On Pace

Rachel has pointed out that some students are more receptive than others to instruction in general and to language input in particular. The U.S. adopted some time ago the egalitarian approach: that everyone can learn and pace is a matter of individual differences and not an evaluative statement about the individual.

Many teachers adamantly declare that people are born with a finite and unchanging amount of “intelligence”, however they define that, and no amount of good teaching or appropriate methods will increase the receptivity if the “brain cells” are just not there. We’ve seen this viewpoint expressed on this and other listservs as I recall.

The other viewpoint is that human beings are infinitely malleable and intelligence is an abstract term covering a huge range of behaviors, all of which are subject to change, one way or the other. This approach has been labeled “soft” and is sometimes contrasted with an approach characterized by what is called “rigor”.

However, there are advocates of rigor who believe that rigor, whatever that is, will bring out the best in any student and will often overcome even severe disabilities, whether cognitive, emotional, social, or other.

I guess for me I go back to how I developed a treatment plan for patients in the mental health center: you looked at where they were on the spectrum of abilities, cognitive, emotional, social, etc., and then devised a way to bring them to a point they needed to be in order to accomplish what they needed to (get a job, finish school, deal with their kids, maintain a residence, not get taken advantage of, and so on). The path was always stated in positives, i.e. not what you thought they needed to stop doing but rather what they needed to do. The thought behind that was to smother or swamp the ineffective behaviors with effective ones.
Bringing that into the classroom seems to have worked for me. Being the only Latin and Russian teacher for years, I had many students for 3 years and now in this school, for 4. I can see changes in them, some due to simple maturation, some due to changing circumstances in their lives, some due to more awareness on their part, some due to hard work, and some due to help from others, incl. modeling effective behavior.

Pace can be predetermined only if you have one of two goals in mind: select for students capable of maintaining the pace or weed out those who are not so capable. I have always chosen to vary the pace. In both schools I have been lauded for doing so and never had a negative comment about my homework policy, my grading, my discipline and classroom mgt. “style”, and so on. Some students have questioned my unorthodox approach to these matters, and sometimes an attitude like “he’s not really a teacher” peeks out, but after a while they do see they are learning without the draconian tasks and pompous attacks on their character (my rants are clearly identified and patiently endured) often encountered in other classrooms.

To me, any discussion of pace needs to take all this into account.

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