Do you hear voices?
Different teachers come to UDL via different paths, but every teacher wants students to be more engaged in learning. The principle of engagement shows us the various ways we can raise engagement, but it depends on the structures around us. For example, Christina was able to add in flexibility to her curriculum. During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, she shared:
So the students were supposed to write an answer to a warm up question, and then they’re supposed to read an article and they’re supposed to take some notes in a specific format, and then they’re supposed to share their notes with each other in a specific format, and then they’re supposed to answer some questions at the end. And I’ve, in the past, had a lot of trouble getting students to really engage with it as well.
Even her description makes it sound tedious. But what comes out in her story is that the structure isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the design within the structure. She identified space within one of those steps to add in more flexible, engaging options. She had to shift her pattern.
You have patterns. We all do. It’s what humans do. We create and love patterns. Heck, our recognition networks (the neural networks behind the principle of representation) are what guide that infatuation. At the same time, we get really bored with patterns. We become disinterested and disconnected when we’re learned the pattern. We are no longer engaged. What’s an educator to do? Look to the students. Hear their voices.
Humans are wonderfully variable. That means students are wonderfully variable. That means they will have different ways to approach things, like how they will approach parts within a pattern.
While telling her story, Christina said, “So, I wanted to figure out a way to make something that had more options and people could do more in whatever method worked for them. But every time I was always going about it, it would seem like something that would take so much time and so much materials and where would you store it and this and that, and people do it at different paces.”
Before we jump to the solution, go back into her thought process – “But every time I was always going about it, it would seem like something that would take so much time and so much materials and where would you store it and this and that.” That’s a lot of truth-telling right there. When she started to think about what to offer her students as choices, her brain went on overload. It actually went into pattern mode. It was going off of previous decision-making cycles – those responsible adult patterns we follow when designing our lessons. But Christina allowed for a tiny disruption. She allowed student voice. Students shared their ideas and those ideas stemmed from what she already had in her classroom or she had easy access to. And then (and this is awesome) students were so engaged with the activity, they used materials they had at home!
Student voice and student choice are a mantra in the UDL community. If you’ve listened to any of the UDL in 15 Minute podcasts, read any books on UDL, watched videos about UDL, you’ve heard about student voice and choice, but there’s a barrier that remains. And that barrier is patterns.
Here’s what I want you to do. As an observer (not a judge), I want you to keep track of the patterns you have in your planning and in your classroom. If you think you’ll judge yourself, bring in a colleague to watch for patterns or listen to you list your patterns (just list, not change). Do this for a week. Then ask, where can you open the door to student voice? What place (e.g., folder storage, bookshelf placement), action (e.g., where they sit), or lesson design (e.g., what do they read during independent reading time) pattern can shift. Next, be open with your students. Tell them why you’re trying this. Give them ownership.
Each UDL in 15 Minute podcast is devoted to help educators understand shifts they can make to lead their students toward becoming expert learners. This is one of the most significant steps you can take. By giving students voice, letting them know why you want to hear their voice, and then using their opinions to design a lesson or your learning environment, you are positioning them to see the purpose in their learning and to build motivation. You are moving them down the path of becoming expert learners.