When my teaching partner suggested we try an entire self-paced unit in sixth grade science, I told her that it would not work. “The kids won’t know what to do. How will we have multiple labs set up at one time? What about the trouble makers who still won’t do anything?” I couldn't let go of visions of exploding chaos. Luckily, Katie is much younger and wiser than I am and she convinced me to try just one unit.
That one unit turned into the second half of the school year and we have never looked back. Self-pacing our science classes has fundamentally changed my view of teacher and student roles in the classroom and it has given me the freedom to truly facilitate learning in my classroom - an idea that always sounded nice but seemed unrealistic in a large, urban public school.
So why does self-pacing work so well? I think it boils down to one thing: Kids appreciate that you respect and trust them enough to get things done. They have a job to do; all they want is the space and the freedom to do that job the way that works best for them.