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Building Modern Classrooms – Part 2: Self-Paced Learning

One of the core features of the Modern Classrooms approach is self-paced learning. The recommended approach, and the approach I use for core mathematics instruction, is to self-pace within each unit. Everyone in a particular math group still starts and ends each unit on the same day so that there is not an increasing gap between students who progress through a unit more quickly and students who progress through a unit more slowly. Within each unit, however, students progress at their own individual pace.

When students are expected to complete lessons at the same pace as the rest of the class, many students feel like the lessons are moving too slow – they’re bored, and they want to be challenged more. Absent students struggle to catch up and feel frustrated. Many students feel like the lessons are moving too fast – they want to slow down and have more support from their teacher. With self-paced lessons, students who would otherwise feel like the lessons are too fast can slow down and make sure they master one lesson before being expected to move to the next one. Because of the nature of blended learning, I have more availability to work with and help these students. Absent students can catch up in the intended order and, due to blended learning, can often complete lessons at home. Students who would otherwise feel like the lessons are too slow can move on when they’re ready and complete extension work to challenge themselves.

To accommodate differing paces, there are varying classifications. In my classroom, must-do activities are the core lessons. Every student must complete these because they’re essential to understanding the unit. Should-do activities are the optional lessons. Students are expected to complete them if they’re on pace but can skip them if they’re off pace and need to do so. They’re useful to developing mastery but not essential. Aspire-to-do activities are extension work – work outside of the unit that extends understanding of the concepts beyond the core curriculum. In this manner, the needs of all students are met. Also, students are provided with suggested due dates for each lesson so that they can keep track of their pacing and are encouraged to collaborate with and learn from each other. Self-paced learning allows for students to meet their fullest potential because they can work on each lesson as they’re ready for it, rather than on the timeline of an “average” student.

Adrian Spencer

Is our middle school STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) specialist. Born in Illinois, Adrian moved back to the Midwest after earning a B.A. in psychology from Florida Atlantic University and a M.A.T. in elementary education from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Adrian has taught students from PreK to eighth grade in a variety of settings, including public and charter classrooms, an after-school program, and weekend and summer programs for students identified as gifted.

Adrian enjoys swimming, reading, and exploring Uptown, Edgewater, and Rogers Park.