Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Can We Now Have Order?


I like order.  Order and purpose and focus.  In the world of education, however, order is hard to find.  We try.  This list of spelling words this week, that list of spelling words next week--in order.  Math worksheets done in order.  Rows of desks in order. "Get into line order." The order of the day is reading, special, recess, math, lunch . . .  We need ORDER!

But, is there ever really order?  Perfect order?  Probably not.  As I took classes in Library Science as an undergraduate in college, I dreamed of working in a library where the books were always in their right places, students came in and checked out books in an orderly fashion, and everything was neat and tidy.  Well, in the real world, that dream bubble quickly burst.  My library did not look like the one in the picture above.  No, mine looked like 300 elementary students had come in and had a party.  Not just one party on one day, but a continuous party day after day after day.

Was that so bad?  To me, at first, it was.  I would spend hours trying to clean up, read shelves to get the books in order, push the books to the front edge of the shelf so they looked appealing, and on and on.  Needless to say, I was not in my comfort zone.  I was aggravated, frustrated, and exhausted.

It wasn't until I finally let go of order that I was able to relax and embrace the warm ambience and charm that can be found in a busy little elementary library.  It is fascinating to watch the buzz of small students all excited to check out a book.  They do forget their shelf markers, they do drop their books and put them other places, they do bring their books back and "helpfully" put them on the shelf for us (before they are checked in).  But, is it really that huge of a deal? 

No . . .

Until the students grow a bit bigger and are looking for specific books by title, author, and call number.  Not only is the process of looking up a book on the online library catalog a new skill, but the process of taking the information from the computer and transferring it to finding the actual book on the shelf is also novel.  Then, when you think you have it figured out, you can't find the book on the shelf.  Arrgh!  Students holler that "it says the book is in" and "it has to be right here."  Well, maybe the book is two shelves below, maybe someone borrowed it fast for a lesson without checking it out, maybe it is lost in the stacks who knows where. 

This is when order in the library starts to become important again.  When a student recognizes that there is a reason--a need--for order.  That is why, in an elementary school library, we try for a balance of order.  There just is never going to be perfect order.  A bustling business anywhere will never have perfect order.  It is always being used.  But, there has to be enough order for students (and teachers) to find what they need.

And now, trying to get to the point of this whole thing . . . order in the library, order in the school, order in education.  While we may never achieve perfect order, there are numerous tools to help us stay, let's say, organized.  

As a current graduate student, working on my master's degree in Instructional Technology, this past semester I have had the privilege of studying, gettting to know, and playing with a variety of organizational tools. 

The culminating project was to create an ultimate---21st century---learning experience.  While not nearly flawless, you can see what I came up with by clicking on the Integrated Technology Learning Experience tab at the top of this blog.  The unit I describe incorporates the Universal Design for Learning components, Gradual Release of Responsibility lesson structure, Technology Integration Matrix information--(a.k.a. UDL, GRR, and TIM)--and more.  These elements help create an order for student learning.  Not a perfect order, but a good order that will help students learn.  An order that we can now have. (You can see how I tied the unit in with working on order in the library!)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Designing So the Universe Can Learn

image from

This week I have delved into the world of leveling the playing field in order for everyone to learn. For work, I was able to go to a wonderful professional development workshop in Des Moines this past Tuesday where the topic was Designing a Differentiated Lesson Plan. And, I have been studying UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in a class for my master's degree. The topics of differentiated instruction and UDL have a similar goal; for everyone to learn--everyone to win--no matter the path followed to get there.

The theory of differentiated instruction believes that teachers should differentiate content, process, product, affect, and learning environment according to student readiness, interest, and learning profile. The theory of UDL believes that teachers should provide multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. As the definitions of all these words unfold in their own context, it becomes apparent that they bleed together into the same stream.

Given my interest in technology, I decided to take a look at some iPad apps that support universal design for learning in these ways. If you take a look at my Google Doc, you will find that I took two fairly common teaching situations in the world of elementary education. I described several possibilities for representation, expression, and engagement, including the implementatin of some iPad apps.  I "show and tell" some of the apps on this iTunes clip.

I strongly believe that almost any app could be considered "UDL," depending upon how it is used. I mentioned some basic recording apps, which could be used for students who are not able to type very well, students needing to record a lecture because they do not take notes well, auditory learners, shy students needing to vocalize, and on and on. I also mentioned some drawing apps, which could be used for students not working well with pencils, tactile learners, students needing something to "fidget" with, and on and on. Check out my Google Doc to see how I envisioned other apps being used, as well. Although all are not "traditional" assistive technologies, their purpose throws them into the realm of UDL. Helping the Universe to learn!