A few weeks ago, I started co-teaching a graduate course with a colleague in my district looking at Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). We started off by having the participants explore a variety of resources and then reflect on where they are at with both UDL and PBL. They also shared some initial thoughts about the project or content or standard they were thinking about using as the focus of their coursework, as the course is designed so each participant does the work that is most meaningful for them.
Although the course is an online course, we also provided an opportunity for an optional in-person drop-in session–a little brainstorming, some community building, some checking in. Our participants range from science to ELA, department heads to relatively new teachers, middle and high school, in-district and the other side of the country. And yet, despite those differences, I heard the same things I hear every time as the participants reflected on the work they were planning to revise or build in the course:
“It didn’t work for all my students.”
One participant, describing an outside program run by a local science Consortium, said “I felt like there were some students it worked for, but there were lots of them who were bored and needed to move ahead and others who were confused the whole time.” Ah, yes, variability rears its inevitable head, yet again. Recognizing variability is always the first step in designing to address it, since you can’t address it if you don’t acknowledge that it exists.
Another participant, describing a packaged STEM curriculum, talked about her desire to open it up for choice. Five or six years ago, when our district was first introduced to UDL by our assistant superintendent, that was not a default position among staff in our district. Choice is scary; it looks messy and is a challenge for administration to measure and gauge. I applaud my colleagues for sticking with the need for choice, even as administration changes and questions the messiness. We are professionals and we know that what we are doing is what is best for our students.
I found it fascinating to hear these twin themes coming up, again. I am sure I have written a solid two dozen blog posts (or more!) that touch on choice and variability. They continue to surface as major issues, further evidence of how critical they are. My colleagues have clearly identified and are looking to experience the power of choice, the ways in which that choice bring engagement into the classroom.