My experience in working with students in every grade from one to ten as a learning coach has exposed me to a wide variety of classroom situations and students. The real eye-opener was my continual involvement in the creating of unit projects for math 10-3 class in our school division. I had ideas of how we could change the way we teach these kids and this utopia that we were going to meet their needs in such a unique and wonderful way. I actually was naïve enough at the beginning of their semester to think my work with their teacher was going to change education and schooling for these students, creating an amazing experience for them that would change their outlook of school.
Then we kept rolling out the projects at the end of each unit, knowing that we would want to modify the tasks and reflect on ways to improve it for future 10-3 students. The projects went okay. But it really wasn’t all that we had dreamed of. The students were scared to try these projects because of the unfamiliarity and the challenge that it presented. Real life is projects, which is why we thought the projects would be a powerful tool in helping these students. Real life doesn’t hand out worksheets. Yet the students prefer the worksheets and traditional style of testing over the projects that we created.
It was interesting to watch as I continually revisited the classroom, tweaked our approach, scaffold the assignments, yet saw a significant resistance to the work and effort required to do the projects. All of the students were able to complete the projects and produce quality work, but it required a ton of probing, pushing, and at times pleading to get them to do the assignment. They were not nearly as enthusiastic as we expected them to be. The reason for this was clear to us – these students believe that they are completely incapable of doing the math.
Each student could actually answer my questions and do the work, but they really didn’t believe they could do it on their own. After numerous conversations with students in this class, it became clear that our education system had beaten these kids down and ruined their self-esteem year after year after year. By grade 10, these students have been led to believe that they are not smart and they will not succeed in math.
We need to change this. This is why we believe in doing this work of UDL. As a system we need to change our approaches to teaching, assessing, working with students who have unique needs, learning styles, and challenges. These students are brilliant. They are fully capable of achieving great things in life if they would have opportunities for success to build their confidence and help them realize their full potential. Unfortunately, to date most of the students have gone through an education system that has failed to realize their needs and failed to bring out the true potential and abilities that these students have. Our one-size-fits-all approach can no longer be the approach. It doesn’t work. And it’s not someone else’s problem. It’s all of our problems, and we need to work together to achieve this.
Brett Seatter with Margryt Rispens
Blame it on the two feet of snow on the ground and the fact that it is May the 5th, but I have gardening on my brain. Seeds are strewn across my table, potting soil is piling up in my garage, and my hands itch to dig in the dirt. I want to get messy, scatter seeds, and watch, impatiently waiting for something new to grow. I really want to tend my garden. Sometimes people ask, why would I bother with a garden? My backyard is the size of a postage stamp and there is barely enough space to kick a soccer ball around, let alone grow potatoes. Gardening takes time, and hard work, and aren’t we busy enough? Do we actually grow enough food to make it worth our efforts? Those of us who garden know the answer is more than yes. The work is challenging and the results are often unpredictable. As we plant our seeds it is hard to determine if this variety and that soil will yield the best crop. We read up to date science and apply our current best practice of gardening. We bring this combination of knowledge and skill to our garden and hope and pray for the best. When things fail, we adjust and redo. When they thrive we record the winning combination to use again on future gardens. It is more than worth the effort, as through the process we learn and grow ourselves. Gardening is not defined by the sum of it’s parts, it is defined by the iterate process. It is through this process that we the gardener grow…not just our seeds.
This is the same hope and aspiration we have for our curriculum development prototyping work. We are often asked questions like: Why bother to contribute to this process? What if anything in schools will really change? Will the effort you put in produce? When asked over and over why we would take up such challenging, unpredictable work the answer is because we grow through the work. That is the intention. It is the same hope we have our students in our schools. We develop curriculum prototypes just as we would garden. Through an iterate process that is as important if not more than the finished product. We plant seeds of thought, seeds of hope, seeds of inspiration and pray that our future students will reap the rewards. When we notice students are no longer thriving, we will analyze, evaluate and once again begin the iterate planning process with an essential question:
Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp envisioned for Alberta Education a Curriculum Development Process that would allow for iteration to be applied to curriculum that is flexible, responsive, relevant, inclusive and engaging for all students. It is a process that at its heart is about learning and growing. Not just for students but for all of us in our community (garden) of learners (growers).
When envision what a curriculum prototype could look like, my colleague Alison Van Rosendaal posed the question, “If the metaphor for our old curriculum was the industrial model or more specifically the conveyor belt, what is our new metaphor for curriculum?” In our conversation, she shared the following video. We found this to hold a lot of potential for creating a new metaphor.
Keep planting, keep sowing and never ever stop growing.
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.