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Quality versus quantity

February 12, 2010

Running and educational publishing don’t often cross paths. Perhaps in PE, but even then not so much. So, this post may seem like a rather laboured segue between my career – publishing educational books and resources – and my hobby – running, a lot. However, when you get into the quality and quantity dichotomy, they become almost identical.

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...
Just like running. Image via Wikipedia

Runners training for a marathon, or indeed runners comparing the amount of training they do, will happily reel off a number of miles they run each week. Runners will compare their performances in races by the number of miles they cover each week. ‘I couldn’t run as fast as her because she runs 50 miles a week.’ Sound familiar?

Teachers will talk about differentiation. Differentiation, for the uninitiated, is a set of techniques for dealing with the varying ability levels of a class. While some students may storm through the work set, others will take longer and some will need additional support. There are two principal ways of differentiating a lesson:

  • Extension When a student finishes work early, they are set some more work. And so, through the course of that week’s learning, they may cover more material, but not necessarily gain any more ground (i.e. their understanding of the topic will move at the pace of the rest of the class, but they will have done more in that topic).
  • Stretch When the teacher is aware of the different ability levels of the class and differentiates through providing the more able students with more difficult tasks and the less able with additional support. This challenges the more able, while not effectively punishing them by giving them more work.

In general, stretch is considered to be the most pedagogically sound approach. It encourages a deeper understanding of a topic, keeps the teacher’s differentiation strategies from the class (you don’t want to demoralise students by saying ‘No, sorry, that’s not for you’), and keeps everyone moving through a topic at the same pace.

So, how does this work with running? While we’re all trying to cover as many miles a week as possible in the run-up to the marathon, are we really getting quality runs all the time? What if we were to swap that easy run for a rest day, and the following day’s run for something above race pace to stretch our aerobic capacity? Keep the long runs, but maybe look at where our schedules can be made leaner and more efficient.

Which is all a long way of saying there’s a very good reason why I won’t make my mileage target this week. But don’t think for a minute that I’m not out there making my training as effective as possible. Just a little shorter and faster.

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