Use Flexible Pacing to Embrace Students’ Differences
By Jasper Fox Sr.
We all know that everyone learns differently. For example, I might teach myself how to fix a vacuum cleaner using different resources and at a different pace than you might. Regardless of the path taken, however, the vacuum cleaner gets fixed. Similarly, students’ variations in processes for and speeds of learning can be supported in schools by creating flexible environments that embrace these distinctions—that is, environments that promote asynchronous pacing. Three benefits specifically related to flexible or asynchronous pacing include time for mastering concepts, a cognizance of student’s time requirements, and truly using formative assessments. Asynchronous pacing gives students the ability to choose their own paths through curriculum which contrasts the traditional method of the teacher delivering a lecture to the whole class at the same time. Here are three important things for teachers to remember when establishing an environment of asynchronous pacing in their classrooms.
- Build students’ understanding based on mastery of content by focusing on understanding rather than merely completion based on compliance. Doing so reduces anxiety in the classroom by reducing the stakes on each summative assessment. It is also important to remember the structure in which students reiterate. Teachers should provide feedback to students on content deficiencies and discuss proper study strategies to better understand information. Once students have demonstrated their improved understanding, teachers can give them a new assessment, which can be multiple choice, written, or spoken.
- Accommodate students’ differing time requirements for assignments. By allowing flexible due dates based on students’ needs, teachers can create a physically and emotionally safe learning space in the classroom. When students are not solely focused on finishing assignments in a certain amount of time, they become more invested in their learning. Increasing the time given for completion of assignments (from a day to a week for example) leads to an increase in students who complete their work, which in turns helps comprehension and understanding.
- Teach students as individuals. By challenging the status quo of whole-class direct instruction, teachers are able to give students feedback from formative assessments during class. Delivering information this way allows for one-on-one conversations between teachers and students during class. Such conversations are best conducted in individual or small-group settings so that teachers have time to discuss things that are more student specific and therefore students can learn more fully.
When teachers ask themselves the question “What is the best use of our time in the classroom?,” they are ultimately able to determine how they can best support their students’ learning. Instead of teaching the same lesson to thirty students, teachers could be teaching the same lesson thirty different ways. By differentiating the process in which students interact with the material, teachers can teach to student’s strengths and support their weaknesses. Teachers need to encourage student choice and autonomy when it comes to the pacing of content delivery and assessment in order to build a culture of learning that is not based on superficial compliance. They need to build a culture of learning that allows them to communicate and connect with students to help them truly master the content. Only when teachers let students drive their own learning in a more fluid way will differences stop being hindrances and start being strengths.
Jasper Fox Sr., teaches science at Copper Beech Middle School in the Lakeland Central School District in Shrub Oak, N.Y., where he is currently in his twelfth year of teaching. He was recently named the Educators Voice Honoree for Middle School Teacher of the Year at the 2014 Bammy Awards and was a semifinalist in the 2015 New York State Teacher of the Year program. An avid writer and connected educator, Fox maintains an active Twitter presence as @jasperfoxsr and writes for a variety of sites and publications.