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Returning to Templates

I’ve written about templates before–I have found them to be powerful tools for removing barriers for students, especially with complex content or, as in this post, with large or long-term projects.

With that said, one lesson I learned from Irene Witt, my former math colleague, was that I’m inclined to built a template that I love so much that I end up requiring students to use it. In fact, I’m guilty of even including points on assessments for filling in parts of the template. Ugh. Looking back, I know I was well intentioned (and YES, the students NEEDED to use the template), but, as Irene said, we should not be giving points for filling out spaces.

Sigh. We all need an Irene!

So it’s a little ironic that I’m writing about templates again, this time from a very different perspective. As I have mentioned before, part of my job at my new school this year is to help teachers implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I have been working with Jack Czajkowski, 8th grade science teacher, to revise assessments and projects. Here is an example of a template he designed for a project on the types of galaxies:

The template itself is basic, but the results from the students were anything but, even for students who used the template. This student illustrated the template with her own original art:

Although all students were given the choice to use the template, many opted out, creating Prezis, websites, and presentations in Google Slides:

The wide variety of interpretations of the assignment, as well as the art, additional touches, and the formats, prove the truth of the foundations of UDL: “Empower students to make choices or suggest alternatives for what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will express what they know in authentic ways” (UDL Progression Rubric 7.1). This empowerment leads to a high degree of engagement, not a stifling or a constraint, when the template is built and used appropriately.

Thanks to Irene Witt (still and always!), and to Jack Czajkowski, Chyrstal Zajchowski, Jon Nelson, and Jenny Plant for letting me drool over their students’ work.

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