Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Give Me a Good Reason, Please

I know it is sweeping the nation and we are far from alone, but I still don't understand the idea of common pacing. Planning together I get. I've been doing that for years and it is wonderful. Multiple brains talking about ways to teach and what different students need is much better than just one brain. Collaboration is an amazing thing in education.

But common pacing? We're doing this in math right now - to some extent. We're planning as a team once a week. No one is checking in to make sure we are following it and we've talked about the fact that we won't all be teaching the exact same lesson on the exact same day. This makes a lot of sense to me. We're benefiting from the co-planning piece, all the brains working together, but we can adapt to student needs and changes in schedules.

We're also working on planning a unit together about writing reports. Again, we're talking about what our students need, how to support them as they learn, what resources are helpful, and some ideas about assessment. All useful conversations. But it's unlikely we'll be teaching it all at the same time. Or in the exact same way.

In a meeting today it was said that we should know that the expectations for common pacing will be tighter as we move forward. Why? What is the benefit? What am I not seeing?

My perspective on common pacing is that it is focused on content rather than on students. That is wrong to me. Our learners should drive the learning they are doing, not the other way around.

Please, please, please tell me if you have another view. I cannot see another perspective here.


The Science Goddess said...

I've been involved with many different pacing discussions. I've seen some downright Orwellian implementations (everyone will teach every lesson on the same day...or you will no longer be teaching), and I have seen some solutions which still give plenty of instructional freedom.

Whether or not these are "good" reasons will be up to you, but here are a few considerations which helped shape some of the work I was involved in.

1. Even though individual students learn at different rates, there are some common expectations about what it means to do first grade work (for example). Maybe these come from the standards...maybe there are some school-level expectations. A second-grade teacher should be able to expect that students coming to him/her from different teachers have about the same background from first grade. No, it's not perfect (especially in schools with a highly mobile population), but the idea is not to ensure every kid knows the same thing at the same time...nor that there be standardized teaching. Instead, think of it as making sure that every student has an opportunity to engage with the whole curriculum---they aren't stuck doing only addition problems, reading solely about whales, or never get a science lesson.

2. Longer term goals are better than short term ones. I can't recommend a perfect time frame, but daily/weekly is often too restrictive...and a year is too long. I did work with some teachers who agreed to have semester goals. That is, everyone would make sure that particular concepts were addressed by the end of the semester, but how much time you spent with these and the order you did them in was up to you. This was a comfy fit. I won't claim that every student mastered every item---I didn't work in Lake Wobegone. But it was a good balance.

3. Don't make it about instruction, unless you have a very good reason. In other words, no one should have to teach a lesson the exact same way as the teacher in the next room. If you're doing action research, that might be a different story. Pacing is about curriculum.

4. Common expectations around the pacing of content can allow for more meaningful discussions around common practice. If both you and your teacher-neighbor are teaching about two-digit addition problems within a similar time period, you can watch one another teach (in time to make adjustments, if needed, in your own instruction) or look at some common assessment items and talk about what you did that worked. Sure, you can do these things even if the content is separated in time, but it may have a greater impact if things are more immediate.

Again, I don't believe in lockstep teaching. I think that every teacher is professional enough to determine what his/her students need and how best to support that learning. But we don't work in isolation---we're part of a larger system. Pacing can be part of that discussion, but certainly isn't necessary piece.

Alex T. Valencic said...

I disagree with the analysis made above. Common pacing is NOT about having a common curriculum. Common pacing is about teachers within the grade level across the district teaching the same lessons/units at the same time.

This is not good for the teachers and it is not good for the students. We have common curriculum in my district, and it is wonderfully helpful. As we move toward the Common Core State Standards, this common curriculum will be even better. A student whose family is highly mobile will be able to go from one school to another, even across the country, and not have to spend a large amount of time catching up with a new curriculum.

Common pacing, though, ignores the needs of individual classes. I teach fourth grade. We have two fourth grade classes in my building. If we tried to do common pacing, we would have 80% of our students stumbling about in the dark!

Jenny said...

Science Goddess, I agree with everything you have said here.
As to #1, we talk about 'unpacking standards' to help us find those common expectations.
#2 Longer term goals are critical. I think with a quarter makes sense to me but we're being presented with expectations of much tighter pacing. #3 Exactly! That's an issue we haven't gotten a clear message about.
#4 Yup, that planning together and talking about what you're seeing with students is so helpful.
I think lockstep teaching is a pretty good description of what is expected of us right now.

Alex, I completely agree. Teaching the exact same thing on the exact same day does not work for the majority of our students. It does not take their strengths or needs into account.