In a self-paced classroom, some students will inevitably learn faster than others. If you set (as we recommend) unit-end deadlines, this means that:
Faster learners may run out of things to learn.
Slower learners may not be able to cover everything.
Modern Classroom teachers address this reality by classifying lessons (or, alternatively, individual activities within a lesson) in three ways:
Must Do: Every student is required to complete these lessons. They cover the most important skills and content that are necessary for the end-of-unit assessments. Mastering these lessons is non-negotiable.
Should Do: While not essential to the learning goals of a unit, these lessons are nevertheless highly useful. They give students valuable opportunities to develop their skills or knowledge, and students who do complete these lessons will inevitably produce more refined work on final projects or assessments. However, when circumstances dictate, students can complete their end-of-unit assessments without mastering them. Common examples are review lessons, extra practice, or pre-assessments.
Aspire to Do: These assignments take the skills that students have learned in "Must Do" and "Should Do" lessons and apply them in the most sophisticated and interesting ways. Students who complete these lessons will surely produce the highest-quality work products. Every student should aspire to reach these lessons—but some simply may not. This situation is acceptable, but not ideal.
As with everything in our teacher-driven model, different Modern Classroom educators use different terms for these concepts. A few other examples:
Need-to-know / good-to-know / aim-to-know
Bachelor's / Master's / PhD
This is closely related to the concept of mild, medium, and spicy.
Two good approaches
Finally, teachers often ask: should this framework be applied to entire lessons, or to activities within lessons?
The answer is: either works!
Classifying entire lessons is easier to track, but provides slightly less differentiation.
Classifying individual lesson activities provides greater differentiation, but can be confusing for students.
We believe that each individual teacher knows what is best for their students -- and that both approaches are worth trying out.
Figure out what works best for YOUR students, and let us know!