Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Used any good "sidewalk cutouts" lately?

As usual, the discussion was wide-ranging and interesting. Some of the ideas that were discussed:

  • Improving student access to technology - the library lab
  • Using the web to support reading through the use of programs like Strategy TutorTM
  • Gathering other teachers' "sidewalk cutouts"
Dave G shared an activity and an insight he had working with his Com kids. Here's his description of the task and his thinking:

In my Communications class, I was looking for a way to assist my non-readers in handling text. While I was setting up a lesson on the habits of effective readers, the plan was to tackle an activity developed by Cris Tovani on reading. The goal of this lesson was to introduce students to how "reading with a purpose in mind" can focus the meaning-making and give context to finding out what is important.

The challenge faced by a number of students in my class is the struggle to engage the text when they spend so much energy and time on decoding. As well, I had in mind the principles Fred brought up last week around how we need to provide for the visual and auditory learners in our classes. So I started to play around with Garage Band and made a recording of the text that students could listen to as they read.

As it turned out, it helped my students in a number of ways. The first benefit was that the whole class was on pace and able to keep up with the material in a relatively equal manner. By being all together, it allowed those who could go ahead to develop their thoughts and make notes, while those who were just getting the main idea to have something to say. It also helped limit off-task behaviour by providing a focus. The kids were also able to go back and listen again as I played the reading several times.

Instead of me saying "read through the passage 2 or 3 times", which most students view as punitive and unnecessary, I was having them hear the text and look at the words repeatedly and either reinforcing the big ideas or connecting in new ways. One other important benefit to this was how it embedded wait time to allow for the different processing rates. We all struggle to build in meaningful wait time and an audio recording that is played more than once provides that crucial time period for kids to connect to content and develop the meaning. And this is just what I have observed in doing this once.

So the question I am left with is how do I set up routines in the class that make this type of accommodation available more often. I want to explore how I could attach these audio files to a website or home page in order to let students access this easily and outside of class. I also want to see how I could do this with longer pieces to text and even novels. Then how could the students use this technology to help with written output - can they make podcasts of their thoughts or lit circles. And in response to Fred's question around planning for the kinesthetic learner, do I have accommodations for them?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Access, Access, Access

"Get rid of the stairs." What prevents a student from accessing your curriculum? Is it something in the design of your lesson? Are we consciously or unconsciously putting roadblocks in the way?

Consider the front entrance of a beautiful building...with no ramps. We recognize that a person who uses a wheelchair will be disadvantaged, and we know that installing a ramp will help that individual. What we forget is that this change will help any member of the public with mobility issues (wheelchair, walker, cane, cast, infirmity, stroller, etc).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL - for an overview, click here.) is a way of rethinking our lessons.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that accommodate learner differences.
"Universal" does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it is meant to underscore the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners. (1)

What are the "stairs" and "ramps" in your program? What hinders or helps all the learners in your classroom?

Thoughts On Teaching For Student Diversity
(Fred Harwood)

Some of you know that I was a guest teacher in a French Immersion math class out at UBC for an hour. I was allowed to teach in English BUT then spent three hours as an FSL Level 1 student as part of the class. WHAT AN EYE OPENER!

(I highly recommend that you spend some time in alternative settings where you aren’t an expert. We forget what it is like to be a weaker student for whatever reason.)

This class in French was an incredible struggle for me. I had 4 years of French in BC high schools 35 years ago but I’ve taught at a French Immersion high school for over 14 years so my ear for French has improved and I’ve seen written output daily. I had little idea of what difficulties I’d have processing the class even though it was on a topic of expertise for me personally – math.

I found when anyone spoke English in my vicinity, I’d gravitate to them naturally and ‘fall into’ that conversation. It was a rest for my brain. I thought of all my ESL students taking a rest by listening (and participating) in their own languages. I thought of the math challenged students ‘taking a rest’ in discussing things off topic that were easier to process.

I also found four big ideas that would have helped me in the French class that I want to do in my own classes to help those who are language challenged:

1. Speak slower - I told one student that I likef his French the best because he spoke the slowest.
2. Use more written instructions - the class instructor at UBC spoke all directions in French and many times I wasn’t totally clear on what to do. I process written French must more effectively by having time to fit things into context and to fill in the unknown words between the known words. When instructions were in spoken French, I didn’t have time to do this well and I was usually lost.
3. Use pictures more - When one student was presenting his idea for his project, I kept thinking, “If only you would have had a picture/example, I could have made sense of your project so much easier.”
4. Make sure the big idea is clear - Another student presented his project which I thought was on “Discovery Guides” and struggled with how he talked about his work. I asked in English and found the topic was “Guided Discovery” – a totally different concept!

One of my resource teacher has challenged me with another big idea.
5. Talk less - many students are just overwhelmed with input and once their brains are full, no more processing is possible.

In our study group we were discussing Universal Design from architecture and looking at the invention of sidewalk cutouts to make them wheelchair accessible. In accommodating for this special need (or diversity) many others benefited. People with baby carriages or strollers, people with difficulty walking and students pulling their huge rolling backbacks all benefited by this adaptation made for another group’s diversity.

I reflected on how my implementation of these five big ideas will benefit more than just the language challenged in my classes. It will aid visual learners with the pictures and written instructions. It will aid those who process more slowly or differently because there will be more wait time to make sense of the mathematics. It will allow for those who chose, or were enabled, to attend to the task at a later time than the majority to get involved. It will reduce the ‘clutter’ that clouds some students ability to see the concepts.

What other innovations or adaptations do you make to help some students? Do these adaptations also help other needs in our diverse classrooms?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Teaching to Diversity

The book, "Teaching Content to All" was the subject of our discussions this Wednesday.

Teaching for diversity; what does this mean?

We read a case study from the book that allowed us to "eavesdrop" on a job interview for a high school science position. The teacher wanted to change schools and spoke quite passionately about his commitment to learning. He also elaborated on his teaching practice: "I'm not afraid to give Fs. Students have to be prepared to work hard. If they are lazy and fail, then that's their problem." The principal challenged the teacher to think about how he would reach out to the wide diversity of learners in his class.

We talked about how our teaching practice. How do we treat kids in so called core courses like Math, Socials, Science? Are there "smart" kids vs "lazy" or stupid kids? How is this handled in other subject areas? In a PE class, there are the athletically gifted on the one hand, and those who need instruction, training and practice: everyone can be successful. In Art, there are the artistically gifted, and those who have not yet mastered the techniques and media. Is there hope, and a place, for those who are not mathematically, scientifically or linguistically gifted in our core classes?

Here are a series of questions that were posed by the book's authors in an article that Fred H and Dave G read this summer. (The topic is evident from the title – diversity.) These are meant to stir our thinking around how we can work better for all students. [Key questions adapted from “Teaching and Academic Diversity” (Lenz and Deshler)]
  • How does teacher knowledge of diversity affect student learning?
  • How have teachers traditionally responded to diversity and the challenge of individualization?
  • What are the “big ideas” that lead to more inclusive teaching?
  • What motivates you to learn? How do you learn best?
  • Describe an experience of being different in some way that made you feel alone or not fully accepted by others. Did you experience accepting as well as non-accepting behaviors from others?
  • Consider how your personal identity might affect how you teach?
  • What are the barriers to building an inclusive pedagogy? What are the solutions? Given the current structure of schools, what can be done?
  • What changes need to be made in schools to promote more inclusive planning?
  • How does teaching more content in less time affect our ability to respond to diversity?
  • Which of the complicating factors are most daunting to you in terms of accommodating learning differences in a classroom?
  • How can understanding the big ideas of a course help students learn content?
  • What does the following statement mean to you? “Curriculum frameworks and textbooks are only resources; the true curriculum is actually constructed by the teacher and students each day in class.”