This week I would like to focus on something that is often a target for beginning teachers at this stage in the year – improving the ‘pace’ of your lessons.
When you think about pace, and look at definitions, it seems to be all about ‘speed’ and ‘swiftness’ and this can be hard to make sense of if you are, perhaps, also being told to ‘slow down’ or ‘make sure everyone understands before you move on’!
What follows are some things to think about, and hopefully try out, in relation to pace:
How might you think about pace at the start of the lesson?
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.”
You may remember I talked at the start of the course about Haim Ginott’s (1965) quote and it is, perhaps, a nice way to think about pace as the lesson starts.
Try to think about ensuring the early minutes of the lesson set the ‘climate’ for the rest of it. You want pupils to know that your lesson is purposeful and that you are expecting them to work hard from the outset and, I suggest, at this point you want quite a swift, sharp pace.
Perhaps you currently meet the pupils outside the classroom and give them instructions? This is great, but, you must make sure that as pupils enter the classroom you make whatever you have set up actually happen and the energy and purpose you have created at the door doesn’t disappear.
Move around the room and make your presence felt from the beginning. Don’t wait for all the pupils to get in and get settled before you ask the class to listen, instead chivvy pupils along the moment they enter the room:
What you are doing here is ensuring a brisk start to the lesson and helping pupils understand the pace you want to set at this point.
Variation in pace
It is important not to think of pace as always being about quickness and speed.
A key aspect of getting your pace right is knowing the ‘story’ of the learning that you are trying to uncover in your lesson. If you know the steps in learning you are anticipating the pupils going through, and which steps will be harder than others, then you are able to decide when you can go quicker or slower and how your pace needs to vary.
Think about going for a run…
If I am coming to a steep hill, unless I am one of the Mo Farah’s of this world, I am not able to keep up the same pace as I was running at when on the flat. In fact, if I tried to, I would probably collapse in a heap and never make it to the top!
It’s exactly the same when thinking about pace in lessons:
- perhaps at the start of my lesson I am recapping previous learning – it may be appropriate at this point to be quite snappy, asking quick fire questions and not necessarily exploring responses;
- if, however, I took the same approach to a point in the lesson when I have introduced a new, and perhaps tricky, concept I am likely to leave the kids behind (or collapsed in a heap!). At this point I need to: slow down; explore responses more; allow pupils thinking time through approaches like think-pair-share.
Another way of thinking about the variation in pace might be to consider an action or adventure film – James Bond is a good one to consider!
Quite often there is an exciting start to the film which grabs the audience’s attention and draws them in.
Things often slow down next, sometimes there is some background information unearthed or a particular character is explored.
Gradually there is a build-up of tension and moments where the pace of the film speeds right up or then slows again.
Finally there is an exciting crescendo to the film and then everything makes sense.
Imagine if every stage of the film went at exactly the same speed – would you be able to follow the plot or keep up? It is not that the ‘slower’ bits are dull (as clearly that would be no blockbuster!) but it is that ideas/story lines/characters are explored in more depth so that the audience fully understands the plot.
How does thinking about a film like this help you think about how you vary the pace of your lessons?
Use your voice
Your voice can be a huge tool in maintaining the right pace in your lesson.
For example you might want to instill a ‘sense of urgency’ into a task:
‘Come on folks, this needs to be finished so we can move on’
You need to make sure it is urgency and not panic that comes through!
Have a go at playing around with one sentence that you might use in a lesson to keep pupils on task and maintain the pace of the lesson. Try out loud different inflexions and think about their impact. You want purpose and urgency not panic to come through!
Find a friend to practise on and think about how you might vary pace with the use of your voice.
Have a think about these ideas, and others, and plan for pace in your lessons.