In the early stages of my teaching career, I was sometimes told by observers that I should work at my pace. The feedback was almost always about increasing the pace of my lesson but this was rarely explained any further. I knew that being ‘pacey’ was good; I had little idea as to how this translated into good practice.
I’ve come to realize that a ‘pacey’ lesson is an efficient lesson: the time spent in class will be maximally productive with little to no time wasted at all.
What follows is a list of advice and approaches that I’ve picked up over the years:
If we accept that ‘learning happens when people have to think hard and that ‘memory is the residue of thought‘, then it is worthwhile trying to ensure that students think deeply for as much of the lesson as possible. Equally, there should be no unnecessary gaps, waiting, or general faffing about. Cutting things out and sticking them to other things is often a good example of faffing about. Time is a precious, finite resource and we need to maximize every minute.
2. Have an open-ended task on the board as students enter.
Whole class instruction in my lessons usually begins in one of three ways:
a) Some form of retrieval practice
b) Deliberate practice of sentences or vocabulary
c) Whole Class Feedback
Typically, some students arrive at class a bit earlier than others and the time gap between the first and last student to arrive can sometimes be a few minutes. Because of this, I start most lessons with an open-ended task up on the board so that students can begin working as soon as they enter. The tasks are deliberately open ended-I often give them a 5-minute limit- so that low and high attainers can attempt them successfully, the differentiation here being by the depth and complexity of the outcome.Here are a few examples: a) How is Romeo presented in Act 1? b) How do you know that Jonas lives in a dystopian society? c) What kind of man is Utterson? 3. Know where the lesson fits into a sequence of learning A lesson is almost always part of a longer instructional sequence. Sometimes a lesson will focus on building knowledge as you explain, discuss, and question new concepts or ideas; sometimes it will involve modeling and practicing a specific type of writing, sentence construction, or analytical component. Effective instructional sequences often span multiple lessons and the tasks and approaches within them should undergo a number of changes as student competence develops. One way of describing this transformation is the I-We-You continuum as the responsibility for learning gradually shifts from teacher to student. So what does all this have to do with the pace? If you know where a lesson fits within a wider sequence, it is often easier to judge exactly what needs to be achieved within the lesson in question. This then allows you to make better-informed decisions as to the variety of examples that you need to present, how much practice may be necessary at a particular stage of a sequence, and when it may be appropriate to move from guided to freer practice. 4. Equipment and Resources Ensure that students have everything that they need for the lesson. Well-planned booklets can be really helpful here as they should contain everything that a student will need for the entire unit. Printing off a booklet at the start of a unit for each student means that I rarely have to rush around and print additional resources. If you do need to hand out resources during a lesson, do this when students are working individually in silence, not when they have finished a task. This means there is no wait time and you can check what they are working on as you move around the class. At my school, the expectation is that all students are responsible for bringing the equipment they need for class and if they don’t, they receive a consequence. Having also worked in schools where teachers hand out pens freely with no consequence for ill-prepared students, my current situation is a thousand times better-less time is wasted and students rarely appear in class without a pen anymore. 5. Content takes priority Students should be able to instantly grasp what they have to do in a learning activity, allowing them to focus all of their concentration on the content that is being learned. If we are to teach challenging and unashamedly academic content, then we should not be adding to the cognitive load by creating complicated methods of delivering that content: tasks should be procedurally simple; if they are not, then students will need to simultaneously work out how to approach the task as well as getting their heads around the content within it. Time spent working out the rules of a convoluted activity is time not spent thinking about what they are meant to be learning 6. Repetition isn’t boring If you want to master anything-including all aspects of teaching-you will probably need to engage in repetitive, deliberate practice. The more familiar you are with a specific routine or approach, the faster and more fluently you can implement it. Pacey lessons often involve procedures and tasks that have been done many times by the teacher and the students, both being so familiar with the instructions that the teacher is able to devote maximal concentration to behavior management, misconceptions, and questions, while the student can devote maximal attention to what it is they are learning. Here are just some of the things that can be approached in the same way almost all of the time, instead of varying the content, level of support, or extent and scope of the practice: