One of the biggest concerns about proficiency based, and learner centered instruction, centers around the idea of “students working at their own pace.” Education community members wonder: what about deadlines? what if a student’s pace is “do nothing?” who will teach them if the just keep going ahead? what happens if a kid finishes all the standards by the time they are 16? The questions go on, and on. Most of them are completely valid questions, and worth conversations about. A good place to start is to examine how the idea of a student’s own pace.
Instead of thinking of the word “pace” think of “readiness level.” A student’s readiness level is the point where they have the ability to be successful with whatever the current learning is, and stretch a bit into new understanding and skills with the support of a teacher. Readiness level is the same thing as the Zone of Proximal Development. So now, think about this new statement:
In a learner centered system, students work at their readiness level
This changes the picture a bit. There is still room in this vision for a teacher to teach, for there to be deadlines, for students to learn at a degree and depth that makes sense for them, for a class to all be studying the same topic at different complexity levels. A student’s readiness level can be used to match instruction and expected independence for any kind of procedural or declarative knowledge, including planning, organization and other soft skills.
But what about pace? The amount of time it takes, or should take, a student to complete and show mastery of learning is still important. Our students should know what a good pace is, and what to do if they get behind or ahead. Setting a pace for students includes setting due dates and otherwise supporting the development of those work habits.
Courtney is the Instructional Coach for KIDS RSU #2 in Maine. She also hosts a podcast about personalized learning, and is available for independent consulting work.
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