How to Help Middle School Students Learn to Work Independently

They are capable of navigating a self-paced course with ample teacher assistance and clear expectations regarding assignments.

Virtual classes are becoming increasingly popular among students from all walks of life. Students may have their parents working from home and keeping a close eye on their academic progress. While they are at work, some students are responsible for three of their cousins. When it comes to finding a pace that works for all students, it can be difficult. Allow them to proceed at their own pace!

In seventh-grade math class, I introduced a self-pacing system that worked well. With video instruction, students would be able to work at their own pace through each unit. My class appeared to be largely self-taught, whereas I appeared to be spending the majority of my time assisting students in distress.

Having completed two months of my self-pacing this year, I was ready to call it quits. While the majority of students enjoyed the model, a significant number of them treated my class as if it were their time. Even though I learned a great deal from a small number of students, their circumstances prevented me from abandoning my self-paced learning. The student who insisted on doing things her way eventually achieved success. Because he was unable to remain still, the disruptive student was now able to take energy breaks whenever he needed them.

They showed me that self-pacing was possible for students in the middle school grades. My remaining time in the classroom was spent assisting them in figuring out how to be successful in a self-paced environment.


With the help of a four-lesson introduction, I demonstrated to students how a self-paced class operates. Following that, I began the first unit (eight lessons spread over five weeks), after which I simply sat back and observed. A disproportionate amount of responsibility was placed on seventh graders, and many of them struggled to cope.

In our second unit, we were able to reset our expectations regarding self-pacing. In one class, we started by going at our own pace. Everyone was required to complete the lesson within the time frame of the class. It was up to each individual, however, to determine how they would get there. You can watch the 5-minute video and complete half of the class. You are capable of completing the task. You’ll still get an exit ticket at the end of class, just like everyone else. The level of engagement with the model has significantly increased as a result of this. Students felt more motivated and were able to focus on one lesson rather than eight at the same time.

In the fall, distance learning will emphasize the ability to work at one’s own pace. We begin with options (do you want me to work with you or do you want to watch this?”), video?) and progress from there. After that, we’ll talk about schedules. Once students have mastered the fundamentals, I will eventually allow them to self-pace two to three lessons at a time.

The ability to pace oneself is comprised of several skills.

After seeing an increase in the number of students who used the self-pacing bus this year, I realized I needed to teach them some fundamentals that I hadn’t covered in my course introduction. I was surprised to learn that middle school students are not able to access instructional videos online. They forget to take notes or to jot down important information that they should have. They also don’t always take advantage of the advantages of video instruction, such as pausing, rewinding, or googling something they don’t understand when they are watching. These abilities were developed over the year, and they are prominently featured in my first-of-the-year instruction.

However, I have discovered that a more structured class routine can aid in the development of these abilities. An inability to follow instructions means that the student will not be able to view an instructional video on mathematics, for example. It is critical to establish a routine or schedule at the start of the year. Once the routine was established, the process of learning could begin.

The act of completion is not the same as the act of learning.

Even if a seventh-grader completes an assignment quickly, this does not necessarily imply that they completed it well. As a next step, I needed to provide speed bumps to my students who were making good progress with their self-pacing. Even though their daily exit-ticket performance was improving, their unit test scores were not improving at the same rate. The students were so preoccupied with getting through the material that they didn’t have enough time to fully comprehend it. My students and I were more concerned with finishing lessons than we were with learning the material.

Instead of concentrating on speed, I concentrated on comprehending the concepts to the fullest extent possible. Each lesson included a challenging activity that required students to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the concept. Students who require additional time to revise and reteach concepts can have their extension time increased by two hours.

This fall, I hope to have all of my students self-pace their work. I will, however, make every effort to keep everyone in the same unit, with more deliberate extensions and reviews as needed.

The option of self-pacing is not available to all students in middle school.

By March of last year, many of my students were ready to work on their own time. Covid-19 was given life. When I switched to distance learning, I found that these students were able to succeed with little assistance from me. They were able to use the online work that I had posted because they had the practice, motivation, and skills necessary to complete the task successfully. A few students were unable to participate in the Zoom call. They continued to complete their homework and send me emails with questions, and they had a strong fourth quarter in math.

There were some students, however, who were not ready to work at their own pace. Math class, in their opinion, was as traditional as it could be. Because a sufficient number of my students were on the self-pacing bus, they were able to move forward independently at a pace that was appropriate for learning.

Having completed a year of self-paced learning, I am confident that it will prove to be a powerful learning tool in middle school for students who can learn from home. It should be implemented gradually and flexibly. By the end of their first term, my students should be at ease and ready to take on the challenges of a self-paced classroom environment.