The Self-Paced Classroom

Generic Definition of Self-Paced Learning:  most commonly encountered in college, self-paced classes are classes in which students don’t actually attend class, but instead complete coursework on their own. The basic expectation is that by the end of the course, students will have completed all requirements with a passing grade.

The actual idea of a self-paced classroom for high school students (or even younger) often makes teacher’s cringe.  We think that by doing a self-paced curriculum, students will naturally err on the side of laziness and simply not do the work at all.  I was a skeptic at first as well.  I envisioned students holding all assignments until the end of the 6 weeks and me sitting on mounds of assignments trying to catch up with grading.

I have been doing Self-Paced with my Junior and Senior classes so far this year, and I have to say that it works BETTER.  When combined with Edmodo, it produces competition and students actually want to be the FIRST to get their assignments done.  It also makes grading easier as instead of grading several essays and assignments at the same time, I get them at different times and can give more focused feedback.  Students are more willing to write several drafts as a due date is not looming before them.

However, the self-paced class has been hard on some of my students.  The students who struggle the most with self-paced are the students who are used to meeting deadlines and not being asked to redo assignments (students who prefer that once something is turned in, they never have to see it again unless it contains an A).  Also students who are used to lots of whole-class instruction with modeling and pre-teaching will struggle with self-paced.

In my self-paced classroom I do a lot of pre-assessment in which I assign work that shows me what students can do.  Then I tailor assignments that help students improve.  Students must meet with me on an individual basis to receive modeling and specific instruction.  As the class is self-paced, everyone may be working on different things, so it’s rare that I give whole-class instruction.

This means, that initial assignments will receive lower scores (which is expected as students have not yet learned the material).  For students who are used to getting A’s on all of their papers, seeing pre-assessment scores causes a lot of stress.  For students who are used to a classroom which moves from Teacher to gradual release of responsibility to student, a self-paced classroom will be a challenge.  The concept is that all responsibility goes to the student and that the teacher acts as support model to help scaffold learning.

If you ask my students whether or not they like the self-paced class, you’ll get a mixed response.  Some will tell you they hate it and wish they were back in their old English classrooms.  Some will tell you that the love it and feel more motivated to participate in class.  Others will tell you that they are overwhelmed but like the challenge.

Today I had to stop today to remind my seniors not to stress out about due dates.  I explained that I place dates on Edmodo to help give advanced students something to do in case they finish early, but that other students are not expected to rush their current assignments in order to complete the new ones. The general idea is that I have 2 benchmark dates that assignments must be turned in…3rd week grades (there will always be at least 2 assignments that must be turned in by this time)  and 6 week grades (all unit assignments must be completed).  I’m hoping that by the end of the semester we will see that students are taking ownership of their learning and determining how to better organize their time.

The truth is, they need this kind of preparation for college and for life.