Designing and Implementing a Flexible Modular High School Schedule

Before opening in 2013, River Bluff High School (RBHS) was architecturally designed and academically planned for a flexible modular schedule. Instead of a traditional bell schedule, we wanted a new approach that provided space for students to develop skills such as time management, collaboration, and independent decision making. We wanted RBHS to be a place that empowered students and placed the leadership of learning into their hands. We wanted to create a true learning environment where time benefited both students and teachers.

So how did we go about implementing a flexible modular schedule and how has it affected our students and staff?

Research and Design

Early in 2011, a team of school leaders began identifying schools who scheduled differently. We discovered three schools that had years of experience in flexible scheduling and conducted site visits. These visits allowed leaders to speak with their staff to get ideas and strategic advice on how to implement our own flexible modular schedule.

After some months of research, we moved into the design phase, using a backwards design process beginning with the end in mind: our students. How did we envision students using this learning space? What culture did we want to cultivate? What was learning going to look like day to day? To help us work through all of the moving parts, we hired a consultant from Pearson who had experience with modular schedule design. By early 2013, we created our first flexible modular schedule, or FLEX MOD as we call it. Now into year six and five iterations later, our 2018–19 flexible modular schedule is the dynamic force that fuels equity at RBHS.

The FLEX MOD Schedule

RBHS’s FLEX MOD schedule consists of 25 modules (mods) of time comprised of either 10- or 30-minute mods. These 25 different mods allow us to create a flexible schedule with two phases—A and B—that occur simultaneously. During the A and B phases, students attend their academic classes, or what we call “paths of instruction.” Each path of instruction (1 credit) meets 210 minutes a week, but how often each path of instruction meets depends on which phase it is in:

A Phase B Phase
Meeting times per week 4 days a week 3 days a week
Length of meeting time Three 60-minute periods and one 30-minute period One 90-minute period and two 60-minute periods
Paths of instruction Various Math, World Languages, Physical Education courses (mostly ninth through 10th-grade courses) Various English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science courses (mostly 11th through 12th-grade courses)

Each student enrolls in seven out of eight academic paths of instruction.  The remaining mods of time within a student’s schedule that is not scheduled into face-to-face instruction is Independent Learning Time (ILT). C1 and C2 paths within the middle band of our schedule are where students meet in their grade level CREWs. The gray C phase in the center is for additional path balance, which provides the flexibility necessary for our A and B phases to work. The FLEX MOD schedule is a five-day cycle that repeats 36 times. 

 

A Sample Student Schedule

To get a better understanding of how the FLEX MOD schedule works, let’s take a look at Sam, a junior, as she goes through her weekly schedule:

Sam has no more than seven classes a day, and some days she has only five. At a minimum, Sam gets 45 minutes of ILT each day; other days she gets between 75–195 minutes. Overall, Sam gets 555 minutes of unstructured time to pursue her studies independently in any manner she chooses.  During ILT, Sam can visit her available teachers for one-on-one and small group instruction. Often, you’ll find Sam in the Learning Commons working on a project with her classmates. Sam does not have a dedicated lunch time; instead, she chooses to eat her lunch during any of her ILT mods between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. She only hears two bells throughout her day: the morning 8:15 a.m. bell and the final 3:40 p.m. bell.

The FLEX MOD approach has fostered a number of benefits for both students and staff:

  • Increased teacher-led collaborative planning time
  • Exposure to postsecondary learning environments, including lectures, recitations, and student-led study groups
  • Additional one-on-one time between teachers and students during the school day
  • Enhanced student collaborative learning experiences
  • Stronger peer-to-peer and peer-to-staff relationships because of regular CREW time
  • Improved interventions and learning support for struggling learners
  • Wider use of best practices and blended learning techniques
  • Development of soft skills, including communication, organization, and time management
  • Greater access to community resources during the school day

Our data and anecdotal evidence indicate that FLEX MOD works.  RBHS has received an Excellent rating by the State Department of Education of South Carolina and were finalists in 2018 for the Palmetto’s Finest Award, the state’s highest award given to schools. We’ve seen improvements in our student outcomes and increases in our graduation and AP enrollment rates. Our most recent graduates (our first class to graduate after four year at RBHS) report a high level of confidence in managing time in college and meeting with professors during office hours.

Walt Disney said, “Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.” The future is here at our school and the flexible modular schedule has engaged our students and staff in a new direction.

I challenge you to rethink time and design schedules that create conditions to prepare students to manage time and engage with others. We welcome your visit to River Bluff to learn with us.

Dr. Lucas “Luke” Clamp is the founding principal of River Bluff High School in Lexington, SC, which opened its doors to students and staff in 2013 as South Carolina’s first EL Education High School. With over 16 years of experience in public education, he was selected as 2018 South Carolina State Principal of the Year and 2019 NASSP National Principal of the Year. He is passionate about developing relationships with students and staff while creating conditions for all to become effective learners, ethical people, and contributors to a better world. Follow him on Twitter @LucasClamp.

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