Every teacher must face a tough decision: “do I teach my class at a steady but slow rate to allow for everyone to keep up, or do I plow through the material in order to satisfy the advanced pocket of students while employing a ‘sink or swim’ classroom policy?” Moving slowly might keep the entire class on pace, but doing so risks losing some of the students to boredom. Conversely, while moving rapidly might pacify those eager to learn, it may simultaneously disenfranchise students who need more time and repetition to properly digest new material.
Nowhere in education is this dilemma more pronounced than in mathematics. Some students learn math concepts seamlessly with very little practice needed. Others, while fully capable of deep and thorough comprehension, need a substantial amount of review and repetition before mastery is achieved. While working as both a classroom teacher as well as a private math tutor, I have seen these distinctions amongst students time and again. As a private tutor, I have the luxury of modifying my instruction on an individual basis so that it meshes with each child’s learning style and speed. Teaching a classroom, however, poses a different challenge.
This episode dives into my quest to solve this quandary by way of implementing a self-paced pre-algebra curriculum for my 6th grade class. I discuss the creation and employment of a custom-made online pre-algebra course used in tandem with on-demand individual instruction. In short, the results have been amazing. Not only have my students enjoyed this self-guided journey through pre-algebra, but it has provided freedom and flexibility that has allowed for unforeseen flourishings. Students that have historically experienced struggles in mathematics have suddenly come to life and surpassed many of their classmates. Other highly motivated students have pushed immensely hard and managed to match the progress of the advanced math group. Using this new format has been challenging at times, but the overall benefits for the students have been innumerable.
This episode also discusses the work of Natalie McCutchen, a teacher and self-pacing pioneer who runs a self-paced pre-algebra course at her elementary school in Franklin, Kentucky. Her classroom setup also relies on a confluence of video tutorials and on-demand individualized instruction. One important part of her class is that she reminds her students that working individually is a privilege, and those who use their time inefficiently will be placed into a standard classroom setting to ensure steady progress. To hear all the details, check out the full podcast episode!
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