16 November 2011

Suggesting new ways to see school, education, disability, and learning design

Barbara Lindsey of the University of Connecticut asked me join her, her students, and colleagues Wednesday for a conversation about Universal Design for Learning and re-imagining education.

You can actually watch the whole Elluminate Session here.

Before the session, those participating sent me ten questions. They were ten great questions, and as I began answering them I began to see an "FAQ" developing... So I wanted to share this widely. This is part one - the first five questions with my suggested starting points in the search for answers. Part Two is here.

“I have a question about assessment. I think the idea of universal design is a great idea. But, if we start implementing different learning tools individually designed for each student, how do you end up with assessment?"

Consider what you are assessing... It has nothing to do with “disability” for us to understand that all students come into any classroom in different places, with different skills, and will be heading different places via different paths.
http://education.change.org/blog/view/evaluate_that_-_schools_for_children http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/04/testing-cannot-be-anything-but.html

Does anyone really need an "exam" to assess any of the learning in this video? Could you
create a test that would meaningfully measure any of it?

Now, to me, there are two different kinds of courses, there are courses where demonstrated competence in a single skill is the point, to quote a structural engineering prof I once had (in a pass/fail grading system), “no one leaves my class knowing 95% of what it takes to make a building stand up.”
http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/06/great-schools-3-profession-without.html So, in that course, 95% was “failing” except, there were no tests, and every student’s project, demonstrating their knowledge, was different. You didn’t have to be “perfect” - but your building design had to work.

The other kind of course, say, what I teach, involves moving students from where they are to a place they need and want to go. So there, I have to ask the students where they are at the start. I ask lots of questions, and ask them to respond to ideas, and then we have a point on the map for the students to begin their journey. My measures in a course like that are based in progress and effort and accomplishing what they set out to accomplish - or how they adapt if they have to change paths.

"Teachers need to interact with students but these students need to be willing to do so. What could be done in compulsory school (or even University) if students are not interested? How according to UDL we can try to motivate them?"

This may sound radical, but if a student doesn’t know why they’re in a class, they’re going to space out and not interact, and most students have no idea why they are in a class. Even though I can do architectural engineering and pretty good statistics, I still don’t know why I ever took any of the Algebra classes I took, whether I failed or got an A
.So, step one, explain to students what this class will do for them, Not for their school career, but for them. Why are they - to put it in micro-economic terms - wasting their “opportunity costs” on sitting with you? If you can’t explain that, well, they should check out.Now, some students - oddly the ones we traditionally consider “good” students - have few internal motivations, and for them - because they rely on external motivation, we can bribe or threaten, which is what grades are. But in my experience that’s about a third or less of students, the rest don’t care about grades - and the ones who do will tend to be “pleasers” - students who only want to give “the teacher” whatever their teacher wants. Which isn’t learning - its compliance.

To work as Universal Design, courses need to be choice-based project-based learning, or passion-based learning. Every student simply cannot be doing the same thing at the same time (most of the time). The course has to be designed - from the start - to be flexible

Q3: "Considering your experience with alternative education, are there non-traditional subjects or activities capable of raising interests among students of any level and that should be introduced to them? How could new technologies help with that?"

As in the question above, Passion-Based Learning is what raises interest, we need to connect what we are teaching to what students want and know they need to know. I don’t care if this is first grade, why would any kid work really hard to figure out a text they’re not interested in? Or in graduate school, if I can’t twist the class into something which matters to me, I’m not interested. Only when you’ve hooked kids through their interests and passions can you begin to expand their world by leveraging those interests

Quoting Alan Shapiro and Neil Postman regarding what they described as their “judo theory of education,”
we are assuming (1) that learning takes places best not when conceived as a preparation for life but when it occurs in the context of actually living, (2) that each learner ultimately must organize his own learning in his own way, (3) that "problems" and personal interests rather than "subjects" are a more realistic structure by which to organize learning experiences, (4) that students are capable of directly and authentically participating in the intellectual and social life of their community, (5) that they should do so, and (6) that the community badly needs them."

When it comes to new technologies, I think we need to build a new conception - I call my “ideas” “Toolbelt Theory”
and it is based in using learning technologies as we humans use any tools
http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/03/writing-without-blocks.html http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/05/freedom-stick-and-massive-resistance.html
and as an overview
also Karen Janowski
http://teachingeverystudent.blogspot.com/ has built a great Wikispace filled with tools and ideas http://teachingeverystudent.blogspot.com/2008/08/free-tech-toolkit-for-udl-wiki-edition.htm

"According to your own experience, how do students face these new-non-scripted assignments? Did you need any previous "training"? Sometimes I feel that most students just want, "do A, B, and C in the X way", and they feel terrified otherwise."

The longer students have been in school the more they have been trained in compliance, and the more creativity scares them. Its fairly easy to get first graders to try anything
http://adunsiger.com/   http://avivadunsiger.wikispaces.com/ much harder with university first years who, being typically the most compliant “pleasers” in their secondary schools, haven’t thought on their own in many years. But there are tricks. A middle school music teacher told me this week that he told students they couldn’t play a certain type of song in his band room unless they had written it themselves. Half the class began composing music. At universities I often ask students to base a part of their project on themselves, or create it for a family member, this makes originality a personal necessity.

"My question is contextualized in a school/high-school where teachers are sometimes just asked to become a nanny for 25-30 students. How do we deal with this individually? How can a teacher manage an appropriate environment for each individuality?"

I think teachers choose to become babysitters. I’ve never understood that, but they do. In order to break that, if this has become “the school norm,” you have to be really aggressive, and you have to be blunt with kids. Get them out of their seats, get rid of their chairs if you can, and get them out of the classroom.

See this classic film clip, using cartoons to get non-interacting kids talking

Blackboard Jungle, 1955

or read Alan Shapiro’s very blunt message to his “school without walls” students
or read Tomaz Lasic’s blog http://tomazlasic.net/ he teaches in a school for extremely troubled students in Perth, Western Australia - including http://tomazlasic.net/2011/08/i-did-nothing/  http://tomazlasic.net/2011/08/a-kindred-soul-in-our-school/  http://tomazlasic.net/2011/09/can-scootering-save-schools/
or Deven K. Black from The Bronx, NY: http://educationontheplate.wordpress.com/2011/11/13/we-need-to-teach-so-that-kids-will-care/

- Ira Socol

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have used the Children Full of Life videos in my middle school math/science class to teach a plethora of life skills; especially communication and respect. Not to mention global awareness. I've been told that it's not "part of my curriculum" but I keep showing it... great lesson for teachers as well. The whole common core, emphasis on assessments, one size fits all mentality is exhausting to fight. Preparing students to be globally competitive rather than globally collaborative and the focus on making a better economy rather than a better world is also frustrating. How are teachers to personalize and provide learning opportunities for students that are relative to their lives with the pressures of evaluation, testing and the corporate mindset? Love your blog; keeps me in the fight....