What are Block Timetables?

Traditional timetables for schools are based around short lesson periods of say 45 minutes duration and rotate the subjects to be taught from one period to the next. For example, a traditional 'Periodic Timetable' might have six to eight separate lessons or classes scheduled each day and the students would be studying a different subject each period (each 45 minutes). This process has been working for hundreds of years in primary schools where the students normally remain in the same classroom all day, so changing from one subject to another is simply a matter of management by the teacher. Also, it is presumed that younger students (who may not have the concentration levels of older students) would benefit from having the subject that they're studying change every 45 minutes or so.

Block timetables (sometimes referred to as Immersive or Horizontal Block or Copernican timetables, assume that the students will be studying the same subject ALL DAY in a continuous block. Sometimes, these blocks can actually last over several consecutive days.

Though continually swapping from one subject to another in short separate classes suits the shorter attention spans of younger children, there is evidence from the USA and Canada that a better than 16% improvement in learning and retained knowledge outcomes can be obtained for secondary school aged children (and adults) through what's referred to as an 'optimal student-centred problem-based learning' process that is simplified into the following steps...

  1. Identify a major problem that needs to be solved
  2. Ensuring that the student understands the challenges of the problem and most importantly, that they are truly motivated to solve it (i.e. that they can see the direct benefits to themselves personally in solving it.)
  3. Allow the student to submerge (or immerse) themselves in the processes, knowledge and skills required to solve the problem. (This typically takes the form of traditional classroom lectures, tutorials, practical workshops, self-paced interactive computer programs, private and group research, homework, etc).
  4. Allowing the student to STAY immersed and focused on this problem until its solution is found. (Since the 'problems' are based around the curriculum requirements for each subject and it is estimated that a student will require between 5 and 20 hours (depending on the complexity of the problem) to meet these requirements (i.e. solve the problem), then it stands to reason, that for 'optimal learning' to occur, the student should be allowed a similar amount of time to 'totally immerse themselves in the problem', preferably in a single, uninterrupted block of time.

Since the 1980's, secondary schools in the UK, USA and Canada, who have been employing these uninterrupted block (referred to as 'immersive', 'horizontal block' or 'Copernican') timetables, have been reporting an overall average of 16% improvement in...

  • Understanding of principles and concepts
  • Retained knowledge
  • Abilities to apply that knowledge
  • Depth of discovery
  • Abilities to demonstrate obtained knowledge and skills (i.e. through tests and assessments, etc.)

Other advantages of this approach to timetabling (i.e. integrating all-day problem-solving blocks for the one subject) include...

  1. Since the Block subjects virtually 'own' at least one day in each of their allotted timetables, it is more efficient for teachers to schedule field trips, special presentations, etc, because there will be only minimal disruption to other subjects and classes
  2. It has been proven in schools who use this type of timetable, that not only is it much more difficult for a student to 'tune-out' of a subject for a whole day or block of days, but that by being submerged in it for an extended period of time and 'owning' the problem, students who formerly disliked a subject can find a whole new understanding and appreciation for it.
  3. Effective classroom teacher-student contact time is increased by potentially more than 10% every day, simply by eliminating the time wasted as a class group 'travels' from one classroom to another and gets settled and revised for each new lesson. Though 10% might seem a little trivial, it equates to adding the equivalent of 20 school days to every year grade calendar or up to 120 days (or three full terms across the six years of high school). So...maybe NOT so trivial, then? Of course, it also places heavy demands on teachers who have to prepare for an additional 10% of engaged contact time each day.
  4. Schools who have demonstrated the most success with this type of immersive horizontal or Copernican timetable are those who established a 'Science camp', (or 'Maths camp', 'English camp', 'Music Camp', etc), image in the minds of their students. This 'all-day camp' model is obviously the one that is encouraged here at Kooralbyn. It involves setting up resources, challenges, games, activities, etc, all focused on discovery and solving the 'problem at hand'.
  5. By reducing the number of teachers that an individual student comes in contact with in a day, teachers and students can develop deeper bonds and stronger relationships.
  6. It is also argued by schools who use this system, that the longer control periods can make it easier to accommodate alternative teaching-learning processes like excursions, external challenges outside the school, field trips, etc., which for a school like Kooralbyn, is a valuable tool which (for example) allowed the school to create its famous 'Mastery Programs' for high school.

HOWEVER --- To say that traditional timetables are totally inefficient, would clearly be inaccurate, because it is also well documented that there are some subjects...those that demand acquired psycho-motor (physical) and linguistic skills (like learning to play a musical instrument or learning a foreign language or training to become physically fit)...that still clearly benefit from the traditional approach of short, regular classes spread regularly throughout the entire term.

So what's the solution?

The solution we developed here at Kooralbyn is a combination of 'immersive' block and traditional timetables, depending upon the subject material and skill-sets being taught. We call it the 'Kooralbyn System Timetable'. This solution allows subjects like English, Maths, Science, HaSS (Humanites & Social Sciences), I.T. and our famous Mastery Programs (subjects that benefit from the 'extended immersive process' described above), to be taught in enriched, concentrated full-day camps on Tuesdays and Fridays. The remaining subjects (Art, LOTE and HPE) are taught traditionally on Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays in regular short lessons throughout the entire term. The remaining time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday is also allotted to core subject areas like English, Maths and Sciences who get the benefit of BOTH strategies...block AND traditional.

By the end of each term, each subject has been covered to the degree prescribed by the QCAA or Australian Curriculum and each subject has been allotted the appropriate number of classroom contact hours. Students participating in our 'block' subjects however, have benefited from an additional 8-12% of gained 'useful' contact time, because the first few minutes of every lesson aren't wasted on revision and the general disruptions of class 'change-over', etc, AND the depth of their discovery, the degree to which the subject could be explored and the retained level of knowledge in relation to the subject have all been enhanced. This 'best of both worlds' approach, is what we call 'The Kooralbyn System Timetable'.

The examples below are simplified versions of both the Kooralbyn System and a Traditional timetable. In the Kooralbyn System (below), Tuesdays are dedicated to 'block' and each week, a different subject would occupy that whole timetable space (e.g. Week 1 of term, it might be Maths, Week 2 it might be English, Week 3 the whole Tuesday might be allocatted to a major Science Lab experiment, etc.)

Kooralbyn System Timetable

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
MATHS Block MATHS HaSS Mastery
SCIENCE Block I.T. H.P.E. Mastery
ENGLISH Block HaSS ART Mastery
I.T. Block ENGLISH ART Mastery

Traditional Timetable

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about the Kooralbyn Block Timetable System

  • Is Block Timetabling accepted by the Queensland Education Dept? Yes, of course. The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority make no recommendations about the way schools should structure their individual timetables. They only provide recommendations regarding preferred minimum classroom contact hours per grade (or level) that should be allocated to the various subjects being taught. The Kooralbyn System meets or exceeds all recommended minimum classroom contact time for all core subjects.
  • My child is already having concentration problems and attention difficulties...wouldn't the longer block periods used in your high school cause even more problems? No, it has been well documented that apart from students with dietary (e.g. blood sugar) and/or diagnosed learning disorders (ADHD, etc.), the four main causes of attention and concentration problems in adolescents are...
    1. A lack of motivation to learn the material in the first place (i.e. they don't OWN the problem, it is not personal to them)
    2. They have dropped off the learning escalator (i.e. they are missing prior knowledge or skills that are required for further understanding and development in the subject)
    3. General fatigue or lack of fitness
    4. The classes are not presented in a manner that stimulates, engages and rewards the student
    The Kooralbyn System is designed to ensure that students 'own' the problem, they see its solution as effecting their own futures and their work throughout the course reflects this 'movement towards a goal' approach...an approach designed to instill self-motivation, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-belief and personal achievement.

    Working in small class groups and in extended sessions, allows our teachers to firstly identify areas of 'required prior-knowledge' that are missing and secondly to work with each student individually to 'fill in the gaps' and get the student 'back on the learning escalator'. (Please also refer to the school's Digital Innovation v Traditional Passion information regarding additional strategies the school employs to scaffold better learning for our students.)

    Taking an holistic approach to education, means that Kooralbyn is partly responsible for the fitness levels of its students. We take this responsibility seriously. Nutrition (while at school), exercise, skills training and twitch fibre response training, eye muscle exercises, posture, aerobic fitness and guidance regarding adequate sleeping habits are all areas of importance to us. An unfit student is unfit to learn.

    Our teachers work hard to ensure the 'fun and entertainment level' of all classes. We do this not by telling jokes or allowing students to dictate their own codes of behaviour, but primarily by exciting students about the prospect of learning, succeeding, achieving and 'solving the problem' for their own benefit. When young people can see the future in front of them and are given an opportunity to take control of their own destinies...they are capable of amazing things.
  • If it's so good, why don't other schools use the Kooralbyn System? We can not speak for other schools of course, but we should point out that it's much harder to organise and coordinate a 'horizontal block or Copernican' timetable compared to organising a timetable around short 'capsules'. The overlaying of regularly scheduled weekly classes for subjects that benefit from repeated contact throughout the term adds a further degree of complexity to the task. The crucial allocation of classrooms, teachers and related resources around this type of timetable has involved a major commitment from the management and teaching staff of the school. We make this commitment to our students because we see its advantages in educational outcomes as far outweighing the difficulties and costs involved. In all fairness to other schools, we should also mention, that it is virtually impossible to cost-effectively employ a horizontal block timetable in large schools that have teachers covering multiple subjects (e.g. an Art teacher having to teach Grade 8 English classes, etc). At Kooralbyn we have the luxury of firstly being a small school and secondly of having high school teaching staff who tend to specialise in only ONE subject area each and thirdly of establishing our entire program around this structure.
  • Will our child be disadvantaged if coming from a school who don't use the Kooralbyn System? Not really... whether a school uses a traditional timetable or a Kooralbyn System timetable, the end result is that the prescribed curriculum materials should have been covered by the end of each term. So as long as a student enters at the start of a new term and is coming from a school that is up-to-date with the QCAA (Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority) or AC (Australian Curriculum) levels, then they should be familiar with the general level of the class they are entering at Kooralbyn.
  • Isn't it all just a bit too much trouble to go to - I mean it's just a timetable? Yes, but it's a timetable that generates a 16% better outcome for our students. There's nothing else that we're aware of that can return the same documented kind of improvement. So in other words...we believe it's worth the effort.