Student walking through a library

How a Daily Flexible Block Helps Personalize Learning for Secondary Students

Monday, September 26, 2016

Secondary students face a unique set of challenges. In middle school, it’s the rough transition from the comfort of elementary school to high school. For high-schoolers, as they near closer and closer to graduation, its “What am I going to do with my life?” Secondary students need help through all of these transitions, they need support and they need to have adults in the school building they can count on.

Most educators are familiar with the concept of advisory – a time period set aside in the school day where a group of students is assigned to meet with a teacher. Advisory is an excellent tool to help students with many of the challenges mentioned above. A flex block similarly occurs on a daily basis, and encourages student-teacher relationships. But how does it differ?

Flexible how?

As the name suggest, a flex block allows for flexibility that advisory does not. During this time period, students can meet with various teachers in the school for extra help, necessary interventions, or enrichment opportunities. The bottom line, students have options, and can make their school day more flexible when it comes to learning.

Flex block groups are usually the same size, if not smaller, than the traditional class, perhaps 20 students, oftentimes less. And these groups are typically focused around one objective. For example, one teacher may meet with students to provide help on a challenging Science project. In another classroom, a teacher might be leading students in an enriching discussion about a current event. Another student may be meeting with a counselor planning how they’re going to achieve their post-school goals. Another group could be with the music teacher, getting lessons or composing their own piece of music.

In addition, students receive help or enrichment individually. A science teacher may, for example, simply open up their classroom for individual students to receive help for something in the class they struggle with, not necessarily a specific group-focused project. Already, students are receiving a more focused, personalized experience.

Unlike traditional advisory, a flex block allows students to have more options during the school day, to own their own learning. Flex blocks are usually around 30-40 minutes long  -- a flexible chunk of time, every day, where students can get individualized support.  Instead of being assigned to the same advisory teacher with the same group of students every day, students have choice. One day might be set aside for a more traditional advisory period, with the same teacher and students every week, a sort of ‘homeroom’ where students can plan for the week; the other days of the week could be used for whatever that particular student needs. Talk about personalized learning.

How can my school make this work?

Different schools have their own unique models for this flex time. Many schools give this flex block their own identity, like “Focused Learning Time.” To create this block, a few minutes are shaved off of each block in the schedule, and maybe lunch time. For example, a school with a four block schedule, where, say each block is aroun 80 minutes long, might take 8-10 minutes of of each block to create a 30-40 minute flex block.

In some schools, the flex block might not happen at the same time every day. Some solely allow teachers to make appointments with students, only on certain days. Other schools allow students to decide whom they need to see. Really -- each school finds their own unique way to make this flexible time work. But that’s the point – it’s a flexible time period that fits into any model.

What's the point?

For secondary students, choice and voice is so important. This is the transition for kids into adulthood. They need social-emotional support, academic support, support for career or college readiness. But they also need to have fun, be creative, find and pursue their passions. A flex block, if managed well, can incorporate all of this into a student’s schedule. School is no longer dull and tedious. Instead, it’s an active, personalized, enriching experience. And it’s something all students deserve.