I have often written, both on this blog and in feedback on work submitted in my graduate courses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), about the power of choice. I carry Dr. Katie Novak’s voice in my head, pointing out that we expect to be able to go to buy coffee and to be able to have a whole range of choices, from flavor to size to add-ins to temperature, but we often deny the same access to choice for our students. In Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, Mike Anderson writes that “Choice is most powerful when used with purpose….it’s important to remember that choice is a means to an end not an end in and of itself!” (pp. 22-23). As we build hyperdocs and assignments, we must remember that “One of the main purposes of choice is to provide a few options for students and have them self-differentiate” (Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, pg. 12), what is described on the UDL Progression Guide as students moving towards being “empowered” to make their own academic choices that they then reflect on and adjust based on their own self-reflection.
With the guidelines coming out designed to keep students and staff safe under COVID-19, choice feels like a distance memory. How do we continue to build in choice when students are in assigned seats in the classroom and the cafeteria? How do we continue to value choice when students must face front to avoid transmission? How do we continue to support students who struggle to remain seated and working when they stay in the same classroom all day long? I am not arguing against these safety measures, to be 100% clear. I am simply wondering how these conflicting realities will co-exist in the world to come.
When we see photos from schools around the world that are reopening, we see exactly that–students in rows, facing forward, sometimes in repurposed plastic voting booths, isolation booths inside walls of brick-and-mortar. It’s unclear to me how this sort of design will lead to a reversal of all the social ills that are predicted as a result of the remote emergency learning. If students live in a six-foot isolation bubble, how does this mean that they are engaged in social interaction? On the academic side, as I’ve taught summer school remotely, I’ve been struggling with how to have students share their work with me. Our ClassKick subscription isn’t live yet…the students don’t have iPads or document cameras, tools for both teachers and students to share their work. Somehow, until I tried having students share their work with me in remote summer school, I didn’t realize that I don’t yet have a system or means by which students can show me their work. Again, maybe it’s ClassKick or Kami or PearDeck, all of which I have learned about this summer, but it’s something I haven’t figured out yet and, without it, the interactive, back-and-forth of the classroom is missing.
Since students can’t accept, share, lend, or pass in paper, we need to figure this out (and soon), because these same techniques that we should have been using in remote emergency learning are going to come into play when we are in a classroom, six feet away and hands off all papers. One idea I do want to think about comes, again, from Mike Anderson. He writes about a system where “[s]tudents have a checklist to help them keep track of required content as well as their own goals. They fill in their own project details so that as the teacher grades their work, the checklists have been personalized…” (pg. 57). While this doesn’t answer my question about the mechanics of getting the work turned back in, which my colleague has been asking me to discuss with her since the end of May, it does make me start thinking about how I might be able to retain a shred of choice, with the engagement it engenders, even while the safety practices build walls between us.
And why do we need choice? Because we need engagement. Why do we need engagement? Because without it, we are building a generation of students who will not be able to adapt to a world that is changing in ways no one could imagine even just months ago. Dr. Novak shared these resources with us during the shutdown:
- This is a great article that really outlines all the problems that are facing our future: What Jobs Will Still Be Around in 20 Years? Read this to prepare for your future.
- Here is a great resource from Forbes that pulls from the Department of Labor, that identifies 10 disappearing jobs.
- The Hamilton Project outlines all the skills that are critical for future jobs and they actually have data and projections that note that to be successful, you need both cognitive skills and basic people skills (or non-cognitive) which adds an additional layer that teaching social skills like collaboration are becoming increasingly more critical as well. It’s a comprehensive, peer-reviewed and research-based resource that really unpacks the necessity of a future-ready education.
- The Department of Labor’s Occupation Outlook tool maps trends in jobs and the skills they require. It’s a fun, interactive option for learners who need to explore more deeply.