Guided Learning

Breaking Down Barriers

A Multiphase Approach to Transforming Your Scheduling Practices and Unlocking Lifelong Opportunity for Students

Steven Gering, EdD and Wendy Watson, EdD

Phase 7: Ensure Student Success

“Simply making college preparatory coursework available to students is not enough to ensure their successful completion of these courses and subsequent eligibility for graduation and/or for public universities. Students need substantial and differentiated levels of support to meet these requirements and teachers and school leaders need support to raise expectations, scaffold a more rigorous curriculum, and effectively provide the supports students need.”1Quartz, Karen Hunter, Marco A. Murillo, Beth Trinchero, Rebecca Colina Neri, and Sidronio Jacobo. “Framing, Supporting, and Tracking College-For-All Reform: A Local Case of Public Scholarship.” The High School Journal, Volume 102, Number 2, Winter 2019, pp. 159-182, Chapel Hill, NC.

It is not simply enough to place students in intense coursework. Strategic scheduling also involves ensuring that students have the necessary support to succeed once they are enrolled in these courses. Consequently, it is necessary to build robust support structures to ensure all students are successful in their coursework.

It is critical for schools and districts to devote the necessary time and resources to ensure students remain enrolled in intense coursework and experience success. The school must develop students’ mindsets with the belief that hard work and perseverance in the learning process leads to CCR. Additionally, effort and optimism is vital for lifelong learning and goal achievement.

Scheduling Interventions

One key strategy when providing students with additional support centers on instructional time (see Table #12). The vast majority of students can successfully master intense course content and standards if they have additional time and support. All too often, however, leaders view time as a fixed resource tied to specific periods and base schedules. 

Table #12: Common Methods to Increase Instructional Time
Strategic schedulers view time as one of their most important resources. When students are actively being recruited and encouraged to enroll in intense coursework, there is often a need to provide students additional time to master course content and standards. Toward this end, strategic schedulers typically look at innovative ways to increase instructional time beyond the school year, beyond the school day, and within the school day to support students.

Extending Beyond the School Year

  • Summer bridge programs.
  • Summer assignments.

Extending Beyond the School Day

  • AP/IB cafes.
  • Mandatory tutoring/intervention programs.
  • Passive tutoring/intervention programs.

Extending Within the School Day

  • Change in base schedule.
  • Block scheduling.
  • Innovative scheduling (double blocking).

For students accessing stretch courses for the first time, support structures throughout the summer are often a necessary strategy. When implemented properly, these support structures help accomplish the following goals:

  • Enhance a college-going culture. 
  • Build the mindset for continual learning. 
  • Provide students with extended time to master content standards, particularly for difficult stretch courses.

Best practices for these programs involve developing engaging content for students with a balance of mandatory work and optional assignments supported by teachers who are paid a stipend to provide support. If funds are in short supply, some school districts consider asking community members to meet voluntarily and minimally with students.

Mandatory work includes summer assignments that students in challenging courses (e.g., honors and AP classes) must complete in preparation for fall. Because most advanced coursework requires additional reading, it’s an opportunity for students to read material that covers key concepts supported in the curriculum. To support these summer programs, students should receive the books, assignments, and expectations before the last day of school. Teachers may set up student teams and encourage students to meet throughout the summer to accomplish multiple goals:

  • Engage students with the curriculum and teacher(s).
  • Build an academic culture.
  • Enhance effort and optimism.
  • Master challenging content standards at a more relaxed pace.

Best practices for this involve teachers inviting students to collaboration opportunities based on coming coursework for the year. For example, an AP teacher may invite their students to attend a week of extended learning for a few hours a day to cover essential and challenging concepts for the fall curriculum. The teacher can break down the challenging concept in chunks and provide extra time for students to master the concept. These can be coordinated with all teachers so there is a week or two of coordinated summer bridge activities for an entire school or district, or teachers can organize these independently. 

A second method of providing additional instructional time for students to master content standards involves utilizing available instructional time outside of the school day (see Table #13). These programs support students with a continuum of before, during, or after school structures where teachers provide help with content standards, assignments, and mastery. 

Table #13: Common Strategies for Extending Instructional Time Outside of the School Day
Effective programs outside the school day typically use one of two strategies: using formative assessment data so that students who need additional support receive immediate intervention and support or putting resources in place for all students with concentrated efforts to encourage students to attend.



Provide Targeted Support
Use targeted programs to identify students who are struggling to master content standards and provide immediate intervention. 

Check and Connect
Pair an adult to a student where plans are set for both to meet and connect weekly to check on homework completion, academic progress, and general well-being. 

Provide Optional Support
Open, optional programs are available to all students; students are not required to attend, but teachers and school personnel actively promote these programs to provide assistance to students. This strategy also supports a postsecondary mindset that working outside of classtime is a common expectation. 

AP Cafe

  • Often held in the afternoon or evening with food and a range of tutoring supports.
  • Creates a social and fun setting for collaboration. 
  • Students voluntarily meet with a teacher for targeted lesson support and/or general tutoring.
  • Can be staffed by teachers, honor society students, volunteers, or AmeriCorps staff members.

In the vast majority of high schools, each period is typically the same length, and students have a set time to master course material. Unfortunately, this approach where time is fixed assumes that content standards and material for all courses is approximately the same and that all students should be able to master the content standards in the allocated time periods, regardless of where they are starting their academic journey. Innovative high schools look at instructional time during the school day as a strategic tool that can be flexible to meet students’ and teachers’ needs and content standards. 

Table #14: Sample Strategies to Extend Instructional Time Within the School Day

College Model 

This is a model focusing on how to use the senior year of high school to mimic college schedules. Instead of scheduling courses to fill up every minute of the school day, courses are taught in a college model meeting several times a week with students taking fewer total numbers of courses. Students are responsible for longer assignments and more independent work and reading in between courses. Correspondingly, students are taught how to use this flexible time prior to transitioning to the high stakes college environment. Staff members support students teaching them college knowledge skills like working independently, managing time, accessing academic supports, and forming study groups.

Flex Block

This offers students a chance to work on school assignments, meet with teachers to review content, or choose to attend enrichment offerings. Teachers can assign students to intervene or review work, if needed; otherwise, students can choose an enrichment class to attend, complete homework, or work on class projects. When used for advisory or tutorial, flex-time periods are typically shorter than the regular class period. While the format might vary from school to school, the purpose remains the same: to give students a chance to follow their own interests and manage their own learning time.


These are special weeks where regular classes are put on hold and students participate in a wide variety of activities: enrichment, acceleration, interdisciplinary programs, service learning, internships, and remediation activities. Session lengths can vary from one to four weeks and often occur between terms, such as winter or spring break. Sessions can also offer full courses that meet every day to cover a full term’s worth of content to accelerate high-achieving students or allow struggling students to retake courses they failed. Some schools hold more than one intensive learning session per year, using a calendar such as 75/15/75/15. In this model, students take full courses across two 75-day semesters and have two 15-day intensive learning sessions at the end of one or both semesters.

Double Blocking

Courses that have additional content standards have twice the amount of time for instruction (over a school year or multiple years). Schools can implement this for all students or for targeted student groups to provide additional time and support to master content standards.


A school day is broken into many 10- to 20-minute modules or “mods.” Typically, a school day consists of between 14-35 mods, and within the range of time modules, students can access different modes of instruction, e.g., large group, small group, laboratory, independent study, and even lunch. Students learn in a variety of ways and at varying rates. The flex-mod schedule is beneficial to students because they get to select the teachers and types of additional supports or enrichments they want or need.

Supporting All Leaners

Placing students into intense coursework without adequate support can lead to struggles, feelings of not fitting in, and a decline in their overall GPA.

Supporting students in intense coursework involves two key aspects. The first area often addressed by schools and districts is helping students with the course content. However, the second area, which focuses on managing workload and coursework pacing, is frequently overlooked. Some students in advanced courses may not struggle with content standards but require assistance in handling their academic workload. It is essential to provide instruction on academic mindsets and learning strategies (Table #15). These strategies, which are adaptable and easily teachable, can benefit students across all their courses. To ensure students’ success in intense coursework, it is vital to monitor their GPAs and proactively teach them effective academic management strategies.2
Farrington, Camille A., Melissa Roderick, Elaine Allensworth, Jenny Nagaoka, Tasha Seneca Keyes, David W. Johnson, and Nicole O. Beechum. “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance – A Critical Literature Review.” The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, 2012, Chicago, IL.

Table #15: Academic Mindsets and Learning Strategies 

Academic Mindsets Involve:

  • I belong in this academic community.
  • My ability and competence grow with my effort. 
  • I can succeed at this.
  • My work has value for me. 

Learning Strategies Involve:

  • Study skills. 
  • Metacognitive strategies.
  • Self-regulated learning.
  • Time management.
  • Goal setting.

Monitor Enrollment in Late Summer and Early Fall

After a cycle of strategic scheduling that includes maximizing enrollment in intense coursework, it is imperative that school leaders monitor summer and fall enrollment fluctuations. If executed well, during the spring recruitment phase, students choose intense coursework for the following year. Through summer and fall, they are faced with the reality of successfully completing challenging work and may reconsider their schedule choices and request to drop classes due to a lack of confidence and commitment. This is a natural and understandable reaction, especially for students who may not have a wide array of support structures at home to keep them encouraged and focused on ambitious college and career goals. The entire school staff play a critical role in monitoring and supporting students in this phase.

At the beginning of the summer, administrators should pull enrollment data for targeted intense coursework including support electives that serve to specifically support students in intense coursework. School and district administrators should use baseline data to monitor and continuously check student enrollment, grades, and formative assessment data with the goal of sustaining that enrollment through the school year. Leaders should clarify with staff members that maintaining enrollment and ensuring students are successful in these intense courses is an outcome of building a CCR culture. 

One key step is to clarify the written procedures for students dropping courses in late summer or early fall. The process should provide all stakeholders with time to reflect and discuss a course of action. The written procedures should provide clarity for everyone so no steps are lost in translation. Leaders should consider a process that requires a student to (1) talk with the teacher; (2) talk with the counselor; (3) talk with an administrator; and (4) end with a student, parent, and administrator conference. All four steps are essential to ensure that everyone is aware of the student’s needs and concerns with the opportunity to problem-solve and support. The process should be on a form where all stakeholders must sign and verify that conversations took place before any change in enrollment can happen.

The basis of all conversations at each of these stages is about helping the student reaffirm their CCR goals and aspirations. It’s about creating meaningful opportunities to invest in a student’s life and listening to their rationale for making course changes that may well be warranted. Adults will be able to provide support plans for overwhelmed students that help them balance their school and home life in alignment with their college and career goals. 

The procedural steps at this phase of maintaining enrollment in intense coursework provides students with much-needed support and guidance from counselors, teachers, and administrators. Coaching staff on how to have mentoring conversations that keep students invested in challenging coursework is worthy professional development. Over the years of continuous improvement, it is also important to share long-term college-going data results with staff members so they can see the fruits of their labor. 


Overall, Phase 7 involves intentionally supporting students in their intense coursework and ensuring their success. This means that some students will need additional support or time to master content standards. Providing resources to support schools and districts in intentionally building in these support structures is a proactive and proven strategy to improve student CCR outcomes. District leaders need to thoughtfully look for resources to allocate to schools for this purpose and should actively support school leaders in developing strategic schedules that support scholars in these intense courses. 

Up Next


Strategic scheduling requires a fundamental shift and a new mindset. If school leaders simply view the schedule as a technical task to complete each spring, they miss a massive opportunity. The vast majority of resources for schools and districts are invested in people.