The air is filled with silence. The boredom in the room is palpable. You are the real-life version Ben Stein’s economic teacher portrayal on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and it’s pretty embarrassing.
It’s not your fault. Today’s kids are running on empty. They are multi-tasking out of their minds, and are taking part in the 8 billion times a day Americans are checking their phones. Distractions are everywhere and when left to their own devices (literally!), children never have to feel boredom. The rise of technology has made it very easy for us, and our students, to become lazy, disengaged and complacent. This is no easy attitude to overcome.
Yet, in today’s classrooms, so many teachers are still relying on traditional means of conveying information to the next generation. Lecturing, reading, essays and multiple-choice tests are all too often go-tos for teaching and measurement. Students are told they need to learn math, or science, or reading because “they have to” or “it’s the standard” instead of being truly motivated to learn.
Now, more than ever, there is a tremendous amount of variability in today’s classrooms. As we have expanded access to education to all kinds of students and built more reliance on classroom and school measurement, teachers feel they need to make more accommodations, simplify their materials, and teach for the test. I am here to tell you that you can meet the needs of all your students and teach district and national standards all while making your job more fun, exciting, creative and interesting.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an education framework backed up by decades of research and is founded on the premise that children can not learn their best unless we have activated three networks of their brains.
The affective network must be activated to motivate students to learn. This network must be turned on by showing kids WHY material is important and how it is relevant to their individual lives and goals. By activating the affective network, students are able to cope when things get difficult. The recognition network must be activated so that students can make sense of the information they are taking in. This network is responsible for the WHAT of learning and allows students to access relevant content and concepts to help them process and retain new information. Finally, the strategic network must be activated in order for students to take action and problem-solve. It allows them to apply what they have learned in new and relevant ways. Simply put, the strategic network is the HOW of learning.
When all three networks of the brain are activated, students are like freshly opened cans of seltzer: they are bubbling with excitement. When you are lecturing to your students, assigning reading and finishing up your lesson with a written exam, the fizzle is lost: your students go flat.
Next time you are setting up a lesson plan, think about other ways you can reach your students. Be mindful of their extreme variability and provide options for them to choose from that will allow them to learn best. Get them excited by showing how the information they are learning is relevant to their lives and the world. Give them choices on how to show you that they have met your standards and learned materials.
Implementing UDL in your classroom isn’t something you can do overnight. It will require practice and patience from yourself and your students. Be accepting of feedback, adjust and adapt, and see that despite the phones, despite the TVs, the Echos and tablets – you are exciting; you are full of life, information and energy. You can help aid your students to becoming expert learners. But those lectures? They have got to go.