Hurry up! Do it now! We are waiting for you! Why are you so slow?
Can you imagine if someone was shouting this at you while you were trying to do something that was new or difficult for you? At least for me, it would be completely demoralizing. Our culture is laser-focused on displaying knowledge quickly, as seen by our emphasis on timed tests. Think about your own teaching practice: Are you ever guilty of thinking the kid who consistently raises his hand first is the smartest or has the best answer? All too often, we equate speed with smarts and excellence. Some kids take a little while longer to process and think about questions or to create quality work. As long as students are committed to finishing their work, why do we continue to push for speed?
Here are some suggestions to help students who process at all speeds:
When you ask a question or call on students, don’t call on the first hand thrust into the air. Wait anywhere from thirty seconds to a minute. You can even tell the students, “I am going to ask a question, and then I am going to wait for a little bit to give you a chance to think about your answer. This will allow you to think of a deeper, richer answer, and to think of evidence to support your ideas.” Giving students wait time therefore doesn’t just benefit your slower processing students, but also allows speedy students to add nuance and complexity to their thoughts. It also shifts the emphasis from speed to quality of thinking.
When you give a paper, you set-up a due date. Some students miss the due-date consistently, and written production with the expected or “normal” speed is a challenge for them. Let’s take a moment to examine why students meeting deadlines is important to you: from a workflow management perspective, is it because you need to manage your grading schedule? That is fair, especially when you have a large class size. Consider then, is it possible to have students who have trouble meeting deadlines with the speed you expect to show mastery in other ways? Are you having them turn things in just produce, or are you measuring specific skills?
Implementing the idea of “working drafts” rather than a “final draft” shows students that work can always be refined and improved. It also allows students to turn in whatever work they were able to complete within your timeframe with little stigma. It is great to set benchmarks for completion, while also encouraging them to think of the quality of their work.
Focusing on Growth Rather than Achievement
This idea is connected to point above. Students are all at different levels of intellectual development. Although we have ideal levels we’d like students to hit at certain ages, some students may easily exceed these benchmarks, while others may need more time. Therefore, it is essential to focus on a student’s growth rather than an arbitrary level of achievement. Do a check at the start of the learning process, and consistent checks to track growth. Be specific in reporting their areas of need and support, and in celebrating their achievement.
For Speed Demons
I was always the kid eager to have her hand in the air first, who sped through the process, ready for my next challenge, so I intimately understand that many students like a quick pace. What one brilliant teacher helped me see was that by rushing through my learning journey, I was cheating myself of the ability to go into the depth of thought of which I was capable. For students who enjoy a fast pace, it is essential to honor their desire for engagement through the presentation of frequent new concepts as well as to balance the introduction of new ideas with helping them uncover the many levels of rigor and challenge in a learning activity.
So remember, slow and steady can always win the learning race and allow students to develop depth of knowledge. The best (and free) gift you can give your students is the gift of time, so try one or all of the strategies above, and watch your students and their ideas shine.