Last week, I wrote about the experience of watching a fellow student struggle through a yoga class because he did not have the tools to customize his own experience to meet his physical needs (UDL on the mat).
Another thing that became clear to me as I listened to the student trying to engage with the class, and while I was also modifying the class for myself, was that it’s so critical for us to tell our students why we are doing something, something we discuss in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In my own math teaching practice, I am very guilty of just slapping the curriculum standard up on the board and calling it good. However, as I listened to what the teacher was trying to do in that yoga class, I was also thinking about what I would do if I were the teacher. What insight might I have–if any–into this student’s practice? How I might experiment with experiencing some of the limitations of his body? What information could I get from him?
In all of the questioning, I kept coming back to the why (Checkpoint 8.1 Heighten salience of goals and objectives). What is the purpose of doing Warrior I pose? This student couldn’t access the part of the pose that was about standing up and strengthening his legs. Is that all we aim for in Warrior I? I could stand up and strengthen my legs and of course I did but I was unable to raise my right arm due to the recent injury to my shoulder. So I could not experience the pose as “holding a sword across my shoulders” as the teacher was describing. But I could access the part about building strength in my legs. Was I doing the pose “more” than the other student?
The student with the crutches struggles every day to move his body forward through space so I’m not sure that he needed to strengthen his legs and I’m also not sure that this pose would have been the best way for him to do that. So again I began to question–what is the purpose of this pose? Thinking about what the student was experiencing and simultaneously thinking about myself as a teacher both of yoga and Mathematics made me really hone in on the deep reason for why we are doing something. We should not be doing yoga poses or math problems “just because.” Of course, when I’m teaching math, a big piece of what drives what happens in my classroom is the fact that I have to get the curriculum done within a certain time. But in yoga, where there is no set “curriculum,” it’s so critical that a class be developed with a theme or a reason or a rationale for why a certain sequence of poses is chosen. When we’re teaching in schools and we are in the rat race of “hurry up and get the curriculum taught,” it can be very, very easy to lose sight of the fact that there’s a reason why we’re teaching each item. Without that why, it’s all pretty meaningless.