UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The Old is New Again: finding “Backward Design” in reducing full-class instruction

A few weeks ago, I wrote this blog post about how my colleague, Irene Witt, and I have challenged ourselves to reduce the amount of full-class instruction we offer.  Of course, we see lots of benefits for the students, but we are reaping the rewards for ourselves, as well.

Teaching 8th grade Algebra

The students in our Extended classes are expected to be preparing to take Algebra 1 during their 8th grade math class.  To facilitate that, Irene and I were assigned some content that we are required to teach in addition to our 7th grade standards.  Some of that content, such as working with variables on both sides of the equation, can logically be taught in the flow of the 7th grade material.  But the final two topics–linear equations and systems of equations–don’t flow with 7th grade, so we teach them as stand-alone units after completing the 7th grade material and after our state tests are done.

Planning the curriculum for these topics is a challenge.  It needs to be both self-contained and also incorporated into the upcoming year, the content of which we never teach ourselves.  And this is only our second year of teaching linear equations and systems, so it’s a bumpy road.  But help came from an unexpected corner this year, in the form of our “By the end of class…” documents.

Using “By the end of class…” to design Algebra

When I first began writing these documents a few months ago, I liked the way that, in a single document, I could capture the full range of “pieces” that go into a topic, from key vocabulary to core work to extensions.  Those pieces are always in my head, but this was an opportunity to share that with the students.  Giving the students insight into the big picture helps increase student engagement by providing a context for their work (Universal Design for Learning checkpoint 8.1).

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Keeping the big picture in mind

These documents have become invaluable in helping us conceptualize and verbalize the bigger picture that ties together disparate resources and concepts in this mini-unit.  Since we aren’t using the Eureka/EngageNY curriculum materials on these topics, we are drawing from four different texts/programs.  Last year, that led to a scattered experience, where students encountered different approaches and sometimes even different language for the same concepts.  By framing all of the resources with one set of essential questions per topic, we give the students a single reference point that organizes their exposure to a variety of materials.

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The old is new again

In our planning, creating the “By the end of class…” documents has helped us identify themes over multiple days, such as connecting proportional relationships (7th grade) to linear relationships (8th grade) or exploring slope-intercept form across graphs, tables, equations, and word problems.  I am reminded of the work we did with Backward Design when I was in graduate school, where understanding the big picture destination of the work set the framework for the entire process.

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