We have all said it and we have all heard it: there’s just no time to slow down and [fill in the blank], I have so much to cover…

This, despite the fact that we all know, at some level, that it is not the ‘teaching’ that causes learning but the attempts by the learner to learn that causes learning; and that the 1st attempt may not be successful. The importance of feedback and its use, the idea that a key concept or skill is rarely learned at the first go, the need to ferret out and address misconceptions – all of what we know about optimal learning is far too easily trumped by a syllabus, course framework, or unit plan that says: we have to move on to the next topic!

So, here’s a simple move in four parts that we have used in building units and courses for clients that ‘tricks’ you psychologically into giving students more needed opportunities to learn important things – without feeling stressed about it:

  1. Part 1: Build in and identify in your map/syllabus/unit/lesson plan what we call white space. White space is a placeholder for any results that are likely to occur that require slowing down or re-teaching or re-practicing. Practically speaking, each week has a half-period or a whole-period built into the week’s plan for such adjustment.
  2. Part 2 is to devise 1-2 quick exit slips or informal formative assessments related to unit goals, and use those results to inform use of white space.
  3. Part 3 is to identify the parts of the unit that can be skipped or shortened, if need be, to ensure that unit goals are fully addressed. Putting an asterisk by those activities alerts you to the possibility. (It also has the virtue of helping you identify relative priorities in a unit: not everything is equally important in a lesson plan).
  4. Part 4 is to use the decisions about priorities from Steps 2 and 3, as needed, to accomplish unit goals.

While there isn’t much to this move, it has a surprisingly liberating power, as we have witnessed. Suddenly, teachers feel freed up from an unthinking march, regardless of degree of student achievement. The inevitable student need for feedback and opportunity to fully use it is ‘built in’ to the curriculum in a way that reduces the guilt of ‘slowing down or ‘falling behind’. Because with needed white space built in, you are not ‘behind’.

Some of you work in places that have absurd pacing guides that may prevent this move. I have written in past years here about the harm and thoughtlessness of such pacing guides that focus on inputs rather than outputs, and you may wish to review here what I said then in support of this move.