Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

a little bitty star.

I want to reflect a little bit on last school year. It was hard, and I doubted myself a lot. I was a first year English teacher. I tried hard to project confidence. I really did. I comforted myself in the silence of the night by rocking back and forth and repeating “I taught Spanish Literature for college credit… I taught Spanish Literature for college credit.”   I had to force myself to believe that if I can get students to read 38 works of literature in one school year and earn college credit when they really didn’t want to do all that work… I could do anything, even this.

I started last school year with a post about all the reasons I could, and would do this job. But, for all the confidence I posted last year, each day and each month proceeded to break me a little bit more. Could I really do this? Were my kids learning? Would they pass their exam? In May when we got our results, I was elated and disappointed. If I’m honest, I was mostly disappointed. Our pass rates aren’t nearly what I am used to and what I expected. However, despite that, we improved by 10% or more in every category. I was bum-fuzzled to say the least. How do the kids improve in every. single. area. and still only the same number of them pass? I knew my kids had significant gaps… but hadn’t I worked to fill them all year long? Perhaps a school year isn’t enough time to fill years of gaps…

This summer I wracked my brain. I made changes. I beat myself up.

Then, in August, we got our State Accountability Ratings back. I was shocked to learn that our campus had earned a distinction in ELA / Reading. We only have 2 English teachers in our high school. Between the upper division teacher taking on and encouraging more dual credit students, and pushing them to earn credit, and the incredible reading / writing growth in my 9th and 10th graders… this is what I saw:

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I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. I cried. I freaked out. I jumped up and down a little.

Our campus only earned this one distinction this year. Although we are consistently considered one of the better schools in our area, the standards for this distinction are very, very high. Additionally, our campus has never, in the history of distinctions (since 2002), earned the ELA/ Reading distinction. 

This little star restored my hope and my confidence that what I am doing/ and did do works. This little star is actually a really big deal. This is the culmination of every crappy day last year, every email dealing with another parent unsure of my methods, every fight with a student, every doubt, and every kid/ parent/ colleague who occasionally thought I had fallen off my rocker.

This little star holds every student who came to school and pushed their limits in grades 9-12, every teacher/ coach/ sponsor who pushed literacy and writing techniques and encouraged kids to focus on school, and every parent who made their kid show up and buck up. This little star is the STARt of something big.

My home is Spanish, but my home away from home isn’t so bad after all. 

-CL

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Posted in English escapades, teaching, Tech-ventures

Universal Design

Today’s classrooms look very different than they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Today we have access to a million different resources on a daily basis, which can enhance learning (whether it does or not… well, we’ll talk about about in a paragraph or two!). We also need every bit of those resources. Unlike the classrooms of our forefathers, our classrooms are diverse.

Diversity is more than race. Diversity is ethnicity, culture, economic status, ability, life experiences, home life, home diet, technology experiences. Diversity literally means “all the things that make us different from one another”. Personality counts too!

diversity

*Image used with permission under a Creative Commons License 3 -CC BY-SA 3.0. Created by nyphotographic.com, original image URL: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/highlighted/d/diversity.html

Despite our best intentions and greatest hopes, technology is not the long awaited savior of education, nor it is the “great equalizer” we once hoped for. In fact, a great article I read this week, though “old” by academic standards, still had nuggets of valid insight, like this one: “The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology” (page 5).

We must constantly approach technology as a tool for our trade. Everyone is passing out hammers (technology), but some kids have screws and not nails. The educator’s role in determining what a student needs to move to the next stage of learning is vital. We will never be replaced in this way. 

Universal Design For Learning

Before reading about Universal Design for Learning, it never occurred to me that I might already be doing it–but I am (most days)! The basic premise behind it is that in our age of diversity, in classrooms of mixed ability levels, with access to thousands and millions of tools for learning each day, there is a way to help every student move forward in learning every day.

Essentially, lessons should be designed to give students options and access to learning that is relevant and on their level, in three main ways: (1) multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning), (2) multiple means of presentation (what knowledge is presented to various learners) , and (3) multiple means of action or presentation (how they show what they know).

I am teaching high school English classes right now with students on a 2nd grade reading level in the same room as students on a college reading level, the average being about 6th grade. And somehow I need to help every kid move forward in learning. Somehow I need to engage every learner, teach every learner, and get a product out of every. single. kid.

It is a tough task, but it is much more difficult to pretend that the issues and challenges do not exist. So, I press on–as do most teachers. And I believe Universal Design is a great way to do that.

How does technology fit in to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)?

It is pretty simple, really. An iPad does not fix everything. Bringing students all to the same website does not fix learning. During a literature lesson last week, I wanted to introduce Edgar Allen Poe with a biography, to help the students better understand his dark writing. Rather than choose one, I chose 3. (Multiple means of presentation)

If I want students to present information, I can provide multiple tools for doing that. Can students with a fear of public speaking make a video ahead of time to show to the class? Can students use an infographic instead of a powerpoint? (Multiple means of expression).

If I want students to write a research paper, can I have students choose topics they are passionate about? Can I work with each student to choose what an appropriate way to cite sources would be based on their project choice? Can I allow students to collaborate using a variety of tools of their choosing?

I am working on a UDL unit right now, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. I am even more excited to see it in practice come April 2017!  Stay tuned…

-CL

**Featured Image used with permission under a Creative Commons 2.0 License. Created by Justin Baeder. Original URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/justinbaeder/5317820857