In my last entry I wrote as an English teacher about testing. Now I’m writing as a Social Studies teacher. I am both. I’ve got to talk now about Pacing Guides. I don’t know if there are any school systems NOT using pacing guides, but let me explain just in case. A pacing guide outlines the entire curriculum on a day-by-day basis. For example, on days 3 and 4 of the US History pacing guide for second semester, for example, my class should be learning the Economic, Political and Social Impact of World War II. We (I work with a co-teacher) have two days this week to teach mobilization; rationing; civil and economic equality; the changing role of women; the impact of minority migration to cities; the US response to the Holocaust, and the forced migration of minority groups to internment camps. I’m serious. Two days on the block schedule is 172 minutes. Of course the fire drill we have scheduled for Wednesday will take 20 minutes. After we teach this information, we’ll spend three days teaching the military strategies and turning points of World War II. There are seven days’ total allotted for the World War II unit. I can do that. If I push it.
The assessment point is this: “Which events show the persistence of discrimination during World War II? Include details and examples to support your answer.” That is a good question, also from the pacing guide. If the students can answer it, I can be sure they understand the social/economic/political situation of the World War II era. And that’s the kind of question that helps them develop high-level thinking skills. The kind of skills they need to pass high school assessment tests.
Pacing Guides push students and teachers hard, and give a lot of information. For that reason, I like pacing guides. As a new teacher, if I have a curriculum question, I can refer to it and find my path. I know what went before, what comes next, and how much time the current topic should have. The new teacher mentor told me the Pacing Guide is a “guide” not a “ruler”. So if I need an extra half a day to cover something, I take it. On the other hand, I also know that if the superintendent of schools drops by to visit, every US History class is our county should be on the Day 3 topics if it happens to be Day 3 of Semester 2. Get it? It’s flexible, in a rigid kind of way.
The pacing guides have a use. Teachers know what should be taught, and how to measure the learning. References to the textbook and supplementary materials are provided in the guide.
If a student moves from one school to another within our county, he will continue learning where he left off.
But, just as with the assessment tests I wrote about before, I have concerns. I wonder, what about the joy of learning? What happened to students developing and following their interests? How frustrating it must be for a student to ask a great question and be told, “I’m sorry, we can’t cover that in this class.” Students with great questions aren’t given time to find the answers.
What about the truly great teachers, who are excited about a topic because it’s their passion? There’s no time to explore anything in greater detail, or to let students experience the joy of independent research. Field trips no longer exist, and guest speakers have to be carefully matched to your assigned lessons. Honors students can’t get too far ahead and special students can’t lag behind, because we’ve all got to be on schedule. What do pacing guides take away from us?
I’m beginning to see education like a railway system. Look at the map: there are lots of possibilities. There are interesting stops along the way, great views out the side windows, and interesting people on board with us, if we look up. Same for the pacing guide. Lots of adventure, if we could allow ourselves a small side track. But when we’re measuring the success of our journey through a high school class there’s only one question: when will we reach the destination? It's as though the trip only counts if the train’s on schedule.