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In a self-paced classroom, students own their learning

By Jerry Fingal
October 23, 2019
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Six years ago, Adrianne Rose had six students in her special ed math class at Grand Haven High School in Michigan. Last year, she had three times that many — all with varying disabilities.

Those numbers and her students’ diverse learning, physical and social-emotional needs created a much more demanding classroom environment. That challenge prompted Rose and teaching partner Keegan Ferris to develop a self-paced curriculum for their Algebra II classroom.

The move has been transformative. It has decreased stress levels while increasing the students’ independence, time management and organization. Rose said it has revolutionized her ability to teach every single learner who walks into her classroom.

The self-paced classroom requires students to take ownership of their learning.

Here’s how it works:

The weekly agenda consists of three video or live lessons, one station review activity day and one assessment day.

Students can choose video instruction or live instruction. They are asked to complete a Google Form reflection, where they rate their understanding of the material.

Students who choose video sit in the back of the classroom and watch the lesson independently on their devices. Students who opt for the live lesson sit toward the front of the classroom where they listen to a traditional lecture. This allows for further differentiation and closer one-on-one attention, Rose said.

Students set their own pace by choosing when and where they complete their lessons. All three videos are posted at the beginning of the week, and students can choose to work on one at a time or all three in one day. They also can work on assignments from other classes, and that’s encouraged when needed.

On Thursdays, all of the video instruction and accompanying assignments are due, and all the students participate in a class activity. That can include individualized Khan Academy or Desmos assignments, or the students can create flip books to prepare for Friday’s assessment.

On Friday, everyone does an assessment. Rose gives traditional tests and quizzes from time to time, but her preferred assessment is project-based, where students create content to teach their peers. Examples include a screencast of five videos or maybe a Flipgrid classroom, which can then be shared with a greater audience.

How does Rose get through all of the curriculum in three lessons per week? She does it by concentrating on the essential standards that are most important for students’ future concept building.

And how does she hold students accountable? At the beginning of the semester, the students agree to a grade expectation. Students with a 70% or higher get the privilege of self-pacing, which provides a strong incentive for students. Watch the video below to hear how Adrienne sets up her classroom:



Jerry Fingal is a freelance writer focusing on education.