I’ve been working at a virtual school for several years now as a special educator of middle schoolers. I’ve used countless websites to engage kiddos.
I tried my hand at a Hyperdoc for the first time a few weeks ago in an effort to incorporate more UDL strategies in my classroom. I didn’t know what to expect, as the students are quite routine-oriented and I know they had never seen anything like this before. Some of my students are used to the virtual world, some not so much. In any case, most of them are used to being walked through each assignment, having it chunked – they expect a certain flow. I hand them this document, explain how it works, and wait to see what happened.
Well, nothing happened at first.
The students are processing this new flow of independence, as so many of them require much structure and routine. I walked them again through the document and showed them how they could review the idea of theme in various ways and explained the expectation for each “block” of the doc. I usually modify the standard ELA curriculum as needed for the students; they are used to that, but they had a hard time getting past the idea that this was in lieu of something else – not extra work: “you mean I can submit this instead of the other assignment?” I heard this quite a few times and from many students. They are used to me changing things for them according to the accommodations and modifications in their IEPs (such as oral responses to written). For them, though, somehow this was a different animal and it seemed to have fangs.
Once the students started getting comfortable with this new way of looking at their work, their independence and understanding seemed to take a leap to the moon.
I started hearing things like: “You mean I can choose from ANY of these and respond in ANY of these ways?” I’ve been teaching for over twenty years, so please don’t misunderstand: I have given students choice in their creativity many times and it has worked out well. There is just something so functional for the students that they seem to be really enjoying their learning with these Hyerdocs (yes, we are putting the “fun” back in functional, I guess!). The fact that they are retaining what they are learning is a win-win for everyone.
As all of you know, we have to sometimes move through things pretty quickly to cover all that we need to. It can be so overwhelming for students, especially ones that may struggle in school. If the students walk away with the value of what they are learning by using it in a different way, then these are certainly the kinds of assignments that should be front and center for our students. Give it a try if you haven’t done so already. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Jenny Plant is a special education teacher at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School. This is her 5th year at the school and her 24th year teaching. She has taught a wide range of students of varying abilities, from preschool to college level. Her focus is now with middle school students. She holds an Ed. S. degree in education. She embraces lifetime learning, especially as we learn more about how students learn all of the time.