On June 6 in Tarrytown, NY, we’ll be hosting a one-day workshop on the topic of Pacing, a topic that gets a full chapter with official techniques in Teach Like a Champion 2.0. I usually define Pacing as “the illusion of speed.” It’s your ability to make rigorous work on a given topic feel energetic and engaging to students while still maintaining their focus. We thought it might feed the paparazzi-fed, pre-workshop frenzy if we posted a little video and excerpt on pacing from the new version of the book. Thanks to the ever insightful Joaquin Hernandez for helping prepare and adapt this.
An Excerpt on Pacing from Teach Like a Champion 2.0
As many teachers know firsthand, doing the same thing for too long can be a recipe for trouble. A patch of independent writing that started out with a soundtrack of scratching pencils and the hum of productive reflection can give way to a dirge of muted grumbling with pencils seemingly stuck in mud. The momentum created by your engaging Call and Response can evaporate before your eyes, as participation grows tired and superficial. One potential cause is staying with the same activity for too long.
Achieving the right balance of energy in your classroom requires a skill I call Change the Pace—your ability to shift between “fast” or “slow” moments in a lesson by changing activity types (e.g. transitioning from independent practice to discussion) or activity formats (e.g., staying with discussion but changing the dynamics of the discussion, for example, from a pair activity to a whole-class discussion). Over the course of this post, we’ll dig deeper into how teachers do that.
Changing Activity Types: The Five Major “Muscle Groups”
There are generally five types of activities we can ask students to participate in. Each requires students to think and engage in a different way. They are:
- Knowledge Assimilation (KA): When students are presented with new information, while they listen, read, take notes, and ask or answer basic questions.
- Guided Practice/Guided Questioning (GPGQ): When students engage in activities that involve back-and-forth with the teacher, practicing the use or application of knowledge.
- Independent Practice (IP): When students complete work without significant support from the teacher that they know how to do on their own. It’s often silent, but doesn’t always need to be.
- Reflection and Idea Generation (RIG): Usually solo work and often involves writing. Whereas in IP, students execute work they know how to do on their own, students engaged in RIG are given time to try to make sense of things they are in the midst of learning, or do not yet understand.
- Discussion (Disc): Activities in which students develop ideas and answers by talking directly to one another, in small groups, or as a class.
Since all five “activity types” are important, and since students should develop skill with all of them through constant practice, my team and I call them “muscle groups.” It’s important that teachers work all of them regularly to ensure students get a well-rounded mental workout. Fortunately, as we you’ll see in the clip of Jessica’s Bracey’s that we’ll discuss in more depth below, shifting between the muscle groups creates not only balanced intellects, but also a sense of engaging change (i.e. good pacing).
Listen, Things Have Changed
Now, let’s take a closer look at how the different activity types can come together in a lesson—in this case, one taught by Jessica Bracey, a 5th grade reading teacher at North Star Academy Vailsburg Middle School.
After students summarize what happened in the previous chapter of the novel they were reading, we see Jessica accomplish the following in a span of less than 10 minutes:
- Reading: Jessica kicks the lesson off with 70 seconds of oral reading, Control the Game Reading style (KA)
- Writing: Students then spend 2 minutes and 45 seconds responding in writing in their reading response journals to a question about what they just read (RIG)
- Discussion: Students spend a minute or two sharing and discussing their answers to the Everybody Writes prompt with the whole class (Disc)
- Repeat…The cycle then repeats itself, with Jessica facilitating more cycles of Reading, Writing, and Discussion, with the cycles getting longer and the questions getting harder over time.
Many of you might be thinking: Reading. Writing. Discussion. Great–I’m already doing that! And you’d be right. But what we found remarkable about Jessica’s lesson wasn’t the novelty of her lesson activities. Rather, what stood out was how long each activity was, the order in which they were sequenced in the lesson, and the consistency of her approach. These attributes made for a lesson that felt as fast and engaging as it was rigorous.
- Activity Length: One useful takeaway teachers have shared with me after watching Jessica’s is that they, too, alternate between reading, writing, and discussion, but that they do so in long, “non-recurring” chunks. For example, in a typical class, they might read for 15-20 minutes, write for 5-10 minutes, and discuss for another 10-15 minutes before tackling an exit ticket and wrapping up. As Jessica’s clip illustrates, you can bring energy and engagement to your class merely by breaking those chunks into shorter cycles of the same activities and shifting between them every 2-4 minutes. With each shift comes the addition of a new “milepost”, which makes the lesson “feel fast.” Aside from making the lesson engaging, making frequent shifts between these three activities ensures that writing never gets “squeezed out” of the lesson, as is often the case when writing is left for the end of the lesson.
- Sequence: Another strength was how often Jessica asks students to write before they discuss. This prevents students from being able to freeload insights from discussion rather than make their own based on reading the text. It also forces students to do the hardest cognitive work independently, and arms them with ideas that they can draw on to elevate the quality of discussion.
The more I watch champion teachers like Jessica, the more I see evidence of Daisy Christodoulou’s assertion that rigorous and independent work like discussion works best when it’s informed beforehand by deep Knowledge Assimilation (KA). By investing heavily in KA through frequent stretches of Control the Game Reading, Jessica prepares students to engage in rigorous, text-based writing and discussion.
- Consistency: As teachers, we often try to do “new” things with students to keep class interesting and make things feel more engaging, but what makes Jessica’s lesson so fascinating is how engaged students seemed to be while participating in familiar activities that they appear to know well. By shifting between familiar activities, she allows her students to do and do and do with very little down time. For instance, students can transition right into their “reading response journals” because it’s the 87th time students they’ve done so far this school year. Contrast this with the amount of time she would have to spend rolling out her expectations and directions for a brand new activity. Even though it might seem like it would be more interesting, it would be as likely to have the opposite effect.
 Mileposts: reference points that make your rate of progress visible