One Speed Does Not Fit All

I remember being bored a lot in school when I was a student, not because the teacher was not engaging or that I did not like the content, it was just that the pace was not right for me. The pace was slower than what I would have preferred but that is the problem when we try to instruct all students in the same way at the same speed. I did have some teachers that would find outlets for my attention when they knew I was getting bored, such as going ahead in some areas, going to a greater depth, or just helping other students. Although school seemed easy for me, I could see it wasn’t that way for everyone and I appreciated getting to help other students who were struggling.

Those feelings of the pace seeming off for me, and many others, were a big reason why I was drawn towards the idea of flipping my classroom over ten years ago. I wanted to flip my classroom not to assign videos as homework, but to allow students to move at different paces and to allow me the ability to meet their needs where they were at. It also allowed me to give students the leeway when I could see they were having an off day and just needed to relax a little, knowing I could work with them more later when things were better. I could spend more time with students that needed more help while allowing students who were ready for more ownership of their learning, to do what they needed to do.

Carrying this all forward to this last semester where I got to see my own son learning while at home due to his school needing to move into online and hybrid learning models as the pandemic has impacted our community. I think his teachers have done a great job of setting up the instruction for at home learning, as best as can be expected right now, but mostly because there is some structure but also a lot of flexibility. There are definitely some things I do not agree with, but those practices were around well before COVID was a thing. The interesting thing is seeing in my son what I saw in myself, where he is getting bored with some things that he can easily do. The nice thing is that due to online learning, he can do them at more of his own pace because he can finish things quickly and move onto things he wants to do instead of just waiting for others. He can email, or we can, his teacher when he needs more help but he also can move onto the next thing when he is ready instead of being told exactly when he needs to. He has more control over the pace of his learning than if he was in the classroom. He is in less danger of doing things because he is bored, like dancing behind other kids as they make a video for class, because he can put that energy towards either other work or something he wants to do.

My fear is that when he goes back into the classroom full time again, he will get bored or frustrated quickly because he has seen what learning can be when the pace of learning better fits him. My hope is that we come out of this COVID time with some ideas of how we can better the educational system to meet the individual needs of our students. Find those practices that we had to implement during this period that have worked for some, and find ways to keep them available as we move forward.

I would love to see us abandon past practices and find those new ways to change education so it is better than it was before COVID. During this time, students are actually learning and some are learning better than they were before COVID. They are learning because they have asynchronous learning available to them that does not rely on an 8 period day, dictated by bells, that forces them to move quickly between different subjects. They are learning because they have more control over their learning and the pace of their learning.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with another teacher over a decade ago about how we shared many of the same students and thought we could drastically change our classroom setup to better meet their needs. We wanted to use aspects of flipping so that students could work at the pace that best met their needs, either on the work for my class or for the other teacher’s class, during either period. They could work in either classroom, or even the library as a communal space which was between our classrooms. We would set times when we needed all students together for that synchronous component but most of the time was set up to be as flexible as needed. Of course this was shot down because it did not fit in with what others were doing, not that what they were doing was working for all students, and we never got to attempt this.

I hope that we have more openness after the pandemic to try new things that are better for our students and allow us to leave the one size/pace fits none methods of the past.

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