Marzano Best Practices: Tip #9

Thursday, July 17, 2014 -- Mandy Groen

A Study of Best Practices in Edmentum Online Solutions, conducted by the Marzano Research Laboratory (MRL), identifies 13 tips for online learning. Today’s tip, Tip #9, is all about letting students pace themselves. This is one of the great challenges in differentiating instruction and creating a student-centered learning environment.

About the study

The study evaluated the relationship between student learning and effective teacher pedagogical practices in online learning. The study specifically looked at Edmentum’s online solutions in three instructional settings—pure virtual, blended, and classroom/lab—across four purposes: original credit, credit recovery, intervention, and Advanced Placement®.

Tip #9: Allowing students to progress through assignments at their own pace

We all know what it’s like to fall behind in a variety of situations. We also know what it’s like to be faster or more accomplished at something than our peers. In both cases, it can be awkward and distracting. Now think about how students, who are just starting to find themselves and their talents, would feel in a similar environment. Allowing students to progress through curricula at their own pace builds confidence and a willingness to persevere.

How can you allow students to progress through assignments at their own pace?

Small-group instruction is usually a go-to strategy to differentiate pace. This either means grouping students of similar abilities or mixing groups to where high-achieving students can help move struggling learners along. Depending on many factors, small groups can be effective.

Another strategy is the use of online or computer-based curricula to supplement instruction. With an adaptive platform, everyone receives the appropriate instruction at the appropriate speed based on their skill level. However, resources and the availability of class time can be barriers to this approach.

How much independence should you give students to progress at their own pace?

Students should not be given the reins to their instruction for a long period of time. It’s simply too disruptive to the curriculum. However, it’s appropriate to accommodate self-paced learning in the course of one assignment or a class period. Just have a plan for the other students to stay busy while the strugglers finish.

How do you ensure that students are on track while allowing them practice self-paced learning?

Out of all the assessment practices, formative assessment has the most effect on student learning outcomes. It needs to be timely and reflective. This is even more important as you embark on a self-pacing strategy. You always want to know when a student has fallen too far back or is working too far ahead. Formative need not mean formal. Informal assessment is often the best practice here.

What are the potential roadblocks when trying to enact this strategy?

Pacing guides are becoming more prevalent as our class time is further compressed by testing and other mandates. We simply need to make sure we cover everything. This makes differentiation of pace a challenge, but it needs to be facilitated wherever possible.

Secondly, the challenge of keeping the fast movers engaged will always be an issue. Spend a great deal of time brainstorming enrichment activities before embarking on a self-paced assignment.

Want to see more of the instructional strategies the Marzano Research Laboratory determined in the study? See all 13 Marzano best practices in online learning here.

See the full blog post on tip #1: Communicating course/assignment rules and procedures

See the full blog post on tip #2: Providing students with all materials needed to complete an assignment

See the full blog post on tip #3: Clearly presenting the goal/objective for each assignment

See the full blog post on tip #4: Offering encouragement and positive feedback to students

See the full blog post on tip #5: Allowing students to keep track of their learning progress

See the full blog post on tip #6: Accessibility to students via electronic communication as well as face-to-face

See the full blog post on tip #7: Monitoring student work

See the full blog post on tip #8: Knowing every student by name and being able to recognize them

Advanced Placement® is a trademark registered and/or owned by the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this site.