a coherent and engaging daily lesson, where students transition to a different learning activity every 15-20 minutes. This method allows for a variety of instructional strategies to reach different types of learners and facilitates the learning process that cycles through explanation or inputs from the teacher, followed by an application or collaboration activity where students engage with the content and each other to make new connections, and concluding with a synthesis or reflective activity to check for understanding.
Longer chunks of time permit a teacher to employ a variety of instructional strategies that promote greater engagement with content, classmates, and the teacher. Our teachers will employ best practices in teaching and learning in block schedule, a sample of which includes:
- Switching learning activities every 15-20 minutes, using a variety of class configurations: whole group, small group, pairs, or individual teacher-student instruction, etc.
- Designing activities that promote kinesthetic activity or brain breaks
- Transitioning between direct instruction, application and collaboration, and reflection upon learning, a cycle that promotes engagement, thinking, and deeper learning
- Designing curriculum that prioritizes depth over breadth
- Building in time to "check for understanding" and to meet with individual students during class time to provide more immediate and individualized feedback for learning
What are some examples of classes at New Trier that already use longer blocks of time?
Even in the 9-period schedule, New Trier has always offered classes that are longer than 40 minutes. The most prominent example is in the Science Department. Science classes have always included lab days two times a week, scheduled as a double period. Having double-period lab days recognizes that setting up and instructing students in doing a hands-on experiment - and then giving them time to do that experiment, interact with their lab partners and teacher, record their findings, and clean up - is nearly impossible to accomplish in a 40-minute period. This example speaks to the benefits of the block schedule for other hands-on or performance classes, such as engineering, theatre, art, cooking, or KW, that have long been stymied by 40-minute periods.
Outside of the Science Department, you can find other examples of successful, popular programs taught in blocks. These include American Studies and World Studies (both two periods), the Integrated Global Studies School (three periods), Geometry and Construction, AP Studio Art, and Dance Lab. New Trier teachers are experienced in providing engaging curricula during longer periods of time.
One of the benefits you list for the block schedule is preparing for fewer classes each night. But won't teachers just double the nightly homework to make up for not seeing their students every day?
New Trier's faculty members are committed to supporting students where they are when they transition back to full in-person learning during the 2021-2022 school year. They have spent two school years teaching in some form of a block schedule and have learned much during that time. In addition, faculty members have been sharing best practices and participating in professional development around teaching in a block schedule.
One of the most important benefits of the block schedule is the ability of teachers to use the extended time in each class to check for student understanding in ways other than through nightly homework assignments. Teachers are preparing curriculum adjustments that facilitate a more in-depth study of essential topics and concepts and less on covering more content. As a result, students should not see more homework, but rather a different type of homework more aligned with the pace of a block schedule and a classroom environment that is focused on depth over breadth. Homework is still an important part of student learning in many cases, but the block schedule gives teachers the opportunity to rethink its role in their curriculum and its purpose in relationship to the learning objectives of the course
Do other peer schools use block schedules?
Yes. Many other area high schools use some form of a block schedule. While some of these schools had a block schedule prior to adjustments for the COVID-19 pandemic, others have decided to switch from a traditional daily schedule to a block schedule using the lessons they learned during the pandemic. Area school districts that have moved to a full block schedule include Glenbrook District 225, Maine Township District 207, and Evanston Township District 202. Other districts that use a modified block schedule, with classes meeting in longer blocks for some days each week, include Lake Forest District 115 and Deerfield/Highland Park District 113.
Why doesn't the 2021-2022 schedule include Grey Days?
When New Trier developed its schedule for the 2020-2021 school year, health and educational guidelines were in a state of constant flux amid the beginning of the pandemic. It was clear that a block schedule would be best suited to remote learning. New Trier decided to start each Monday with a Trevian Day in which all classes would meet to have a point of contact at the beginning of the week, and then move to the full block schedule for Tuesdays through Thursdays.
In practice, though, surveys of students and teachers early in the school year found that this model was not helpful to learning. Students reported that spending 9 periods going from one Zoom class to another was contributing to increased stress and Zoom fatigue. The District decided to change Trevian Days to Grey Days, in which teachers would give work to keep their curricula moving forward but would not have Zoom classes. Teachers then could meet with students individually on these days, and students could schedule one-on-one supports that proved difficult to access in a remote environment.
While Grey Days were a good solution for a difficult, ever-changing school year, they were not meant to be a permanent solution. In a fully in-person learning environment, students have the chance to meet teachers one-on-one during the school day and access supports in person. The 2021-2022 school year block schedule allows courses to offer the same number of instructional minutes as they did in a traditional year.
Why doesn't the 2021-2022 schedule include a weekly late start?
New Trier has considered the benefits of a weekly late start for staff professional development for many years. The Schedule Committee endorsed an early version of the 2021-2022 block schedule that included a weekly late start day to replace the paired early dismissal/late arrival days New Trier had traditionally included in its school calendar for professional development. However, the school did not have time to address all of the logistics of such a schedule, such as student transportation or supervision options for a weekly late start, accounting for such a schedule for part-time staff members, and other issues. While a weekly late start could be considered in future years, the District decided to instead add two extra professional development pairs to the 2021-2022 school year calendar.
How does an 8-period block schedule offer the same number of course options for students as a 9-period daily schedule? Aren't they losing a period?
In the 9-period daily schedule, lunch was scheduled for one of the 9 periods. In the 8-period block schedule, lunch is embedded in an extended block each day. It is not a separate scheduled period. For example, all students have lunch during the longer Period 2 on Blue Days, though they go to lunch at different times during that period. So in both a 9-period traditional schedule and an 8-period block schedule, 8 periods are available for students to schedule courses (plus the additional Early Bird slot on the Winnetka Campus).
Is New Trier committed to keeping this schedule for future school years?
New Trier will study the implementation of the block schedule during the 2021-2022 school year and survey students, parents, and staff to solicit feedback. This input will be considered and presented to the Board of Education as the District determines the best schedule for the following school year and future years.
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