In this week’s reading from Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice (Meyer, Rose, Gordon 2013), John Mundorf spoke about the paradigm shift from thinking about student disability towards considering the disabilities and faults in the curriculum. He states that we, as the educator, can control the environment, the goals of a lesson, and the materials we use within the lesson so we need to focus on that instead of “listing problems” with students. This really stood out to me because I have encountered many teachers who tend to focus on the problems they are having with specific students instead of taking a UDL approach to difficult situations. Perseverating on challenging students is not helpful and leads to frustration. When we shift our attention to the areas we can control, it is easier to maintain a positive outlook. It reminds me of the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.” There are many things that our students face that we cannot change, but the way we teach is something we have the power to change...if we are brave enough to try.
When I see that students are struggling with something that I have assigned, I take another look at the way I have taught the information, not just throw blame at the students. Just today, I created a new document to try to solve an issue I was having with my classes. I had spent a lot of time working last weekend on revamping my planning sheets for students. I have a total of nine different planning sheets, one for each different theme that students can choose from when deciding on their idea for their artwork. I had realized that the planning sheets as they were were missing something. With the help of my teacher friend, I was able to revise these sheets in hopes of making them work better. I rolled out the new sheets to students at the beginning of this week and one thing that I discovered was that the students were having a hard time keeping track of where they were in the process. Since we all have chromebooks and the first page of the sheet was filled with hyperlinks, I didn’t print them out. I discovered that some students really have a hard time managing having multiple windows open on their computer. I also realized that I needed to label the planning sheets with “Step 1, Step 2, etc.” Today, I created a blank template of the planning sheet with further instructions that could hopefully clarify directions and serve as a visual reminder of which step they were on. I printed these sheets out today and gave them to my last period class. I am not sure if this really helped or not yet, but at least I am trying! I was able to point at the sheet and ask, “Which step are you on right now.” Which was easier when had a concrete piece of paper vs. something on a screen.
When listening to Lindsay Tavares share her story of the lesson that didn’t go as planned, I could totally relate. There have been many times when I have tried to plan a great lesson for students, but it falls flat. In my high school classes, it can be hard to predict how the students will react to a lesson. Teenagers seem to be especially prone to variability dependent on the time of day, their relationships at school or at home, how hungry they are or how much sleep they got (or didn’t get). Now throw 20+ of these young people in a room together and the variability grows exponentially. This can be overwhelming to consider, but at the same time gives me some solace in knowing that the task of hitting the nail on the head for every lesson is not an easy one. It helps me to be kind to myself and not feel like a failure when my hours of preparation don’t go as planned. Now, I think it is important to note that the fact that this is challenging does NOT mean that you should just accept the status quo. I believe that our kids deserve to learn and we as educators need to strive to do our very best for our students by remaining reflective and refusing to settle for what is easy.
Over the past months, I have worked to implement some of the strategies that we have been learning about and I feel more confident in my overall understanding of the concept of UDL. There is still so much more to learn, but I think that will always be the case.
Life experience is HUGE when it comes to the makeup of a person. People are shaped by where they live, who they hang out with, their family’s values and traditions, and so much more. It’s interesting to see the use of Adelson’s Illusion here in this course as this is something I also share with my students when discussing shading and the importance of observing what you see. During this lesson, I start with the same image on the whiteboard and ask if the two boxes are the same shades of gray. Interestingly, there are always some who have seen this illusion and know that they are in fact the same. Other students scoff and then look more closely… why would anyone say they are the same? Students’ previous experience of learning about this illusion enabled them to see it for what it was, a trick our brain was playing on us. I had never considered how this illusion could act as an illustration for learner variability.
In my art classes, my students have a wide range of understanding of art worlds. I have students who have never been to an art museum or really ever looked at art compared to students who have parents who are professional artists or have been to many museums, art events, or gallery openings around the world. It can be challenging to prepare lessons when you don’t know what experiences students are bringing to the table. This brings to mind the study on Western vs. Eastern cultures and how, in my opinion, we often aren’t cognizant of cultural differences like that. We have so many implicit biases that we need to interrogate in order to best serve our students. If we are to implement UDL and plan for all students, we must spend time reflecting not only on our students, but on ourselves. How can we remove barriers when we don’t even know they exist?
One quote from the text that stood out to me was, “It's important to remember that learners may seem ‘off task’ but actually be pursuing the task in a novel way.” (Meyer, Rose, Gordon, 2005) In the book, Troublemakers, by Carla Shalaby, she talks about how important it is that we celebrate the uniqueness of each child in our care. She also posits that we must consider how our students of color may not fit the mold of a traditional approach to education. How many of the rules and procedures in schools are founded on white principles that don’t honor the varying cultural differences found in our students? As I read this book over the summer, I was encouraged by the way that UDL opens the door to look at learner variability and hopefully create a safe learning environment for all students. Today, I had a student who was mixing her colors in a different way than I had demonstrated. Instead of mixing the paint on the palette then using a brush to paint it on the paper, she was using her palette knife to apply and mix the paint directly on the paper. For a second, I thought about correcting her then I realized that she was still meeting the lesson objective which was to match the colors in her reference photo. She was just approaching it in her own way. This student is one who often times seems disengaged so I jumped at the chance to notice what she was doing and encourage her to continue experimenting in this way and maybe even make a whole painting using only the palette knife. It is important for educators to highlight those moments and to be flexible enough to allow for variation in approach.
Part of what I love about what I do is when the students are able to share their experiences with each other and with me. It is important to harness that experience and let it inform our curriculum and classroom community. I pay attention to the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of students. As an art teacher, I have a lot of freedom with regards to curriculum, so if I see students are interested in using text in their work, I can do a workshop for students to learn and grow in their ability to use text in new and exciting ways. I also use Remind or Google Classroom to share resources that I have found that I know will benefit them. Recently, I had a student who was interested in using the new looms we got this year for weaving. I told him that I had limited knowledge of weaving and that he would need to do some research to figure it out. When I found a video that I thought would help him in his quest, I sent it to him through Remind and then posted it in the Student Resource section of my webpage. Many of the links on my webpage are the result of researching ways to help students with their ideas.
I have always believed that every person is their own, unique being with their own sets of troubles and successes, but I haven’t always done a good job at remembering this when planning lessons. I think that most people would probably agree that everyone is different, but maybe we don’t fully comprehend how different we all are. Honestly, I was a little overwhelmed with all of the technical talk about the brain and science and data. I am still trying to make sense of all of the scientific information and how I can adapt my planning based on pattern recognition. Learning about technical things like that are challenging for me. As we go through this course, I find myself reflecting a lot on myself as not only a teacher, but also a learner. If I were to have a PET scan, what areas of my brain would light up? What are my strengths? Where do I struggle more? What can I do to overcome those challenges? Then on the other side of the same coin, I wonder a lot about how I can plan for so much variability. If every person is so unique, where do I even begin?
I love technology. It has opened new worlds to me as an educator and to my students. There are so many wonderful options for students to use in order to learn at their best. I felt a kinship with Lisa from the powerpoint presentation as her approach sounds similar to mine. She is weaving technology into her curriculum while still having other analog options for students. I like how she mentioned that she would introduce each different technology one at a time. Sometimes, I feel like I need to give choice right away so it is a good reminder that sometimes that can be overwhelming for kids and that it is also okay to ask all students to try different things that may be outside of their comfort zone.
One of the challenges with using technology is that sometimes students don’t yet know how to harness its power. I have students who have already named themselves tech “dumb.” Technology is something that I find to be super engaging and am motivated to learn about. At times, I can find it difficult to consider which barriers students (or other teachers) may have in accessing tech. Just like with traditional print materials, using tech can be a barrier to some students and I need to plan for that in my lesson design. Some of the steps I take to remove barriers is to provide explicit instruction on the way tech works and to take screencasts of common problems students have, like uploading the published link for the Weebly post to the Google Classroom. Over the summer, Google Classroom made some changes to the platform. It is important to share this information with students. I will take a few minutes to show them, “See this icon, this stands for an assignment. This one means it is a material. Did you know that if you go to your CLASSWORK page, it shows all of your assignments in one place AND if the assignment is grayed out, it means you already completed it?” Oftentimes as educators, we assume students know how to use technology when in fact, many only know how to use Snapchat and Instagram.
In my choice-based classroom, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can give students freedom to make choices while still supporting them. I wholeheartedly agree that technology makes this easier, but it is still important to have no-tech options for kids sometimes. An example of how I do this in my classroom is my Idea Generation station. When I first transitioned to a choice approach, I found students really struggled with coming up with ideas. I realized that though my ultimate goal for them was to be able to make their own decisions about what they would make, some students weren’t ready for that yet. The next year, I built a series of resources, both analog and digital, based on nine different themes. In my Art Intro class, I started by introducing three broad themes to the class through a series of activities that included videos, whole class discussion, round robin, and more. In addition to the initial introduction of the themes, I created a resource library in my room with a binder for each theme that included a planning sheet and additional resources like practice worksheets. The planning sheet has questions for consideration, visual examples of the theme, and practice activities. On top of the analog resources in my classroom, I also have a page on my website with virtual resources for each theme. Here students can find the planning sheet in digital form, links to websites, and youtube tutorials. An important thing to note about the planning sheet and all resources, is that there is no requirement that students use the planning sheet or any of the resources available. If a student already has an idea, why would I require them to jump through my hoops before moving forward? I emphasize to the students that the resources are there to help them when they are stuck. I am constantly reflecting, fine-tuning, and sometimes completely overhauling what I do with students with UDL ever present in my mind.
I am currently enrolled in a graduate class on Universal Design for Learning. I want to share my weekly reflections here as I think it is important to share and discuss what I am learning.
Generally speaking, we as educators are the ones “driving the bus.” We design the curriculum. We stand at the front of the room. We decide how to set up the space within our classrooms. We choose the destination and drive our students there. The metaphor of learning to drive a stick shift made me think about who should be in the driver’s seat in the classroom. Meyer, Rose, and Gordon (2013) state that, “The environments in which we live and learn have a huge impact on how we live and learn.” This statement validates the need for teachers to provide a safe space for students that honors their variability. Along with that comes the necessity to step aside more and allow the students to take the steering wheel and drive their own learning.
There are different approaches teachers employ to deliver challenging material. I want to discuss two that I find particularly problematic. Some teachers stay in the driver seat explaining how to drive but don’t ever get out of the way and let students practice, oftentimes due to pressure to cover the curriculum. How can students truly learn if they don’t have time to apply what they are being taught? Students need to be given the opportunity to “get in the driver’s seat” both metaphorically and literally in this case. I think too often, teachers don’t get out of the way and allow students to learn on their own. On the other side of the spectrum, some teachers in the name of “rigor” throw their students into the car and say, “Drive!” Most students in this scenario would not succeed. I am currently teaching my son Elias how to drive. I can’t even imagine putting him in the car, a stick shift no less, and expecting him to figure it all out on his own. In order to grow, all students need to be challenged, but with that challenge, there must also be support. Providing multiple means of representation is important in order to honor and support learner variability and success. Some students will want to watch videos and learn about the mechanics of driving a stick shift before ever stepping foot in the car. Others will be ready to go with you sitting beside them giving them the step by step instructions. While others will want to learn to drive an automatic car before even thinking about driving a stick shift. Our challenge as educators is to design a curriculum that meets all of those varying needs at the same time.
Driving a stick shift is not an easy task that can be done just by trying it once. It requires the driver to engage and persist through the challenge. We as educators, need to message to our students that we believe in their ability to succeed and that it’s okay if they don’t get it yet. Being able to deal with the frustration of failing is super important in life. I think instilling a growth mindset in students helps with this, though I am still trying to find the best way to message this to students. Reminding them that failing is part of the process and that we learn a lot from our mistakes is important and can help students cope better with failing. Teaching coping skills is a vital part of teaching students. I find it more and more prevalent that students do not have the skills to deal with stress, anger, frustration, and other strong emotions in appropriate ways. For this reason, I have started implementing a mindful minute at the beginning of each class. I also have a variety of fidgets and scented lotions available for students who need/want them. I am working on a poster about emotions that I plan to hang in my class to help with identifying emotions and then hopefully, managing them. I feel like this part is so often overlooked by teachers again due to the pressure to get through the curriculum. However, if students can’t deal with their emotions, they aren’t able to access the curriculum at all. This is part of the reason I am taking this class to learn more tools to aid in providing multiple means of engagement, especially with regards to social emotional learning.
As I write this reflection, I am reminded of a book I used to read to my boys called Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. In the story, a pigeon is pleading with you, the reader, to let him drive the bus. He has a million different reasons why you should let him and he goes through a series of different emotions because he isn’t allowed to. I wonder how often our students feel like the pigeon? How often do we as educators let students take the wheel? How many of the behaviors we see are related to the fact that students don’t have a choice? When we do say yes, how can we set them up for success? How do we support student autonomy? How do we help students be okay when they can’t yet drive the bus?
I am currently enrolled in a graduate class on Universal Design for Learning. I want to share my weekly reflections here as I think it is important to share and discuss what I am learning.
It was interesting to learn about the history of sign language and the deaf on Martha’s Vineyard. I giggled when reading about how children, deaf and hearing, would use sign language to communicate when the teacher wasn’t looking. (Wikipedia, September 2010) The fact that this “disability” was so prevalent on the Vineyard required citizens to adapt in order to make life better for all on the island. I recently saw the film, “A Quiet Place” where there are dangerous monsters that are drawn to sound. Survivors used sign language to communicate and needed to find new ways to do the tasks of everyday life. It was eye-opening to consider how much life would change for me if I couldn’t make any sound. I think that we as educators should consider the different variables that students face in their daily lives and how they impact their education.
One variable that I haven’t thought about as much as I should is that of neurodiversity. I have been doing a lot of reflection on topics of diversity especially with regards to race. I am constantly evaluating my thoughts and opinions on the things happening around me through the lens of race. This was a reminder that students with disabilities also require my reflection. Armstrong (2010) pleads with us to use more positive language when discussing students with varying neurological abilities. He states that, “regular classroom teachers are far more likely to want a ‘rare and beautiful flower’ or ‘an interesting and strange orchid’ included in their classroom than a ‘broken’ or ‘damaged’ child.” (Armstrong 2010) This analogy demonstrates the power of language. Focusing on the positive and what students ARE able to do as opposed to what they aren’t will bolster students confidence and change their experience in school.
My new approach to teaching is in direct alignment with the idea of embracing a child’s strengths. I am beginning my third year as a choice-based art educator and ascribe to the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (https://teachingforartisticbehavior.org) philosophy of education which believes that the child is the artist and the classroom is their studio. I no longer have all students creating their own versions of the same project as I realized that this is not how artists work. In the past, I focused heavily on technique acquisition, especially drawing skills. Now, instead of requiring all of my students to become proficient at drawing realistically, I encourage students to find their own path to success through multiple means of expression (UDL principle) . Some students may not like drawing, but will fall in love with sculpture or weaving or knitting. When we shift our focus to “differences, not disabilities,” (Armstrong, 2010) the possibilities are endless and exciting.
Looking back to Martha’s Vineyard and the way their culture adapted to the needs of the population, I wonder what school systems would look like if they were all universally designed. How can we create spaces where all students learn regardless of whether or not they are good at “playing school?” How can we honor each student and their needs while still maintaining a functioning classroom? How can we get through the curriculum while allowing for student choice? If all schools implemented UDL, how would the role of special education teachers change? Would students still need to be pulled out of class for interventions? Would more students stay in school? What would the future look like for children who had a voice in the way they learn? At this point, I have more questions than answers. It is hard to imagine this utopian school system where everyone’s needs are met, but I think we need to do what we can for the kids we have in our classrooms. We have to start somewhere. I am starting here, in this course.
Our second annual District-wide Night of the Arts took place on Thursday, April 26th and it was amazing. We estimate that roughly 500 students, parents, and other stakeholders made it out to support the artists of Oxford. The four art teachers in our district, Patricia Sims, Karalyn Crutcher, Evelyn Mwenye, and myself, worked tirelessly along with student volunteers to put up approximately 2000 pieces of artwork. The energy in the air was electric as people of all ages came to the high school to admire student work, listen to poetry, sing karaoke, and make a marshmallow city!
One of the highlights of the night was when a student who doesn't typically attend school functions made a point to tell me that he came and that he "actually liked it." This student is known for not always doing the right thing in school, but in art he found a connection and that is powerful. During the week while we were setting up, it was always great to see the students genuinely interested at seeing what their peers had been doing. Sometimes I forget that these young people may only be seeing the work done by kids in their own class and how valuable it is for them to have a show to highlight their efforts.
For almost three weeks leading up to the show, my students were active participants in curating their own work, preparing the work for display, and writing artist statements. They did all of this, not for a grade, but for the authentic experience of showing their work. As a TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) teacher, it is wonderful to see the variety of work on display and not have to worry about hanging too many of the same "project" in the same space. The student voice rang true in both the artwork and the artist statements that accompanied the work. Proud teacher here.
All are invited to attend our annual Night of the Arts on April 26th from 5-8 pm. This will be our biggest event ever including artwork by all art students in the district for the first time ever. The art teachers in the district are working tirelessly to prepare student artwork for display and make this night a success. We also are accepting work from OHS alumni and faculty/staff. Please contact me at email@example.com if you are interested in participating.
It's hard to believe that it is already December and 2017 is drawing to a close. This school year has been filled with a lot of learning and growth for not only my students, but me as well. As a second year TAB teacher, I have been able to make changes based on some of the mistakes that I made last year which has led to some major improvements.
One thing that I am really excited about is the artist proposal and new themes I have implemented this year. I have actually been sick with the stomach bug for the last four days, so it has given me some time to sit and make some needed adjustments. In my Art Intro classes, I rolled out three themes and will present three more when I go back to school. Pulling together this presentation and all the required resources has been a tremendous amount of work, but I am enthusiastic about where this scaffold will lead my students. I believe that this change as well as others have led to more ownership and purpose in the student work. It is invigorating to see!
Want to know more about the proposal and themes? Check out the themes page to see what I have been up to.
Take a peek into my art room... here are some highlights from my classes over the past several weeks.
A few years ago while visiting a fellow art teacher friend, she shared the Fuzzy Creature Game with me. I have been using it with my students ever since. I've had some people ask me how to play and figured it was time to write it all down someplace to share with others.
When introducing the Fuzzy Creature game to my students, this is what I usually say:
"Okay everyone, we are going to play the Fuzzy Creature game today. Has anyone ever played?" Usually, the response is no in my Art Intro classes. "Alright, this game is played with a partner. One person is the Fuzzy Creature and the other is the murderer." Pause for gasps and giggles. It gets them every time. I think this is my favorite part of sharing this game with new students.
"Here is how you will play. The fuzzy creature will draw himself on the paper using a colored marker. I want to emphasize that this is a thinking game, not a drawing game. Don't spend five minutes drawing the perfect creature. After the fuzzy creature has been drawn on the paper, the murderer is going to attempt to kill it. For example, the murderer may draw a ten ton weight hanging over the head of the creature. Does the game end here? Oh no, we are just getting started. Now, the fuzzy creature needs to escape the attack and thus the game is rolling. This process of attacking and escaping will go on as long as you think creatively. You may not use the same attack or defense more than once. Both partners should use a different colored marker. Everyone will have a turn being both the creature and the murderer. Are you ready to play?"
I then have students count off, one, two, one, two. All the "ones" will be the fuzzy creature. They come to take a piece of large paper then find their murderer. We play for about seven-ten minutes then I ask all of the murderers to stand. They now become a fuzzy creature, get a new piece of paper, and then find a new partner. We play for as long as we have time for, usually two or three rounds. I love the way students really get into it that it causes students to change to a different partner and thus break the ice with people they may be less familiar with. It also helps me get a feel for which students are going to struggle with idea generation. When students say that they've lost, I push them to think more creatively. My returning art students are always psyched to play the fuzzy creature game again at the beginning of the new school year. It is a lot of fun.
A little over a week into my second year with a TAB classroom and the students are chomping at the bit to start creating. We have spent time setting up clear expectations which include collaborating with other artists. We had our first real TASK party, played the fuzzy creature game, and spent time exploring idea generation. Idea generation is something I saw as a weakness for students last year, so I knew I needed to make a change and spend more time developing these skills. One of the activities that students completed was to fill up an "idea sandbox" with ideas. It was pretty great because the next day, I was able to direct students to "Go play in the sandbox,' when they told me they didn't know what to do for the sketchbook cover. I think this will be a valuable resource for students as we move through the year.
I am also excited to be teaching a new class this year, Art Studio. Thanks to TAB, I was able to consolidate my Art II, Art III/IV, and AP students all into a year-long class. I am now able to offer three sections of advanced art so that it is easier for students to fit it into their schedules. This also enables students who have taken Ceramics to continue working in clay since I am the only teacher who does studio art at my school. In this new course, I look forward to building an authentic studio environment where students can share and grow together. I was beyond thrilled when I saw this happening yesterday already when a student shared her experience with different media with a classmate to help her decide what she wanted to do. Students teaching each other is an amazing thing.
There are still a lot of unknowns and I have a lot of work to do. It can be overwhelming to decide what's best for the students, what order lessons should take place, how much and when to give them freedom, but I am confident that I am on the right path. I am enjoying the journey.
Mrs. Taborda is the studio art teacher at Oxford High School in Oxford, MA. This blog will document her journey as an educator and share the happenings of the OHS art room.