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Get Back On Track: 4 Pacing Pivots For Teachers

It is the middle of December. Winter vacation is around the corner, and chances are you might be running behind. Time is the biggest barrier for teachers, and between assemblies, fire drills, and technology that doesn’t always cooperate, it can feel like a class period just isn’t enough time to hit the learning target. If you are Type A, married to your agenda, and panic when your lesson plan takes more time than expected, then these 4 teaching pivots will help you sleep better at night or at least provide a next step that feels manageable so you can enjoy the last few weeks of teaching before break. Full disclaimer: All of these pacing pivots were the result of learning the hard way and not trusting our “teacher gut”. We hope to save you the stress and worry by sharing what worked for us. Before we jump into the pivots, a little bit of coaching (Julie can’t help herself).

Remove the word should from your teaching vocabulary!

“I am not where I should be” suggests that you have failed. In other words, it is a phrase that will increase your feelings of frustration and defeat rather than empowering you to pivot and revise your plan.

Instead of, “I am not where I should be”, try telling yourself, “I am somewhere else than I intended, and I will adjust and revise my plan”.

One of the hardest parts of teaching (for us) was to accept that every day is different and no matter how prepared you think you are, what ends up happening during a class period is going to depend on several factors, many of which you cannot control. What is important to keep in mind is that if you met your students where they were at, guided their learning, and adjusted your lesson plan as you needed to, then you doing your best and your best is enough.

There is a tension in our profession, an elephant in the room. On the one hand, we have a large quantity of material to cover and standards to meet. On the other hand, we know that quality instruction and meaningful learning takes time.

There is never enough time!

So what do you do when you fall behind? How do you decide what pivots to make?

Read four of our tried and true pivots for pacing below.

Scenario 1: We aren’t going to finish the novel in time!

There were several years where I taught To Kill A Mockingbird during the Spring. Year after year, April would turn into May and we were halfway through the novel! Panic always set in. I assigned more chapters (big mistake and cognitive overload). I supplemented with the movie (anxiety over whether or not I was shortchanging my kids). Finally, the third year this happened, I changed my approach. I took a step back and looked at the big picture. What did I want my students to learn from reading the book? Did my students need to read the whole novel in order to meet the learning objectives? What parts of the novel were essential in order for students to meet the learning objectives? I took stock of what chapters were left, and selected passages that were aligned to the learning objectives. We read these passages in class together, discussed and wrote. When it came time for the final assessment, the students produced thoughtful essays where they analyzed Scout’s character, how she changed, and what events impacted those changes. Scenario 2: I thought this would take one week and instead it took three! When it comes to pacing, teaching the essay was one of my biggest challenges. Every student has different writing strengths and challenges, and it takes a while to figure out what students have been taught and what they still need to learn. When I first started teaching, I provided my students with an exemplar and a structure and left the rest up to them. They spent class time writing, but when I received their final essays, it was clear to me that they needed more than a roadmap. I assumed they had been taught how to write an essay before. I learned to never assume anything!

In the following year, I taught mini-lessons on various essay components like the thesis, transition words, and how to connect evidence back to the thesis. We spent class time writing sample paragraphs and unpacking these concepts. This left no time for writing in class, and I had to give them more time the following week for drafting. No matter what I tried, the process took longer than I had time for, which made me panic and worry. I rushed it, and the students picked up on my stress, which only elevated their anxiety. I took a step back, and asked myself: how important is it that my students learn how to write an essay?

The answer was very important. So, the following year, we wrote an essay as a class and I weaved the mini-lessons into the writing. Even though the process took two weeks, and each student then wrote their own essay the third week, the final product was much stronger than it had been years prior.

Scenario 3: I need to teach several concepts NOW!

Sometimes I realize I haven't had time to teach little things that would make a huge difference in my students' academic performance. Maybe it's capitalization rules, grammar, or writing structure notes. When I find myself wishing my students knew more "right now", I plan a station rotation day (or two). This helps me pivot my instruction and pick up concepts I need to get caught up on.

Depending on your class period lengths you can structure your stations in a myriad of ways. A couple of set ups that work really well are to have three 15-minute stations in my 52-minute class period. I set a timer on the Smartboard and have task cards at each station. I can either provide support for each station and work the room, or I can run a small-group station and teach a mini-lesson.

Another station rotation set-up I like is taking two days and having students complete 4 stations over the two days. This allows for a bit longer work time.

Scenario 4: Push "play".

I think I get a little wrapped up in the quality of instruction sometimes and it can eat up a bunch of time. For instance, if I give my students an article to read, I prefer to have them do an article markup with notes and then sometimes go on to write a reflective paragraph. Just allowing for time to read the article is a struggle sometimes. Likewise, if I want them to watch a video on their own for content, there can be time lost at several different points along the way. Pushing "play" in a couple of different scenarios can help pivot and save some time.

It can take what seems like forever to get content to my students so they have information to use in their writing. I have found that using TED Talks or video clips shift the focus of the content to the focus of reflecting and creating new ideas. Moreover, having the students work in small groups can help speed things along. I bought 5-way headphone jack splitters that allow me to have small groups work together on one device. The group setting seems to keep more students paced along with the majority of the class and then there is a peer-help system built-in and ready to go, as well.

When I give articles to my students, I make a Screencast-O-Matic recording of myself reading the article. I initially did this for my students who struggle with reading, but it is normal in my class to see a mixture of academic capabilities using the videos. The recordings help pace the class, and the focus can again be for the desired outcomes.

In the end, it's important to remember that we all do our best and pivoting is a necessary move in order to keep the year moving forward in a way that makes sense. The next time you experience a little panic, just take a minute to regroup and carry on!

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