Adapting to a new schedule

Adapting to a new schedule: Tips for special areas teachers to adapt to a new schedule, especially a block schedule and/or longer class periods!

A year and a half ago, my music schedule drastically changed, from music twice a week for 35 minutes to music once every 5 days for 50 minutes (on an ABCDE rotation)…with some slight variations, which I'll talk about in a minute.

Needless to say, I was a bit tentative and scared. I was disappointed I'd be seeing the kids less. Almost my entire career, I have taught music to each grade level twice a week for 30-35 minutes (with the exception of Kindergarten, which was once a week for 35 minutes.) Now I had to see pretty much everyone ONCE a week? How could I get through all of my concepts? Would they still retain the information as well? Would my 1st graders be able to pay attention for 50 minutes? Here is what my schedule actually looks like, what I love, what I don't, and how I have adapted.


The bones of my schedule:

Last year, I saw Kindergarten once or twice a week for 25 minutes…depending on the week.
1st and 2nd grade came once a week for 50 minutes during one semester and twice a week for 50 minutes during the other semester (but during one semester, some classes were coming once and the others were coming twice, and then they flip-flopped! Is your head spinning yet?)
3rd, 4th, and 5th grade came once a rotation for 50 minutes, but once every four weeks, they had an extra music class.
This year, it's a bit more streamlined! Kindergarten comes once a week for 35 minutes. 1st, 2nd, and 5th grade come once a rotation for 50 minutes. And 3rd and 4th graders come twice a rotation…but once a rotation they come to me, and the second time they go to my colleague. We have worked out a great system, though, where one marking period she teaches all the traditional lessons, and I teach the extension lessons, and then we switch.

What I love:
I have to say, I never realized how much I had to rush through my 35 minute lessons until I had 50 minutes and could actually breathe. Like, have conversations with kids about what they did this weekend, or have time to get into a deep conversation about rhythm or melody or the purpose of a barline.
I LOVE the ABCDE rotation. You know how the classes you have on Monday and Friday get way behind every other class because of how many Mondays and Fridays you miss? That doesn't happen with ABCDE rotations, because if you miss on a Friday due to no school or a snow day, and Friday was supposed to be a C day, Monday becomes a C Day, and those kids still get music. Woo hoo! The only time you have to worry about kids getting behind is if you're sick, there is an assembly, or there is a 2-hour delay.
I love the consistency of the schedule. Most of the time, all of my classes for the week are on the same exact lesson, which is amazing!

What I don't love:

Although with the ABCDE rotation does even classes out a bit, I still see them for less time than I did before. This year, though, they did change it so that all 3rd and 4th graders get music twice a rotation (1st graders get art twice, and 2nd and 5th graders get P.E. twice.) So maybe in the end, it evens out! I am still very aware of less time, though, and constantly have to check to see where I'm at concept-wise and if I can cover everything I want to…and if they will be ready for it!

Which leads me to what else I don't love…I have noticed less retention. It's not as bad as I feared, but there still is at times less retention.

How have I adjusted?  

As I wrote about above, because of the longer classes, I've been able to have more thoughtful conversations with students, which is great! I took a course called “Making Thinking Visible” through my district, which is based off of this book by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison. I've been able to implement thinking routines, and am hoping to do this more and more.   

  At times, I have to “catch” a class up to where all the other classes are, because they had a holiday party during their special, or we had an assembly, or I was sick. I used to occasionally do this with my former schedule, but I tried to not do it often, because in my mind every lesson is important and shouldn't be skipped. However, with music only once a week, I am very mindful of all the concepts and skills I still need to cover with them…and the schedule is so streamlined that it's easier to keep everyone on the same lesson if I can. So sometimes I do something my friend Matt calls “Frankensteining a lesson”…I piece together a part of this lesson and a part of that lesson and I catch them up!     I am now much more streamlined in when I write lesson plans.

Previously, I wrote lessons as I needed to, which was at times a bit confusing. But now, on the A day, I don't lesson plan, I just teach the new lessons and see how they go. On the B day, I write Kindergarten and 1st grade for the next rotation. On the C day, I write 2nd and 5th grade. And on the D day, I write 3rd and 4th grade. Then on the E day, I make sure I have all the materials I need for the following week, print my lessons up, and type up my agenda.

Instead of throwing in a few more singing games to tag on 15 minutes to the lesson, I've added more variety to the lesson. Students might be playing instruments, doing creative movement, reading a book, or delving into a listening lesson. The variety seems to work really well. It's also much easier to do a more time-consuming activity, such as dictation on dry erase boards, composition, etc.   Before this new schedule, I was definitely purposeful in my planning, but now I feel like I'm even more purposeful. Only seeing most of the kids once every five days, I have to make sure that I get through everything I need to, that they know the songs they need to know, that they are retaining the information, etc.! Even though I already have year plans (which you can learn about here), I find myself sitting down every couple months to really look at what each grade level will be learning over the course of the next several weeks.

By adapting to this schedule and making these changes, I really feel like I've made it work for me and my students. Have you had to adapt to a block schedule like this? How has it worked for you? Feel free to comment below!

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Hi, I'm Aileen

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