How teachers can tap the power of student autonomy when putting new Common Core standards into practice
One of the key elements of the curriculum-design approach known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is student engagement — creating opportunities for students to become engaged and stay motivated, to believe that what they’re learning is important, and to feel capable in their learning.
Fostering engagement — knowing your students, knowing how to make the material sing to them — is where the art of teaching is on full display, says author Katie Novak in UDL Now!, a vibrant and accessible teaching guide packed with strategies for implementing Common Core standards using UDL. The book was released by the UDL pioneers at CAST, an organization co-founded by HGSE Professor David Rose. It is the first book brought out under the umbrella of CAST’s new distribution channel, CAST Professional Publishing.
Among the many action points in UDL Now! is a collection of ideas for so-called choice assignments, where students are given the autonomy to choose how to express their knowledge to their teacher. Autonomy is an essential gateway to engagement, according to the UDL guidelines; when students feel empowered, they become more excited to learn. (And, Novak says, choice assignments have the bonus of being the most fun to plan.)
Five Great Ideas for Choice Assignments
In UDL Now!, Novak outlines 20 ideas that students can choose, regardless of grade level or ability. They are designed to elicit creative, rewarding student work across a variety of discipline areas. Here, we excerpt five of those ideas:
- “Tweet” Your Knowledge
Let students “tweet” their understanding of a concept by expressing it in 140 characters or less. This is a fun exercise for students who are already active on Twitter, and also a good counting lesson for younger students. Tweeting is a great way to practice getting to the nub of a dense concept. And you can challenge your students to see who can stay within the 140-character limit.
- Become an Expert: Write a Children’s Book
Students could collaborate — writing, designing, illustrating, editing — on a children’s book that explains a concept in easily graspable text and images. Assessing an audience and figuring out how to simplify a complex topic requires higher-level thinking and demands a true understanding of a topic, Novak says. Older students in a district could collaborate with elementary teachers to produce books for the younger classes, and could even visit those classes to read to the younger students.
- Turning Poetry Loose
Give students the option of using poetry to express concepts or ideas from subjects across the content area. Allow the humanities and the sciences to collide, Novak says: “Imagine a Shakespearean sonnet about acceleration in a physics class.”
- No Business Like Show Business
Some students love to put on a show, and creating a talk show — writing a script and conducting “interviews” with important figures from the curriculum — can be a great way to channel that enthusiasm to demonstrate knowledge of a topic. You could also invite students to act as the characters in the curriculum, coming to school dressed and speaking as they would.
- Putting Email to Good Use
Allow students in a given class to write an email to someone about the particular content under study. For example, if the class is economics, students could write an email to the owner of a rent-controlled apartment building explaining concepts of supply and demand. If the class is science, students could write to a racecar driver and explain the principles of acceleration. This assignment not only connects the subject matter to the real world, but it allows important instruction in effective communication and proper grammar and email etiquette.
- UDL Curriculum Toolkit, a web-based platform that lets curriculum developers build content that addresses learner variability through the principles of Universal Design for Learning.
- UDL Studio, which helps educators create and share flexible curriculum materials.
- See other examples of how to optimize choice and autonomy in student assignments.
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