An Innovative Implementation of Self-Paced Learning

Student studying in the Annex

An Innovative Implementation of Self-Paced Learning

Innovation is one of the core tenets of everything we do at Purdue Polytechnic High School. It’s the answer to the long-standing frustration educators have with the phrases, “It’s always been done this way” or “That’s the way school works”. Innovative solutions are required to never compromise our vision of improving education and reducing the current achievement gap. One innovative strategy implemented by the educators at PPHS is that of self-paced learning. 

Why not Traditionally Paced Learning? 

Developmentally speaking, we understand that children mature at different rates from the time they are born. We know that not every child learns to walk at exactly 12 months, just like not every child learns to read by 5 years old. It seems incongruous that we accept and anticipate these developmental differences in younger children, but by the time our students enter high school, we expect them to learn at the same pace as their peers. 

Traditional educational models expect the entire class to be ready to learn linear equations at the same time in the school year. When students enter an English 9 classroom, they are all expected to read novels at the same level, regardless of the skills and previous experience they bring to the classroom. We expect an entire class of Spanish I students to be ready to conjugate verbs regardless of their proficiency or background knowledge in their native language. Most students can attest that missing a few days of school for an illness or having an off-day in a class can be enough to set them behind for an entire unit or, in extreme cases, an entire course. When this happens, it is obviously discouraging to the student and can create extra work for teachers trying their best to provide support to students with gaps in their skillsets and experience. 

Why Self-Paced Learning?

Self-paced learning allows students to focus on areas they struggle with, getting help when and where they need it. This enables them to quickly work through areas that they excel in, providing them an opportunity to move further and deeper into the subject that a traditional model. If you are a gifted math student who grasps new concepts quickly, why does Algebra I have to be a full year-long course? If you can work through a course quickly, you shouldn’t be held back or frustrated with the pace of other students. 

On the other hand, for students who struggle with certain topics, self-paced learning means they don’t get left behind. When students need extra support on a topic and their peers don’t, there is an unfortunate stigma to raising your hand and asking questions to the frustration of students who want to move forward. By creating time and space for students that need help to get targeted, small group instruction, they are less likely to fall through the cracks. 

How it’s Working

At PPHS, we are constantly working to improve our process and meet our student’s needs. When interviewed about how student-paced learning is impacting them, Mersadies, a 9th grader at PPHS Downtown said, “It’s nice because I don’t have to worry about ‘late’ assignments if I need more time. It’s a lot less stress and I can take my time and get things right. It teaches responsibility for managing your own work.” 

While the benefits seem obvious, it hasn’t been easy to implement a new style of education. We do have to balance student’s self-pacing with appropriate limits, especially for students who presently struggle with self-regulation or are still developing personal accountability skills. This means that while we strive to be as self-paced as possible, we do have the training wheels on, so to speak. Students that fall significantly behind are placed in small group remediation lessons and provided extra support. These safety measures are in place to ensure that while students are able to work at their own pace, they will still be eligible for their credits by the end of the year. 

Where We Go From Here

We are excited to finish out the semester and track our student’s achievement! We are constantly gathering data and adjusting our methodologies to fit our student’s needs. We teach our students that every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve, and that’s what we model. While our system may not be perfect yet, we know that at its core, providing students with the freedom and space to learn in a way that makes sense to them is what is best for our students. 


Published on 12/12/2019