Monday, January 30, 2017

Keeping Up with Pacing

We've surpassed the halfway point in the school year, and I want to give everyone a chance to take stock of where you are in the pacing guide (The pacing guides are all accessible in your grade level math Google folder... If you would like me to reshare the folder at any time, let me know).  A couple weeks ago, I traveled to just about every classroom over the course of two days and took inventory of where everyone was.  While most classrooms were nearly on pace (this is good!), few were actually on pace with the pacing guide.  It is ok if your students are not on the very lesson the pacing guide suggests for any given date, and there is some flexibility built into the calendar to account for falling behind. After all, there are snow days, assemblies, power outages and other interesting disruptions to your pacing this time of year.  But as we progress toward spring, we'll have MEA testing and other end-of-the-year activities to contend with, and this all happens to coincide with some of the most dense math lessons in the curriculum.


Here's why pacing is important.
  • While it is definitely not effective to cruise through lessons at breakneck speed, skipping over important practice activities, game opportunities, or other important parts of the lessons, we do want students at every grade level to finish the year with a consistent background in mathematics.  It might be that one grade level in one building finishes a unit ahead of the same grade level in another building, and that creates an inequitable scenario.  Students from one class are moving ahead to the next grade level less prepared than students from another class.  We can't expect everyone to be at the same place cognitively; we will always have a diversity of learners to work with.  But we can do the best we can to assure that everyone has had an equal opportunity to learn grade level mathematics.

Here are some tips to help you keep from falling behind.
  • Use flex/game days to differentiate and re-teach.  This is the single most effective, in my humble opinion, way to keep lessons on schedule.  Rather than taking more than one day to teach a lesson that is meant to be taught in one day, reserve an activity for flex day, or select students who are struggling to participate in a re-teach or extra practice or a readiness activity.  Flexible grouping with other grade level team members to allow for differentiating on flex days allows opportunities to fill in holes in instruction or understanding that opened up during the week, and it also offers opportunities to reach some of your learners who might benefit from more challenging extensions. 
  • Jig-saw some of their journal activities.  Most lessons have a couple journal activities, and if you try to get every student to do every item in every activity, it is less likely they will get to the games (which are really, really important) or even math boxes.  Instead, try assigning parts of the activity to pairs or small groups, and see if they can come to a consensus in their group and report out.  This could save a lot of time, and can be done on a regular basis.  The benefit to doing this kind of thing often is your students will get used to the routine and learn to work more efficiently.
  • Be as brief as possible in the warm-up and the math message.  Remember, the mental math in every warm-up is a quick activity designed to transition into mathematical thinking time, and also as a gauge for you to see how your students are grasping various concepts.  It is not a time to make sure every student has a chance to share strategies, or a time to make sure every student gets it right and understands.  It is a time to see who gets it and who doesn't, take note of it, and move on to the next part of the lesson... which is the Math Message.  Similarly, the Math Message is not intended to take a long time.  It is an activity that can be done quickly to preview the kind of work and thinking students will be doing in the Focus portion of the lesson.  Progress through the Math Message swiftly so students can spend more time working on the rest of the Focus and Practice parts of the lesson.

Here are some things you can do to catch up if you are falling behind the pacing guide.
  • Contact me.  I can help!  We can work together to come up with a plan.  Is there a schedule problem?  Do we need to adjust your pacing guide?  The goal is to move forward with instruction that sacrifices little if any of the essential grade level content between now and the end of the school year.

Please don't hesitate to contact me regarding any pacing concerns you may have.