Remote/Digital Learning · UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Bang for the buck, vocabulary focus

The start of the 2020-2021 school year was unusual here in Massachusetts for public school educators, as schools had up to an additional two weeks of preparation time prior to the start of the school year to prepare to make the transition to virtual education. For me, having accepted a job at a virtual school less than a week before my original start date, it was about as surreal as it got! I had also changed grades (from seventh to sixth) and positions (from math to Special Education). So, I had an extra ten days to get ready…but no true idea of what to do to prepare or what materials to use to do that preparation.

To use the time as best I could, I spent some time preparing vocabulary work for my Academic Support classes. Ironically, as I write this post on the November break, I have not been able to use this material, because we use the Academic Support class time to complete current class material and then get the kids off the screen as much as possible, but I think there are still lessons worth sharing about the process I went through in developing what I call a “template,” or a format that I can repeat and reuse.

It took me probably close to an hour to design the first vocabulary template on the topic of fractions.  I wanted to use a pretty template, one of the ones Julie Spang taught us about in her professional development this summer.  So, that meant time to find the recording of the professional development on my blog, time to scroll through it, time to then go through the Slides templates, time to download it, time to move it from one Google account to another, etc.  Then, it was over 50 slides long, so I had to decide which ones to keep and which ones to remove.  Then I had to decide which ones to modify and how.

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With that done, I needed links to things like a Frayer model template, but mine from my old district had access locked, so I had to find a new one.  I had talked with the sixth grade math teacher about how we might do vocabulary work in the year coming, including shared concerns we had about using Quizlet, where you can’t see the work the students do without a paid subscription.  What is the solution?  How will students hand in their work?  How do we work this activity into the scope of a unit?  How do we have students do the work for the first module, one of the most difficult ones (fractions)? Those were some of the questions we wrested with as we considered how we might incorporate regular vocabulary work into the curriculum.

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Added to this was the fact we knew that many of the students were new to Greenfield Virtual Commonwealth School (GCVS) and a virtual school experience in general (and likely have little experience with choice and Universal Design for Learning, although that’s harder to ask/measure/gauge).  What were some potential solutions?

  • limit the choices at the start and build them up over time
  • retain the choices but remove them from homework and do them during Academic Support classes
  • keep the slides as are written, but hide them from view
  • have students turn in all work to the same Google Form (thank you, Irene, for the idea we used at the end of last year)–students can submit a screenshot, a link to a Google Doc, or other media, all through the same Google Form

Even with all of these questions still unanswered, once I had an initial template built, I was stunned to realize how quickly it moved to create more of the vocabulary sheets.  Once I have a template set, I am only making a copy and changing two labels, plus pulling key vocabulary from Eureka Math’s “terminology” lists.  Since the students are looking up the definitions, I don’t even have to front-load that work, which, in the past, I probably would have done.  Instead, I’m able to create many of these in a very short amount of time.  This is the power of a functional template!

I was even able to transfer to a 7th grade set of vocabulary terms, just by pulling a different template from (so I wouldn’t get confused–I’ve learned the value of a clear visual distinction!), taking out the slides that I knew I didn’t want and copying over the equivalent slides and labels, thereby getting my 7th grade vocabulary work done as well! Even though I am not going to use either grade’s vocabulary this year, I consider the time well spent and the material worth saving for future use.

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