Say “adios” to block scheduling and allow students to take languages


Kat Shambaugh, Features editor

As an International Studies Magnet program, NC offers a myriad of foreign languages to both its Magnet and non-Magnet students. Choices include Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Latin, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic. Some people excel in languages naturally; others find them harder to learn, but can still achieve mastery if taught well. Yet although it professes language proficiency, NC grossly overlooks both types of students, harboring their ability to learn languages efficiently.

NC runs on a block schedule, meaning each student takes four classes every day each semester, with four new classes in the next semester. Block scheduling maintains its upsides, like allowing students to take more classes in their high school career. Nevertheless, when it comes to languages, this proves detrimental to students. Because of block scheduling, students can take a first level language class in one semester, but may not take the second level until the second semester of the next year, leaving an entire year where students fail to learn, practice, or use their language. Students must repeat and speak languages constantly, otherwise their quality deteriorates. For students spending a year without taking a language, they come back into the class and faceplant because the skills and vocabulary they learned earlier fell into dilapidation.

If one compares the efficiency of language classes at NC with others across the country, the disparity becomes obvious. A level three language class brings to mind complex ideas like the pluperfect tense or reading novels in the target language; however, students in French III do not even know the future tense yet and cannot comprehend large amounts of text without giving up out of frustration.

The scheduling itself proposes a unique problem: how does one keep the upsides of block scheduling but also foster language proficiency? In a perfect world, block formatting and year-long classes would exist in harmony. If this does not work at NC, then maybe block scheduling does not work. The ability for extra classes benefits certain students, but does not overshadow the more important failure of others.

The current language system hurts not only average-ability language students, but also the gifted learners. Every language class at NC spends significant amount of time in the beginning of the semester reviewing previous teaching material. In extreme cases, like those caused by block scheduling, classes can end up spending a month and a half on review—a waste of time for gifted students. This often leads to boredom for them, and even a diminished interest in the language. Teachers can try to abate the problem by increasing differentiation: creating different assignments for skilled learners. Nevertheless, constant differentiation pressures teachers and presents issues with practicality. Either fix language scheduling so students perform at uniform skill levels in each class, or help teachers to increase differentiation to provide for students of different skill levels.

NC draws in students interested in international studies, especially foreign languages. Language studies at the school should function at their top capacity, but they cannot find the right balance between being too challenging for certain students and not challenging enough for others. When NC’s language department finds this balance, then the education system can serve the students efficiently and effectively, and the worldviews of NC’s language students will expand infinitely.