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Pacing Needs to Be Flexible If Learning Is to Happen

Plans. They are essential for educators. The more organized we are, the better we are able to cover what needs to be covered to ensure student learning.

First, we look at what needs to be achieved at the end, and then we plan backward to ensure that all of the necessary pieces are taught for the success of the goal.

If we do this planning over the summer before the student rosters become available or we have taught the class in the past and are modifying based on prior student feedback or reflection, we often set plans that will likely need adjusting once we meet our new students.

This year my AP class has 34 students. It's right at the cap of acceptable size. It is likely all or most of them belong in an AP class, but the dynamic of this group is extremely different than last year's. Although I had the whole year planned out, (at least an outline of it), I'm realizing after a couple of weeks, it needs a major revision.

These students are very anxious and chatty. Last year's group was not as big and more laid back. The pace I had originally planned to keep will have most of the students in this class falling behind and possibly even giving up, so something needs to change.

So here is what I'm considering:

  • Perhaps it would be advisable right now, to take out a unit and go deeper into the ones that are selected. This way there is less content, but the skills can still be covered inside of the topics used.

  • Students can get involved in order to make a decision about which unit changes or gets tossed. I can poll the group and take their feedback into consideration.

  • Group work will have to look different too. The space in the room is limited. Already with the first group assignment underway, we spilled out into the hallway, necessarily not just for quiet. We don't have enough tables for all of the groups.

  • Technology is going to be necessary to help ease some of the challenges of size. Unfortunately, even our cart doesn't have enough laptops for all of the students in the class. One way I plan on assisting this group is setting up a half-hour Twitter chat twice a week to answer questions using the class hashtag #wjpsaplit.

  • More time will need to be allotted for classwork because transitions take longer than I'm used to. Either fewer transitions will need to be made in each class which will also be another thing to consider or I will need to find some kind of new social cues like music or lights that will help students move from one activity to the next. 

  • More flexibility will be necessary. I will be tested all the time to realize that my will is only part of the equation. Yes, I know what the kids need to learn by the end of the course, but how we get to that endpoint must be determined together with the students. I'm open to shifting as needed.

Pacing learning is a huge part of teaching. It's something I've always had a challenge with, but over the years have made some progress. As I meet more students and different situations, learning to read the room, check for accurate progress of every child, and make sure to really listen. 

What are your best tips for determining the pacing for your students? Please share

This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in September 2015

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