As I read over the student comments on a survey we recently gave about our math classes, one theme in the responses, or a pair of similar themes, stood out to me–“freedom” and “independence.”
We began with a simple question:
When I read through the responses, a selection of which are copied here below, the words that kept showing up were “freedom” and “independence.”
[The best part about math class so far this year is] getting to work at our own speed.
[The best part about math class so far this year is] that we can tech our selfs
Best part of math class this year is that most of the work is done individually and we don’t wast most of class teaching a problem or two and when we do get to group its very quick and helps me understand beter than lessons
I like how we get to chose stuff to do for homework because some stuff we get is too challenging for me, or I don’t understand it properly.
I like the freedom of seating and the ability to chose what you want to do if it helpful.
You can work with your friends in flexible seats and you don’t have to be lectured for three and a half quarters of the class like last year.
The best part about math class this year is the freedom, the freedom to choose what you want or need to do for homework to review or even in class is great.
Being able to be independent.
The best part about math class so far this year is the freedom I have to work on what I need to focus on specifically.
The best part about this math class is how we can work on are own and ask questions if we need to and not having you do every promblem on the board and then giving us less time to practice.
FRIENDS and HW flexibility
The best part of math class this year is probably how independent we are. We get to choose what to work on, giving us an easier time to focus on our needs.
The best part about math class is that we get to pick what we work on each day, so I can spend more time on what I struggle with.
I like math class this year because we are more independent and we can problem solve ourselves. I enjoy not listening and following along with the teacher in the front of the class.
To me, these responses, especially when taken as a group, reinforce the message of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the hope the practice of UDL gives us when we seek to increase student engagement.
In his book Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, Mike Anderson writes that “[one] of the main purposes of choice is to provide a few options for students and have them self-differentiate,” (pg. 12). In his words, I hear the echo of the words of my students–freedom, flexibility, independence. Any middle school teacher can tell you that the middle grade students are craving a sense of power and control, both of which are sorely lacking (at least from their point of view) in their daily lives. Yes, there are pedagogical reasons to provide choice to reduce barriers. And, yes, we need to be teaching our students how to be actively involved in making good choices so they can use that practice as adults. But the fact that my students used words like “freedom” and “independence” also tells me that the sense of control they get in UDL resonates with them as well.
The price of this freedom is increased personal responsibility on the part of the students. Once we become masters of our own destinies, once we say that we want a turn in the driver’s seat, we are then responsible for the outcome. That is, after all, the point of UDL. I know the next steps for me in my practice are building in more regular and consistent self-reflection with kids in more structured ways; even without that yet, I am still reminded of the power of this practice when I read this student feedback.