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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lesson Pacing?

The expert was in our midst. I was excited for a fast-paced exploration of the topic with colleagues after school. Then due to logistics a number of young children joined us, and rightly so, the expert altered the pace of the presentation to meet the children's need for a slower, more deliberate pace. I understood the reason for the change, but I was disappointed as I was looking forward to a fast-paced, instructional activity by this brilliant scientist and artist.

Similarly, when I slowed down the pace of math class the other day to accommodate a new learning activity and many learners who desire a slower pace, a few young students acted out. They didn't like the slow pace, and actually acted as if they felt insulted by the slow delivery. I remember doing the same thing when I was a student and wanted to learn faster.

Fast, slow, or in between, pacing choices are a critical part of instructional delivery. What is the right pace to teach and when do you decide to slow it down or speed it up to maximize learning.

Typically, I introduce topics at a fast pace first so that everyone gets a taste of the information, concept, or skill. The fast, first introduction also allows me to assess who already knows the information, who is catching on quickly, and who needs a more deliberate, slower paced review. Then I usually split the group up according to their needs with regard to the content and learning. This helps everyone to learn happily with peers at a pace that is just right or almost just right.

Yet, sometimes, like yesterday, I have to present at a pace that's good for some and not for others, and I don't make that choice lightly. In yesterday's case, the learning activity was a new one for me, one I had witnessed the week before at a conference and one that I felt was worthwhile for all students. Next, I couldn't ask the assisting teachers to take a group since they needed to see the activity played out as well so they participated rather than lead a group.

Throughout the lesson, I told students why I was choosing the pacing that I chose, and why I chose to share the learning activity. I added a few challenging questions to give the fast-paced students a chance to stretch which gave me a chance to assess their learning to see if this was a helpful activity for them. Their share and my assessment demonstrated that they needed this concrete activity to gain greater depth of understanding.

I'm curious about pacing? Do most teachers present at a similar pace or do teachers typically slow it down or speed it up depending on the content and students? How do we help students who process quickly or who need more time? What role does pacing play in over all learning frustration and success?

If you have thoughts on information on this, please share. I'm curious.