Saturday, 10 December 2011

Part 3: Band is UDL! Band is Personalized Learning! Band is 21C learning!

Here is the audio of this blog:

Band was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in Elementary and Secondary School.  When I think back to the composition of that group of students, it was one of those rare instances where the social and cultural sub-groups that we inevitably find in secondary grades, worked in harmony... pun  intended.   Music tends to do that and is therefore an excellent tool that can be exploited and explored in all three principles of the Universal Design for Learning framework.  These three principles are based on activating different parts of the brain.  We know of course that listening to music also stimulates the brain but playing music is actually one of those activities that requires the most use of different parts of the brain at the same time:

click here for the source website of this image

If we think about band in terms of personalized learning, it is uncanny how an instrument suits the personality of a particular student.  If you were a "band geek" like myself (trombone), imagine you are back in band class and look around the room.  Who was playing bass guitar?  Who was playing flute, drums, saxophone?  They just matched!  Even within a particular section of a band, there were different parts (1st, 2nd, alto, soprano, etc) that allowed for even more individualization and adaptation.

Three of the main tenets of 21C learning are communication, collaboration and creativity.  These are skills that are recognized and valued by every organization imaginable.  They are practically requirements in order to thrive at both a personal and professional level.  Not only is a school band a metaphor for a thriving organization, it is a means by which these skills can be developed in the first place with our students.

While a district band program is often precarious in nature because of the ebb and flow of interest, the retention of quality band teachers and the budgetary challenges that constantly face a board of trustees,  the niche that it creates for many students to "belong" is priceless.  Furthermore, as part of a quality education, I believe every student should have the opportunity to try a musical instrument.  I had the pleasure last week of attending the NPSS musical "Back to the 80s".  I'll leave you with an excerpt of their performance.  The music you hear is the school pit band.

Have a great week,

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Part 2: Technology is UDL!: But it's not about Technology!

Here is the Audio of this blog:

First of all, Technology is NOT the solution for all struggling students.  As Clayton Christensen suggests in his book, Disrupting Class, we need to move beyond a patchwork of gadgets and stop cramming new technology into existing structures (2008).  Sound familiar?  Rather than try and address a concept that carries less and less meaning as it simply becomes ubiquitous in our home and educational lives, I would like to talk about technology in terms of how certain tools have been very successful in helping students and staff reach specific educational goals. This subtle change in semantics is actually a major paradigm shift.

Nearly ten years ago in the 2002/2003 school year, our district implemented a Wireless Writing Program for all our grade six and seven students - notice that the focus is on writing.  We became aware that there was a significant gap in writing achievement between our boys and girls at the intermediate level and there were also very few students (boys or girls) who were excelling on standardized writing assessments.

Our Technology Principal and Director of Instruction at the time wondered what it would be like if every student in grade six and seven had a laptop that was embedded with the Performance Standards Rubrics for Writing in its word processing software.  They wondered how boys in particular would benefit from being able to produce and edit text with a laptop as they often struggled with the handwritten editing process. The results were clear.  Not only did the achievement gap between boys and girls narrow significantly, but All students improved in their writing with a significant percentage now exceeding expectations on tests.  In addition, having this powerful tool in the classroom for every student allowed for multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression and multiple means of engagement in several subject areas.

This is a prime UDL example of how a group of struggling students pointed the way to better instruction and achievement for ALL students.

While the Wireless Writing example above entailed significant funding, training, technical servicing, storing, backpacks, chargers and contracts,  my second example is far simpler but equally powerful.  When one of our teachers realized that his students could not follow his lessons at the same pace, he started to tune them into the  Khan Academy:

The simple, brief video lessons on math and other areas, have made learning accessible for many of our students who could not adjust to the pace or length of the instruction given by their teacher.  This is not to suggest that the videos themselves replace the teacher but are rather a complimentary tool for students and teachers alike.  The elegance and simplicity of this tool lies in the fact that the videos can be accessed from devices that students already own - tablet, smartphone, laptop.  In some cases, the teacher has "flipped" the homework and instructional roles whereby the students review a particular lesson by Khan Academy at home and then at school the teacher spends time with smaller groups of students as they work through practice questions based on the lesson.  Pause for a moment and think about the power to Pause, Rewind and Replay your teacher's lesson... free...from a device the size of your hand.  This site now includes practice exercises, assessments with immediate feedback and the ability for the teacher to track student progress.

These tools are simply a means to an end - student learning.  Whether it is a drama skit that students put together on the Battle of Batoche, a student presenting his work through his Voki avatar, or a teacher organizing a unit into a collaborative Livebinder, we need to provide toolkits for our students AND teachers that allow for an individualized construction of learning.  Most importantly, these tools help us understand that a learning disability resides less in the student, and more in the means we have traditionally provided.

Have a great week,