The following steps are offered to begin thinking about middle school schedules. Schedules are needed for teachers and students to achieve standards and instructional objectives while addressing the unique needs of early adolescent students.
STEP 1: Connect with the mission/vision statement of the school or district
- Review wording of current statement; update where appropriate.
- Be certain the mission/vision statement reflects the physical, intellectual, social-emotional and moral needs of early adolescent students.
- Use as a standard when making scheduling decisions and recommendations for the teaching/learning process.
STEP 2: Initiate plans for the three tiers of RtI/MTSS in the context a comprehensive intervention program.
- Tier I is the responsibility of every classroom teacher and enhanced when schedules feature extended time periods. Daily lesson plans should routinely include opportunities for review, recall, and acceleration.
- Tier II occurs in Flex/Advisory/Intervention (FAI) periods. FAI should be coordinated by interdisciplinary teams in conjunction with Special Education and ELL staff. Fluidity and flexibility guide teachers in their effort to address unique needs of a diverse population.
- Tier III may occur in the exploratory portion of a student’s schedule. Every effort should be made, however, to address IEP requirements via co-teaching or replacement classes as well as during the FAI period. Those who design master schedules should be mindful of providing the least restrictive environment for all students.
STEP 3: Choose a primary framework or basic organizational plan for the school
- The teachers’ contract and staffing allocation may impact the number of periods in the day.
- Traditional schedules feature seven, eight or nine periods per day, one of which is a lunch period. Classes are typically 40-45 minutes in length.
- Day 1/Day 2 schedules require eight instructional periods. By design, four classes meet on the first day at 80-90 minutes each while the other four classes meet on day 2 at 80-90 minutes each. Lunch is a module of time within periods 3 and 7. Fewer transitions in the hallways result in more instructional time.
- Professional development is essential for teachers to become proficient in the Day 1/Day 2 framework.
STEP 4: Identify potential inserts for the primary framework
- Inserts operate in either primary framework.
- Inserts include double English/language arts, double mathematics as well as interdisciplinary, single-subject, combination and exploratory teams.
- Inserts set the stage for flexibility, curriculum integration and a sense of community.
STEP 5: Create bell/lunch schedules
- Primary framework determines bell/lunch schedules.
- Lunch and passing times can vary in length.
- Length of FAI can vary within either primary framework.
- Teachers’ contract may determine length of lunch period.
- Modular lunch should be considered in the traditional framework to maximize instructional minutes.
STEP 6: Formulate program of studies
- Core portion typically includes English/language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science. In some schools, world language is included.
- Maximum flexibility for the core portion of the schedule is achieved when the number of subjects as well as the number of teaching sections equal the number of periods a professional may teach.
- In many schools, 60-75% of the school day is devoted to the core portion of the schedule.
- Physical education, art, health, band, chorus, orchestra, general music, financial literacy, digital literacy, robotics, STEM and family/consumer science typically comprise the exploratory segment. If not in the core portion, world language is included in the exploratory section.
- When there are staff reductions, every effort must be made to preserve the integrity of the exploratory program.
STEP 7: Project enrollment
- Based on expected enrollment in each grade, the number of sections and average size of each class can be anticipated.
- A greater number of teaching sections may be needed due to a cap on class size.
STEP 8: Formalize team composition
- Team composition is directly related to the number of sections at a grade level.
- Core teams range from two to six teacher teams, in addition to Special Education and ELL staff.
- Transition from elementary to middle school as well as from middle school to high school may impact team composition.
- Exploratory teachers can be organized as teams with planning times setting the stage for flexibility and curriculum integration in these content areas.
- Special Education and ELL students should be included in core and exploratory team composition.
STEP 9: Design course selection/registration worksheet
- Selections can be made online.
- Where appropriate, course requests should indicate levels of English/language arts, mathematics, world language, Special Education or ELL, as well as exploratory/elective choices.
- Student data base consolidates course requests and becomes a prerequisite to schedule construction and ultimately assignment of students to sections/teams.
STEP 10: Develop blueprint
- Blueprint previews master schedule; number of periods in the school day must be affirmed.
- Segments of the blueprint are identified as core, exploratory, FAI and lunch.
- Consecutive core periods set the stage for flexibility, extended time instruction, and minimizing student movement at the change of class.
- Opportunities for common planning time for core teachers occur when students are in exploratory courses. Conversely, exploratory teams meet during a period when all students are in core classes.
STEP 11: Construct grid of teachers’ assignments
- Evolves from blueprint; prerequisite for encoding into software package.
- Teachers are listed in interdisciplinary teams (6A, 6B, 7A, 7B, 8A, 8B) including Special Education and ELL staff as appropriate.
- On the grid, exploratory team is listed following core cohorts; exploratory teachers are grouped by department.
- Specific assignment of each teacher is indicated.
- Total FTEs confirmed.
STEP 12: Utilize school/district software package to assign schedule to each student
- Database houses course requests for each student.
- Encoding of teacher assignments reflects core team designation, course number and section number.
- Software program generates individualized student schedules and confirms teachers’ schedules.
- Several iterations or runs of the master schedule may be needed to balance class size and confirm individual schedules for entire student body.
STEP 13: Orchestrate on-going professional development
- Professional development is essential to maximize schedule implementation.
- Schedules are a means to an end – to enhance the teaching/learning process.
- Training of teachers should focus on needs of early adolescent students and core elements of the middle school concept.
- Agenda should include role and function of teams, appropriate teaching strategies as well as implementing/sustaining flex/advisory/intervention periods.
Master schedules must be based on anticipated enrollment and projected FTE. The schedule should reflect the core values of the middle school concept and set the stage for a relevant teaching/learning experience.