The Tortoise & the Hare

TECHNIQUE #27:  Change the Pace

t&r2Change the Pace asks teachers to manage the illusion of progress, energy, and speed in the classroom.  As it reads:  Establish a productive pace…Create “fast” or “slow” moments in a lesson by shifting activity types or formats.  We all know the pitfalls of sticking with one activity for too long; attention spans waver, noise levels begin to increase, and productivity drops off the charts.  Inversely, moving too swiftly through a task leaves students feeling bewildered, academically abandoned; intellectual panic ensues.  I’m not sure which is worse; more often than not, the former.  The concept of Change the Pace,“…at the risk of oversimplifying a complex topic…”¹, provides some very practical strategies for changing the type of activity, frequently, while still covering a single topic or lesson objective.  Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ promotes teachers’ attempts to create the “illusion of speed“.

While focusing on one single lesson objective, teachers can facilitate an array of activities in order to alter student perception of change and speed.  The more activities a student is asked to navigate, the closer they apprehend the arrival of a milestone or bench mark.  Not to be viewed as a hierarchy,nor a rubric, below are listed the types of activity changes that require students to think and engage in different ways with a single topic.

spicespoonsThe Five Major “Muscle Groups”:

  • Assimilating knowledge directly from the teacher or a text
  • Participation in guided practice/guided questioning
  • Independent practice
  • Reflection on an idea/the data/a problem
  • Discussion of ideas/problem with a classmate

Here are some examples of how these “muscle groups” might be varied, creating the “illusion of speed”.  Keeping in mind the word pace in this strategy, the teacher should be aware of the stopwatch (figuratively or literally) at all times.  Perhaps the “muscle groups” remain the same, but a variation on a theme is called for, in order for students to think that they are doing something different. Change the Pace really does require that the teacher keep tasks short and “neat”; Let’s Expedite this lesson!  I find it very interesting that “attention span” was not mentioned at all in this section; as if the need to cater to the ever shrinking “digital native’s” attention span is a non issue.  Let’s not focus on the deficiency, and that is what snails16it is; rather let’s discuss how to keep all parties accountable and productive.

  1. Knowledge Assimilation (KA):  Lecture/notetaking (Board=Paper), Narration of virtual images/slide presentation, teacher Reads Aloud/student Reads Independently, teacher models problem solving
  2. Guided Practice/Guided Questioning (GPGQ): the class solves a problem together, teacher asks various students to explain the steps towards the solution/s.
  3. Independent Practice (IP):  Giving students a finite # of items with a finite period of time to solve.  State the # and “Go.”, students apply learning by “showing not telling” in written responses, students generate a written summary of content presented.
  4. Reflection and Idea Generation (RIG):  silent writing on complex prompts, students are asked to analyze which components of the lesson might prove to the most challenging to master, after arriving at a specific “solution” student list the skills they’ve acquired that helped them to solve the “problem”.
  5. Discussion (Disc):  teacher lead classroom debate over topic, assigned partner discussion or evaluation of “problem”.

Of all the “Muscle Groups”, I’m most drawn toward RIG; I would like to attempt to incorporate more reflective prompt tasks into lesson development and the execution of RIG in a more timely/timed fashion.  Traditionally, I’ve always assigned RIG type tasks as home work assignments or they quickly evolve in to full blown essays; this is an inspiration to apply it as an in class task.    Here’s a video of Jessica Bracey, 5th grade teacher at North Star Academy, Vailsburg, utilizing several of the constructs from Change the Pace.  Following is a timed chart of the activities she facilitated within one lesson objective.

I like that the chart below (p.207)¹, dissects the amount of time spent on each activity,(not shown in their entirety in the video clip); a strategy that I would certainly like to improve upon.  Also, although they seem stringent or somewhat militant, I’ve underlined some TLAC catch phrases that I admire in tandem with some of the techniques.  (e.g., “Pause there. Tent your books”, “Pencils down. Hands up.”, “Let’s keep this up”, “I need some strong readers here“).


What consistently comes into play with these techniques is consistency.  A standardized approach to activities may not be dry or scripted as we think.  The more students are accustomed to the “drill”, the more drills they are able to manipulate, thus providing them with a sense of change and accomplishment.  “We often try to do “new” things withindex students to keep class interesting and make things feel more engaging, but what makes Jessica’s class interesting is doing familiar activities that students know how to do well.  By shifting between familiar activities, she allows to do and do with very little unproductive time….stopping to explain a new activity…would result in a lot of downtime…[or] struggle to internalize the process.”,(p.208)¹.  A teacher can still bring energy to a lesson by creating multiple shifts in activities, by creating a “sense of engaging change while providing students all the focus they require…”(p.209).   “Visible transitions” alter the perception of time passing and make classroom “milestones” seem not so far away.


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