A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a wonderful PL session given by an Ontario teacher on full-day kindergarten. Her name was Jane and she came very heavily accredited — an author, a professor, an advocate, a doctorate, and 20 years experience teaching. She spoke to the group of about 200 NL teachers about kindergarten and about what the full-day should look like once it was implemented. She encouraged us to provide more choice throughout the day and to work harder to connect with parents and children. Near the end of her talk, she said something that has stuck in my mind ever since. I can’t quote her exactly, but it was along these lines:
“I can’t exactly tell you what to do every day in your classroom. You’ll have to try new things and rethink many of the practices you have, whether or not they are actually beneficial for children. But here’s what your goal should be: EVERY child should have a GOOD day at school.”
The last sentence was what caused me to re-evaluate some of the things I had been doing. I needed to start looking at things from the child’s perspective. I knew there were children in my class that were not having a good day at school most days.
Those whole-group lessons and extrinsic motivation systems that catered to the middle, bored the high-achievers, shamed and disappointed the low-achievers? GONE.
I began to research and use UDL (Universal Design for Learning) along with inclusive education practices. You can watch a short video here explaining WHY UDL and inclusive practices are beneficial for ALL students. Shelley talks about changing our aim in her video and my new aim was going to be LEARNING for all, instead of teaching for all.
The way I used to teach was more like “Universal Teaching”. I would work for hours, planning elaborate lessons that I hoped would produce the end result of everyone learning the same thing at the same time. My lesson would be SO good that even the most bored or low-achieving child would learn something. And every day, after my GREAT lesson, I would write things in my plan book like “Sam, Bob, Joe, and Timmy– need to reteach. Ashley and Sue — VERY distracted but got it. Lynn, Howie, Becky –not ready for this concept. Then I would push parts of the lesson ahead to the next day, and the next day, and the next. There never seemed to be enough time to cover the curriculum, I always felt like I was behind. I was unhappy. And the kids weren’t happy either.
These days, I provide way more CHOICE in the classroom. I know all children aren’t ready to learn the same thing at the same time. I design a variety of learning centres that children can choose to participate in. I know that children learn about math concepts like numbers, shapes, and measurement when they build things or play games. I know that children learn about language from using it –reading for information, using different text forms for different purposes, adding details to drawings to share their thinking. I know that everyone comes to their own understanding and appreciation of things in their own time and on their own terms, and most importantly, when it matters to them. Of course, I still explicitly teach things like letter sounds and text features, but always in the context of something meaningful like singing a poem, sharing a picture book, or looking at language out in the real world. I spend time with children at the different centres, discussing what they are learning, noticing their growth and documenting their journey.
And guess what? The children are happy. There’s more learning going on than ever before. Most days, I can’t keep up with them. They are planning and designing, producing and acting, creating and expressing themselves in a hundred different ways. They are learning to learn, to work together, to figure things out, to solve problems, to think for themselves. Those low-achievers? They are learning every day. Those high-achievers? Never bored or acting up. And me? Happier than ever before at work. Excited and challenged every day.
And each day, I am trying to do what Jane said. Make sure EVERY child has a good day at school. Sure, there’s a scattered rough morning, a rough week, for them or for me. But we manage. We don’t give up on each other. We go the extra mile, and focus on building our relationships with each other.
Because of UDL and inclusive practices, our classroom is a HAPPY place. A LEARNING place.
Now, I am going to tell you the same thing Jane told us that day. I can’t exactly tell you what to do every day in your classroom. You’ll have to try new things and rethink many of the practices you have, and whether or not they are actually beneficial to children.
Take a good look at the children in your classroom. Ask yourself if everyone is having a GOOD day at school every day. And if you feel like I did, that you’re working really hard and feeling stressed about not having time to get through the curriculum, and you feel like you’re not really addressing the needs of your students at the edges, the least and most competent children, maybe it’s time to do some research about WHY Universal Design for Learning benefits all children. Here’s a video from CAST to get you started. Here’s some more information about UDL from Katie Novak. And here’s a great dinner-party analogy explaining the difference between UDL and DI, just in case you think UDL is just another fancy name for what you are already doing.
Maybe it’s time to focus more on the learning, and less on your teaching. You’re probably already a great teacher, but when ALL your learners are learning and happy, your classroom will be a much happier place.
Wishing you a happier week ahead!
Dedicated teacher for the past 15 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy