Pace: A Discussion 

Right, let’s sort this word ‘pace’ out shall we? It’s a word that’s chucked about more frequently than swimming pool vending machines chuck out Lion bars, particularly during Lesson Observation Feedback.

At the risk of sounding condescending, before I talk about what I think people mean when they say ‘pace’, I’d like to explain, to those who don’t know what it means, what it means: ‘Pace’ refers to a rate of movement. That is, when teachers are told ‘You need more pace’, they are being told ‘You need more rate of movement.’ It’s meaningless. It literally means nothing that can ever plausibly be held to be meaningful in any context. Telling a teacher that their lesson ‘needs more pace’ is no more helpful than telling them their lesson needs more oxygen. It’s rubbish.

Here’s what I think people mean when they say “You need more pace.” Either: 

  1. You need to be quicker
  2. Your lesson needs to be broken down into small chunks

Allow me to expose both of these, in turn, for the utter testicular matter that they are.

Firstly, let’s address feedback that is given as “You need more pace”, but actually means, “You need to be quicker.” If that’s the case, why not just say: “You need to be quicker. Your explanation of the intricacies and complexities  of the abolition act needs to be delivered more quickly.” 

“As for you, you’re spending too much time explaining how to multiply fractions. Next week, I want to see if you can get your explanation down to just 5 seconds per pupil. At the moment you’re at 10. Or, actually, you’re spending too long saying ‘seven’. I know it’s two syllables and all, but do you think you could get that down to a quarter of a second. Look, try with me now. Seven. Seven. Better…seven.”

Why don’t people just say, “You need to be quicker?” I expect it’s because, deep down, they know there’s something inherently wrong about it. It’s wrong because:

  •  assessing speed of delivery inherently implies that learning can be divided into units completely distinct from one another. 
  • It implies that learning is a modular process. Which, it ain’t. Learning latches onto prior learning.
  • It puts classroom teachers in this ridiculous position of being required to literally achieve the impossible: that is, to bend all laws of physics to ensure that full understanding of a task can be completed at a given speed. This completely ignores everything we know about learning. That is, that different people learn things at different speeds.

So what’s the solution?

The solution is, if you’re giving someone feedback and you want an element of their practice to ‘be quicker’, you need to say that, and not ‘pace.’ Also, given the efficacy of SMART targets, it may be useful to stipulate exactly how fast you want them to get. 

Now, onto the second meaning of ‘Use more pace’: “Your lesson needs to be broken down into small chunks.” 

Generally, people impart this advice after viewing lessons in which some students display distracted behaviours, or behaviour that can’t be categorised as ‘engaged’.

Kids become disengaged if they a) find something difficult or b) are bored. Neither of these two things can be remedied by breaking things down into smaller chunks. Actually, the issue here is quality of explanation or task rather than the ‘length’ of tasks within a lesson. 

If kids find things hard, that’s okay. It generally means they’re learning.

And if a task is boring- SO WHAT? Sometimes things that are vital to our wellbeing- tax returns, signing autographs, brushing our teeth- are just boring. And long too. Turning lessons into an educational pic n’ mix ain’t doing anyone any favours. 

We need to develop kids’ ability to persevere at stuff-like life- that’s ‘ard work. Their exams aren’t going to be five minutes long and made up of video clips, play-doh, and interpretative dance. It’s gonna be 2 or 3 hours of writing stuff which one may find boring. We need to prepare them for this. Breaking lessons into ‘smaller chunks’ isn’t always the way to achieve this.

So what’s the answer? Well, if you want to tell someone to break their lessons into smaller chunks, tell them that- don’t say they need more pace. And may I suggest you explain your advice with some bloody good research evidence with which to support your request.

Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

2 thoughts on “Pace: A Discussion ”

  1. Thanks for posting this Matt – as ever, an interesting and impassioned read. I think I may have used the word pace in lesson feedback before, but not, I hope, in the way you have described. Sometimes lessons just don’t move along fast enough: too long is given to tasks that don’t need so much time, or teachers can just blether on in ways that doesn’t actually help anyone at all. Or perhaps they go through every single one of the homework questions when in fact three or four would have done the trick. All of those things might make a lesson feel ponderous, in which case a recommendation to be pacier might help, mightn’t it? Provided of course that you then explain what that means, perhaps as outlined above. Although probably without the words “blether on.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your second point is really important.

    Attention spans – and consequently, the ability to think deeply – are being eroded everywhere you look. We’re told to chunk lessons because students can’t deal with lengthier tasks – and then they’re asked to sit in exam halls for hours at a time …

    Farcical, isn’t it?


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