I think my two biggest takeaways from learning about Universal Design for Learning are that hyperdocs are amazing and that choice is incredibly important.
Thinking about assignments in terms of hyperdocs really forced me to get more creative. As a result, I’ve reworked a few assignments to make them a lot more engaging and interesting for my students. I think the biggest difference is with the following before-and-after example.
My original Shakespeare context assignment was to watch a short video, spend 15 minutes on the Globe Theatre virtual tour, then have students write a short biography of Shakespeare based on those two activities. Creating my Meeting Shakespeare hyperdoc meant that I had to find other sources for students to explore (and I found some really cool ones!), and I had to think more about how I was assessing students’ knowledge, which brings me to my second takeaway from this class: choice.
I knew that it was good to give students choices about how they present their understanding of material, but the work I’ve done in this course has really made me consider the amount of choices that I offer my students, and why I had so few choices up to this point.
Developing choice assignments (and assessments) forced me to reevaluate exactly what I’m assessing with a given assignment. For instance, my original “Letter from Birmingham Jail” assignment was extremely dry compared to the choice assessment that I created.
In creating this new assessment, I had to think carefully about the goals of the assessment itself (was the goal to assess my students’ ability to write explanatory essays or to assess their understanding of the ways authors use figurative and rhetorical language?). I think I had gotten a bit complacent with my assessments, and I hadn’t really been interrogating them the way I did in this instance.
Going forward, I plan on reviewing my major assessments (and likely the majority of the assignments in all my classes) to make sure that I am offering students different ways to express their knowledge whenever possible – that doesn’t mean essays will be optional, but there are certainly moments where I can assess their understanding of various concepts in different ways and allow my students to have some say in what that looks like. I’m hopeful that this will result in not only greater engagement, but also in much better outcomes for my students, as they will be able to select the options that give them the greatest chance of success!
Christine Aston teaches at the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School. This is her third year teaching 9th and 10th grade English. She began her career teaching college composition courses in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in English literature (from Mills College), and one in education (from UMass, Amherst).