Despite having been raised by two teachers and working for an ed tech company, I knew that sending my oldest off to kindergarten this year would be an education for me.

Volunteering in his class, I was blown away by the range of skills these five-year-olds brought. Some were reading books and writing in complete sentences before the first day, while others were still learning the alphabet.

How could any teacher manage such disparity in her daily lessons, much less challenge the advanced kids while nurturing those who needed some extra help? Obviously this is where “self-paced” and “individualized” learning get their appeal.

In the classroom, I got my first real-world experience with the difference between self-paced learning in a blended learning form compared with its pre-digital form – workbooks and worksheets. And what a world of difference they are.

Traditional Self-paced Program for Reading

The kindergarteners were divided into groups by reading level for bi-weekly Response to Instruction (RTI) reading lessons. The students rotate in groups from a writing lesson with the teacher to a reading comprehension session with volunteer parents, like me. The reading comprehension program is self-paced, with a dozen color-coded booklets and corresponding worksheets each child must complete. Every child is working on a different workbook (there’s only one copy of each in the classroom) and then they trade off as they finish, progressing at their own pace

Digital Self-paced Program for Math

For math the entire class uses the online game-based program ST Math weekly in the computer lab and occasionally in rotation model in the classroom with a half dozen ipads and computers. (Full disclosure, I work for the nonprofit that creates ST Math and let my son play the games at home for months before he started at school.)

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