6 Best Ways to Create Time for Intervention Blocks
Intervention Blocks, also often called Flex Periods, among many other names, are becoming more common in middle and high schools across the United States. And while the spread of COVID-19 has currently put schools in a situation where they’re rethinking schedules and considering online learning, Intervention Blocks are arguably more important than ever in strategically creating time to account for the learning loss that occurred last spring. In fact, now could be the perfect time to consider adding one to your schedule, whether using the more traditional in-person model or a virtual model without the added constraints of social-distancing. Even if you’re considering a virtual Intervention Block, you have to find the time for it in your schedule. And no matter how you make it happen, it is important to remember that there are trade-offs you’ll be making, taking the time from somewhere else. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that you’re considering the purpose and goals you’re hoping to achieve with this time to be sure you’re finding the right places for your context. While it can be challenging, there’s a reason more than half of middle and high schools across the country are implementing some form of Intervention Block. In this post, we’ll discuss why finding time for Intervention Blocks is important, recommendations for how much time you need, and the six most common ways schools use to create Intervention Blocks in their schedules.
Click here for more information on How to Run a Virtual Intervention Block.
Why is Finding Time for Intervention Blocks Important?
There are many benefits to implementing Intervention Blocks, but most common among them, as the name suggests, is additional time to provide interventions to smaller groups of students that need similar support. These blocks are especially helpful because, as any teacher can tell you, it’s unlikely that every student needing help on a particular objective or topic will be in the same class at the same time in a traditional schedule. This is why differentiation has become so popular over the last few decades. And while differentiation is certainly important in any lesson, it can create its own challenges in executing a lesson and still leaves teachers to decide whether to leave kids behind for the sake of moving on, or to hold other students back from moving onto new content when they are ready because some students need more support. Certainly, technology has enabled some ways to make this easier and provide a more personalized learning experience, but it’s rarely sufficient. That’s why teachers being able to strategically get more time with select groups of students is so important. And Intervention Blocks easily provide this opportunity for teachers and students.
Recommendation for the Amount of Time
The amount of time you designate for Intervention Blocks is really a choice driven by school-specific factors, like how much time you have in your schedule, how much flexibility you have based on governmental requirements, and what you hope to achieve with the time. That said, most schools find they need at least 20 minutes of time for any single Intervention Block because of the transition time required to settle into the physical space and content. Because of this, most schools choose blocks between 20-40 minutes, though it is not unheard of for longer or shorter periods to be used for a variety of factors. In most cases, schools have Intervention Periods four to five times per week, which makes it easier for them to be on the shorter end. Some schools, however, have these periods only once or twice a week, so it’s more common for them to opt for longer periods. Schools that run them less often are more likely to have multiple Intervention Blocks on a single day (e.g. two back-to-back 40-minute Intervention Periods once per week) than schools that run them more frequently. A relatively common model, likely because of our first way to find time listed below, is to have an Advisory Period (or Homeroom) one day a week, but keep that schedule for the rest of the week, using it as an Intervention Period. Below is an example from a school that shortened its regular classes to create a 27-minute Flex Period/Intervention Block that occurs multiple times a week.
6 Ways to Find Time for Scheduling Intervention Blocks
Adapt Homeroom or Advisory Schedules
One of the easiest ways to find time in the schedule is to use a version of it you already have where time is blocked off for a non-traditional class, like homeroom or advisory. Most schools already have a schedule like this already created, whether it runs every day or only once in a while. In most cases, these schedules accommodate a period of at least ten minutes, which is a good start to finding enough time (though some schools may find that to be enough time for their context). If the time has enough minutes already, it might be sufficient to use as-is, simply changing the name accordingly. If this schedule doesn’t quite give as much time as you were looking for, it could still be a good start, adding on an additional strategy from the list below. If using your homeroom or advisory schedule every day doesn’t give you the required number of instructional minutes required for the year, you could also start by using it a certain number of days each week instead of every day. An additional consideration of adopting this schedule is that it is common for advisory periods to be the first one of the day, which some schools do not prefer when used as an Intervention Block (see considerations below for more info).
Repurpose Lunch-Time Minutes
Another common place to find time for Intervention Blocks is from lunch periods. This is usually “easier” because taking lunchtime can be an easier sell to teachers, or even parents, than taking it from other academically focused time during the day. That said, it’s important to be sure that students (and staff) have enough time to transition to and eat lunch. If you find lunch logistics are already tight, it’s likely not recommended to use this approach, as making it shorter would only be more challenging. While this can be an easier sell, it seems more and more common that schools have already shortened lunch periods as much as possible to make room for other priorities over the years, leaving little wiggle room to take more. Additionally, as social-emotional well-being of students has become a larger priority for schools, lunchtime is frequently seen as an important, if not needed, mental break for students. And while Intervention Blocks can provide social-emotional well-being for students as well, it’s important to ensure you maintain the right balance depending on the priorities of your school.
Shorten Passing Periods
Passing periods can also provide an easier opportunity to leverage non-academic time for Intervention Blocks but they often have a similar challenge to lunch periods in that it’s common for them to already be as “lean” as possible. That said, if your school still finds itself with a schedule that has ample time allocated to its passing periods, taking even just one minute from each can add up quickly. Just be mindful that it can be a transition and this strategy can come with an increase in tardies, at least to start. And if you have a large campus where students are not usually isolated to a small section of it, this might not be the best path.
Shorten Class Periods
While the above strategies have focused on converting non-academic time into an Intervention Block, it is still quite common to find the time from the place where most time in a schedule is spent: in regular class periods. In many ways, this might make the most sense. Teachers already try to find ways to creatively create time for interventions during these regular classes. By taking one to five (or even up to 10 in a block schedule) minutes from every class to put towards an Intervention Period, teachers actually get time back in their regular classes by not having to finagle as much differentiation and intervention time, plus they get more of it with the students who specifically need it at any given point. That said, as any teacher can tell you (having been one myself), time feels like the most precious resource we have with our students, and telling them you’re “taking” it from them, even to give it back elsewhere, can feel hard. We’ve been conditioned to protect it at all costs, so framing around this method is extremely important. Sometimes, like in the middle school I taught in, periods were already not evenly distributed (by swings as much as 10 minutes between periods) for reasons related to lunch and bus schedules, so there is actually an opportunity here to more evenly distributed periods in the situations, taking more minutes from the longer periods in the existing schedule.
Adapt Assembly or Pep Rally Schedules
Similar to adapting a homeroom or advisory schedule, most schools already have an assembly or pep rally schedule made. These schedules usually have a larger chunk of time blocked off than a homeroom/advisory schedule might, frequently 40 or more minutes. If none of the other options above proved sufficient, this could be a way to go, even if you choose to only run it once a week. Depending on the amount of time blocked in this schedule and the amount of time you desire for Intervention Blocks, it could even allow for multiple Intervention Blocks to be accommodated. One downside to this model, assuming it runs less frequently, is that your intervention time will not be as responsive or timely as if it runs most days of the week. A positive benefit, however, is that you can still easily also hold assemblies during this time, even for subsets of your students, giving them something important to engage in (interventions) while others are at an assembly specific to their needs.
Extend the Day (Earlier Start-Time +/or Later End-Time)
Lastly, among the least common options, but a viable option nonetheless, especially for schools with strong buy-in from their staff and greater community, is extending the school day. From looking only at the schedule on paper, this would be among the easiest choices, as there are no tradeoffs with the existing minutes allocated to other priorities in the building. Unfortunately, it’s not always that simple, as there are tradeoffs in people’s time outside of school, whether your students or staff. As most educators and administrators will tell you, parents rarely get excited about changes to the time school starts or ends each day, having built work and life routines around it. Teachers, among other staff, feel similar, as extending the day on either end can cause disruptions to their life circumstances. Then there are also considerations around asking people to work longer hours and the impact that should have on pay. If you work in a community where unions are present, it’s highly recommended that you don’t forget to engage them from the beginning if you’re considering this. While it can be tougher, and likely take longer, to convince all of your school community to be onboard with longer days, it is possible and is worth considering, especially if none of the other options listed above provide the right solution or amount of time needed to maximize your Intervention Periods.
After you find the time from elsewhere in the schedule, you do have to decide where in the schedule your Intervention Block should go. There are no rules to abide by here, so doing what fits your context and goals is what should guide this decision. That said, most schools find putting it first thing in the morning is not ideal given students will go somewhere different most days and the beginning-of-the-day routines often benefit from consistency. Also, depending on where schools need specific attendance information, often in the first period or two, having the same group of students provides efficiency that would not be true for Intervention Blocks, so avoiding those periods is usually advised. Placing them at the end of the day is more common that first-thing in the morning, but many schools also choose to avoid that because end-of-the-day logistics are often simpler when students are in a predictable place (e.g. it makes it harder to skip class and leave school early). Schools often also find it helps in the event that there are any adjustments that need to be made because of bussing or anything else. Some schools also cite higher engagement levels during Intervention Blocks when they’re not at the end of the day. Lunch, however, is growing in popularity as a place for Intervention Blocks, especially in some parts of the country (Texas and North Carolina, to name a few). Some schools, as cited above, strategically plan it to coincide with their lunch blocks for added flexibility and ease of fitting into the schedule.
No matter how you find the time to implement an Intervention Block, it’ll take some planning. While some are easier than others for different schools, it’s important to start with why you want to start one in the first place and use it to guide your decision-making. It’s also important to remember one of the next key steps to launching a successful Intervention Block is having your team and larger community bought into the idea, too, so involving them in this step in the process could have some benefits as well. If you’re looking for some more customized support in planning this, whether for virtual or in-person settings, we’re here to help.