Tony Gurr

Between a ROCK and a very HARD PLACE…(Pt 04)

In Curriculum, ELT and ELL, Our Schools, Our Universities on 24/07/2012 at 4:16 pm

This mini-series began as a “rant” – a rant about “pacing”.

Now, pacing (in an educational context) is essentially a curriculum issue – however, and as Part 01Part 02Part 03 have (hopefully) demonstrated, we cannot really discuss CURRICULUM without touching on TEACHing, LEARNing, ASSESSment, etc, etc, etc…


You see – EVERYTHING is connected to EVERYTHING else – as Dexter tells us:

Now, far be it from me to suggest that “curriculum pacing guides” are the serial killer of the LEARNing world – but they have done and continue to do a lot of “damage”.

The question is, of course;

…when we talk about curriculum and pacing guides.


We could probably argue the toss about this for days:


…but I thought it might be more useful to get some ideas on the origins of pacing from the “King of Pace” himself.


The Flash!

Now, those of you that are not quite as comic book geeky as I might not know that the Flash is pretty tough guy to keep up with…so, I asked my pal Superman to do the honours – you know, do an “interview” on my behalf (Quicksilver – was tied up in another interview with Dr. Oz and Oprah).


This is what happened:

FLASH: Hey Sups – looking a little thick around the old waist there! You keeping up with the jogging?

SUPERMAN: Mmmm…Look, I’m only doing this as a favour to my mate Tony – so let’s get on with it!

FLASH: Sure dude…I heard he was doing a mini-series on “pacing”…and I am “the man”!

SUPERMAN: OK, well “pacing” began in the world of sport…in long- and middle-distance running. Why do you think it was “drafted” into education? 

FLASH: You see “coaches” in athletics have always known about the power of the concept for runners…you know, training runners to monitor and control their own speed…and get round the problem of going out too slow or too fast…to win the “race”. 

SUPERMAN: So, the coaches don’t “do” pacing themselves?

FLASH: No, don’t be silly, Sups! The whole point of athletics training is to get the “runner”…each individual runner…to be the best that they can be. It’s not about the “coach” at all…coaches don’t do pacing – that’s dumb! 

SUPERMAN: So, it’s all about the “runner”? 

FLASH: Duh! Ends and means, dude! The coaching is just the means…what’s important is the end…the result. But, we have to remember pacing is as much a mental process as it is physical…and it’s about getting the runner to give the best performance they can deliver! That takes time, practice and dedication – there are no shortcuts…and if you take shortcuts, that just “hurts” the runner in the long run…that’s why the coach has to be even more “dedicated” than the runner…and that’s why not running the best race possible hurts coaches more than the runners themselves!

SUPERMAN: So true – dedication on both sides! Interesting you should use the word “deliver”…it seems to me that in education pacing is about what the coach…or teacher…can deliver…not about the “running”…or LEARNing…at all. 

FLASH: That Tony-dude has LEARNed you well, Sups! You’re totally right…now, I don’t know much about all this “book LEARNing stuff” or even “classroom TEACHing”…but it seems these educators have got it ass-backwards… 

SUPERMAN: Flash…watch your mouth, buddy…kids read his blog! 

FLASH: Sorry, Sups…coaching is about “the running”. It seems to me that teaching needs to be about the LEARNing. You can do all the pacing “planning” you like…but a runner will only get faster in “her own time”…by doing it! That means more “practice” than “theory” – why do you think runners spend so much time on the track? With the coach…not stuck in a room doing multiple choice tests on what pacing is… 

SUPERMAN: So, what you are saying is that coach does have a role? 

FLASH: Duh, of course the coach has a role…but it’s more about “knowing”…knowing the runner and knowing when to give the runner what she or he needs…when she needs it. Then, it’s about what the coach “does” with what he “knows”. The coach’s job is to design the right kind of opportunities…LEARNing opportunities, as your dude Tony would say…to help the runner do more with “she” knows…what she “is”! 

SUPERMAN: Flash…you sure are smarter than a lot of people you give you credit for! What I am hearing is that…education…across the board…has got it wrong! Forget about the misfire of bringing pacing into language teaching…educators in every subject have got it wrong. 

FLASH: Cheers, Sups…I guess! Yes, I guess so. Wait a sec…are you telling me that language education also uses pacing? 

SUPERMAN: Yep…sometimes more than maths and biology – from what I hear. 

FLASH: Now, that’s just dumb – how can you “deliver” a language? If anything language learning is more like running than most other subjects…I mean what are they “delivering”? How can anyone deliver a language?


FLASH: Dude…the other thing is that pacing…in sports…was really designed for “individuals”…tailored to the needs of runners…one-on-one. Most teachers work with groups…groups that are too big…most of the time! If teachers are “delivering” stuff to a whole class…having a “standardised” pacing curriculum is just gonna stress all those teacher-dudes out – and mess up the running…sorry, LEARNing! Don’t they get that? 

SUPERMAN: Yep…it’s almost like they believe that LEARNing, especially language LEARNing, can be “packaged up” and “paced” into LEARNers – like “ekmek” and can be delivered along with the morning newspaper by a cheerful “kapıcı 

FLASH: Hey, least we know someone reads Tony’s blog…

Told you I was gonna play with me comics a bit!


As Flash sort of hinted “running” is a lot more than just “pacing” – it’s physical and mental, it’s about time and practice, it’s about quality and quantity, it’s about building strength and knowing when to surge/when to rest – and, at the end of the day, it’s about the “runner”.

But, it’s also about the “coach” – how good he is at connecting with his runner, how well he knows his runner, how good he is at choosing the right LEARNing opportunity for the right time, – and, the sense of duty/service/responsibility he feels to always do his “best” to get the “best” from his runner.

For someone who don’t know much about all that “book LEARNing stuff”, Flash knows how much we have got it wrong in education – even moreso in ELL.

We even “missed” the main point of “pacing” – that it is for “individuals” working with other “individuals” to develop what they have and can do with what they learn. It certainly ain’t about how much “content” we can spoon-feed in to a group of LEARNers!

And, it certainly can’t be pre-planned a year ahead of time – week-by-week, lesson-by-lesson, minute-by-minute – by “someone” other than the teacher!


That’s just…

Sorry, kids!


The “responsibility” (duty/service/responsibility) I mentioned above, however, does not stop at the teacher – it’s a responsibility that is shared with school administrators, curriculum coordinators and teams, course designers…even publishers! Also, as we noted in Part 03, maybe even LEARNers need to carry the can, too… 

As I told you earlier, I’ve never been a “fan” of playing…

But, it may be worth exploring the question – What (really) went wrong with the thunking behind curriculum pacing guides? 

…or, perhaps: 

  • How did we agree to all this nonsense? 
  • What assumptions were we working with when we went with pacing guidelines that encouraged “lockstep” content delivery and coverage? 
  • What needs to change to help us fix it – and “save the planet”?


I have a few ideas (Dexter is “right” – and it might be worth seeing how far the “butterfly effect” has rippled the pond)…but that will require Part 05 (the last one…promise)!


  1. Hi,
    Could I p’se print off some of your graphics like pow, bam..? I Want to use the to decorate at my son’s birthday party.

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