I have to start off by saying that I work with the most amazing teachers in the universe. My high school English department, lead by chair, Kelly Cook, is just one example of how the kids in our two towns hit the jackpot. Last week Cook sent me the department’s UDL-ified summer reading revamp, appropriately titled, “Summer Language Exploration” which started off with words, “We used to limit this assignment to summer reading only, but we know that many students are ardent viewers, creative writers, journalists, movie makers, actors, vocabulary vultures, conversationalists, storytellers, and more. We want them to tap into their passions, as long as they play with language. This approach follows the philosophy of Universal Design for Learning.” If you know me, you can picture me literally jumping out of my seat with excitement, and the best part – I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Because they were empowered with professional development, treated like professionals, and supported to make choices that would best meet the needs of their students, they created an assignment that surpasses the quality of any summer reading assignment I have ever seen.
The journey to this amazing experience started last summer when they participated in professional development in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). As with all educators who are given the time, resources, and support to learn about UDL, they took the three principles and Guidelines and made magic. Together as a department, they redefined summer literacy for the students of Groton-Dunstable, without ever being asked, but I argue their work is even bigger than that. Their Summer Language Exploration is a model of collaboration, of creativity, and of how engaging learning can be when students are provided with rigorous, authentic, personalized options and teachers are empowered to use their expertise to ignite student passion in learning. I dare you to read this list and not be ready to jump in.
Thank you GDRSD English department for showing everyone what is possible when we remove barrier and redefine traditional education to engage all students.