In the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, did you know there was an exercise room in the bears’ house? Oh yes, and guess what was in it? Three treadmills. One for Mama Bear, one for Papa Bear, and one for Baby Bear. They each had different pacing settings, so they ran at different speeds.
Of course Goldilocks tried the treadmills. Mama’s was too fast, Papa’s was too slow, but Baby Bear’s was JUST RIGHT. Goldilocks learned about pacing that day, and as dramatic as you can imagine her encounters with the fast and slow treadmills were, that’s the effect pacing has in the classroom on our students.
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Pacing is an important part of a well-managed classroom. When the pacing is good for your students, your primary class will be busily involved in learning, have fewer behavior management issues, and you will have more joy in teaching.
I love classroom management techniques and strategies. Maybe that makes me a nerd, but when my classroom is calm and running well, I feel so joyful. When there is one less barrier for me to face, my happiness increases. Many teachers who leave our profession name classroom management as a reason.
We need you and your passion, so I want to share strategies to help with classroom management. Pacing is definitely one of those. Today I’m going to walk you through what pacing is, how to know if yours is working, and three strategies to improve your pacing.
What is Pacing?
Pacing is the speed you are progressing through your lessons and your day. This includes the rate at which you deliver your content and transition between your activities. So technically, every teacher is pacing every single lesson every time they teach. The question is whether our pacing is too slow, too fast, or in that sweet, just right, Goldilocks spot.
We’re going to focus on pacing relating to classroom management, but let me mention that this also plays a role in student engagement. I’ve talked about what student engagement is and why it’s the most important factor in delivering content to our students HERE. If they’re not engaged, they CANNOT learn. Pacing can help us further engage our students.
Let’s think about pacing on a treadmill. Imagine that you’re the treadmill and our students are walking on the treadmill. If you’re moving at a too slow pace, like Goldilocks on Papa Bear’s treadmill, your students are just treading along and can become distracted and lose motivation. How boring is it to walk at a snail’s pace? You don’t even have to concentrate on what’s going on.
If you’re going too fast like Mama Bear’s treadmill, your students are struggling to keep up. They’re panting, nervous, doubting themselves, and wondering why they can’t do what you’re expecting them to do. Maybe they feel like they’re going to be slung right off the track. It’s just too hard.
But if you find that just right sweet spot, Baby Bear’s speed, the walk is challenging enough to keep focused without overwhelming students to frustration.
What Does Good Pacing Look Like?
That is pacing, and that’s how you can engage your learners. You can keep their attention because you’re going at a speed that is just right for them. Our goal with pacing should be to give our students the perception of speed that motivates them to stay engaged and focused on our activities. If you’re going too slow they can get frustrated and lose focus. If you’re going too fast they can be overwhelmed.
But if you’re going just right, they will keep up with you and not have time to lose focus.
This is an ongoing practice for teachers, but you’ll know you’ve hit that sweet spot when your students complete work in a timely way, they don’t have extra time to waste, and management issues are minimalized because students are busy learning. Pacing is a great motivator, and it definitely engages them more in what you’re teaching.
Pacing Tip #1: Organizations/Routines
Before we can focus on pacing itself, we must establish foundational organization and routines in our classrooms. Our students must know what to do and when to do it. They must have the supplies to execute their duties as well.
Your routines and organization can help or destroy your pacing. If you’d like more about how to create a solid routine that will get you the results you need, there’s more on that HERE. I give you step by step how to identify the areas where you need routines and how to create one that’s effective.
Now, let’s think about the organization of supplies. If students don’t have what they need at their desk, it can interrupt your teaching. When students need to stop you to ask for a certain color crayon, out the door goes your pacing.
So first make sure that students know what to do, when to do it, and that they have the supplies they need.
Pacing Tip #2: Transitions
Transitions are those times in the day when you are moving from one activity to the next. They are so important to our pacing. Our little ones have little to no concept of time. They measure more with events than with a clock. Likely, your kindergarteners have no idea what the time on a clock even means, and they have no true understanding of time passing.
Our transitions are so important because they mark the ending to one activity and the beginning of another to help students process that switch. Their brains need that transition to shut off one thing and turn on another. When we use clear, repetitive transitions, they cue our students to stay on task and focused.
I use the same transitions day to day. Let me give you an example. One year I used a little bell to signal the end of the early morning preparation tasks of independent seat work, restroom, and putting away belongings. When I rang the bell, they knew they were supposed to have their independent work finished, clean up their area, and head over to the carpet for morning meeting. After a few weeks, students started to understand the amount of time they had left before the transition.
Number One Transition Tip
My number one recommendation for transitions is to always have movement involved. In that example, we moved from our seats over to the carpet. If I had two activities back to back that required students to stay in their seats, I would use a dance or brain break to get them up and moving to mark that transition.
It would give them time to clean up, shut off whatever activity we were just doing, and get prepared for another. For a bonus, it helped me to pass out materials for the next lesson or pull up something I needed to have prepared. I love brain breaks because they not only give my students a minute to refresh, but it gives me a minute to refresh. You can find examples of brain breaks on YouTube by people like Dr. Jean. Remember, we want to give our students the illusion of speed and movement.
Pacing Tip #3: Timing and Chunking Lessons
Whether we like to admit it or not, we will utilize or waste whatever time we are given. I’m thinking about Christmas break. Of course I had a long list of to-dos. I left work thinking I’d get them done at the beginning of break so I didn’t have to worry about that list right before school started back.
That’s not how it went. Something incredible did happen, though. Two children were placed in my care, so instead of being a mom of two, I suddenly became a mom of four children. Of course that did distract me from the work I planned to do over break. 😊
Regardless of whether I’m the mom of two or four children, I probably would not have looked at any of that. I waited until the very last day before we returned to work and tried my hardest to get my life together.
Time and Urgency
If we work that way, we have to assume our kiddos work that way. When we’re expecting our students to complete an activity, we need to understand they will either utilize or waste the time they’re given.
We need to create a sense of urgency in what we’re doing. This is related to pacing. We have to create the illusion of time passing and give them a sense of urgency to get things done.
Use Visual Timers
I like to use timers. If you find a good timer and say, boys and girls, we have this amount of time before the clock runs out to complete this activity, then your students will work hard to get it done. Use a visual timer that demonstrates how much time they have left. This feeds into that sense of urgency.
I use timers a lot in independent activities that don’t require a lot of higher order thinking. For example, if my students are writing their spelling words, I would set a timer for two minutes and put it under the document camera so that they can see visually how much time they have to complete it.
If I gave them 10 minutes, they would use that much time, whether it was completing the work or chatting with a buddy. I try to keep this as minimal as possible. How much time does the majority of the class need to get this completed?
If you have students who don’t work well with timers, you could provide an opportunity later in the day for them to catch up. What I’ve learned is if I hold every student to the same standard, eventually they all can get it done in that amount of time. You can use time passing this way to encourage students to keep up with your pacing.
Also, chunking your lessons has a lot to do with time. Chunking means breaking our daily lesson into small, manageable chunks for our students that are separated with transitions. Instead of looking at my reading block as a whole hour and a half, I look at it as small chunks in the day.
So I look at it as morning meeting, phonics instruction, phonological awareness instruction, read aloud, all of those things. I separate each of those small lessons and activities with transitions so that my students get in routine and understand exactly when and what to do.
Chunking with transitions really helps with that speed, the illusion that things are moving and we have to keep up on the treadmill. If I’m a student, I have to keep up or I’ll trip and fall off the thing.
I like to keep each part of my lesson under 15 minutes. Twenty to 25 minutes at the most at the second grade level, but in kindergarten and first grade, think less than that. We have to really play off the average attention span of our students and make sure we’re not expecting them to stay focused for too long.
Ready to Be a Pacing Pro?
I hope this has cleared up pacing for you and given you some ideas on things you can do to improve your pacing. You’ll be happier, your students will be more focused, and there’ll be no more Goldilocks dawdling or falling right off the treadmill.
We need to sustain our joy so that we can keep motivated, keep improving, and keep using our passion for our students who need us.
I also need you – to join the Primary Teacher Friends Facebook group! We’ve got a wonderful community going on, and it would be even better with you in it.
Keep making a difference, difference maker!