Is commenting on ‘pace’ useful observation feedback?

‘You need to improve upon the pace of your lessons.’

Feedback many of us will have received or delivered throughout our career. I heard it just today, in fact – in feedback to a trainee. Maybe, we notice it as observers because it is more readily apparent from the outside looking in?

Such feedback is perhaps less prevalent now than it once was, yet it pervades, nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong. Pacing is important – it can even to reduce misbehaviour, for example.

We can view pace from two sides of the same coin:

  • The speed at which students can travel through a sequence of activities
  • The speed at which a teacher takes students through that sequence

In observation feedback, it is almost exclusively referring to the latter.

Why is this an issue?

Well, some lessons require a slower pace, while others can be shorter. Reading a challenging text will require time to read it and soak it in, whereas explaining the difference between radius and diameter, perhaps not so much.

A pace too slow or too fast could have an adverse effect on the learner. Instead, then, we should think of ‘pace’ as knowing when to speed up and when to slow down. A small, but necessary distinction here, as using the word ‘pacing’ may be more beneficial than the word ‘pace’. The latter tends to imply going quicker, whereas the former refers to slowing down and speeding up.

Generally, giving the impression of good pace is useful. We want learners to remain engaged and moving through content at an appropriately quick speed can foster such engagement. From this perspective though, pacing should be about appearing to be quick, but ultimately moving at just the right pace for the students, rather than moving quickly for the sake of their attention.

At times, this will require us to abandon our independent task and to elaborate further on the input, because it was too challenging. In contrast, it may also require us to cut the input short and start the independent task early, because students have grasped the content quickly.

In pursuing greater pace, we often pick the same students to answer our questions – at the expense of those who are less likely to put their hand up. This may help the lesson move on, but it doesn’t allow us to check for the understanding of all (this was the subject of my recent blogs here and here).

What are we actually thinking about when we tell teachers to improve their pace?

Among many other things, I believe the principal thoughts are these:

  • that teachers should not focus on an individual area for any longer than is needed
  • that teachers are losing the attention of their students
  • that teachers are unnecessarily elaborating on content that is already well understood
  • that the speed at which the teacher transitions between different elements of the lesson may be too slow (e.g. between modelling and independent task)
  • that teachers do not have their resources or thinking prepared in a carefully sequenced manner

So, what should we say instead of, ‘You need to improve the pace of the lesson’?

  • Break content down into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Maintain the attention of students by making them think they are moving at speed by using shorter activities
  • Check for understanding more regularly, so that you know when can and can’t move on
  • Make transitions explicit for students, so they know when they are moving on
  • Have all resources prepared ahead of the lesson and sequence them, so that each small chunk follows or builds on the previous chunk

Published by mrmorgsthoughts

AHT for Teaching and Learning, and Assessment

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