Walking in to Carol Barnes’s class, you will be immediately struck by the movement, discussions, and technology usage of her students. These students are engaged right from the start and ready to use devices and converse with other students about their learning. Barnes, a middle school math teacher at High Plains K-8 School, is on the leading edge of Thompson School District’s mission to personalize learning for all students.
Adopting this type of instruction is no easy feat and allowing middle school students to learn with an increased level of autonomy can build a teacher’s anxiety. But Carol came to the realization that developing successful education for students means we need to meet them where they are developmentally. For teenagers, allowing freedom for curiosity and social interactions is a vital part of the learning process, but parameters from the teacher still need to be in place to facilitate academic achievement. To achieve this, Barnes has integrated flexible pacing in her Math classes. “This model of flexible pacing has given the student’s the power and control of their education. They can move quickly if they are comfortable or slow down if they are finding it difficult,” she explained. Students never need to feel stuck on a Math concept. “Students have also chosen to move on,” Carol said, “and come back to it before frustration hits an all time high. They truly have control and autonomy over their learning and I am a facilitator and source of knowledge.”
When asked why she moved to this approach, Barnes explained, “My motivation happened 5 years back when [some students were] struggling with current content because [of] knowledge gaps. I wanted to find a safe and encouraging way for students to go back and fill missing pieces before attempting current content, while not holding back those that were ready.” Students became more engaged than ever and recognized that the teacher was there to meet their needs, instead of simply teaching Math concepts at a predetermined pace. “I was sure there was a way to meet all aspects of the spectrum in one room but I knew I would have to let go of the norm.” There has certainly been a reward to Carol’s courage.
But this method of teaching can be very foreign to students, even if it is beneficial. When asked how students have responded, Barnes said, “They love it! The students who normally struggle and get discouraged are getting the help and encouragement they need. The students who are [at a higher level] are able to have a challenge and get support and the middle is not forgotten.” Students are bought-in to the process and excited to find their own paths to success through collaboration with their teacher. “Many students now feel more like math is achievable and manageable,” Carol stated. Knowing students have that outlook is an incredible feeling for a teacher in any content area.
Consider integrating flexible pacing with your students through utilization of formative assessment tools like iReady or Map.MathShell.org. When in doubt of how to integrate the process, seek out Carol Barnes, EdTech TSD, the Professional Learning Team, or other teachers using flexible pacing and find out how to make this work with your students.
By Joe Zappa