I have been working towards understanding UDL and how to use it to change my middle school math classroom for almost 5 years now. I am still so far from feeling confident, but as I reflect on the things I have done over the past few years, I am beginning to realize just how well it really is going.
I first began by simply talking to my students and explaining to them the changes I was trying to make. These conversations began to help shape and change not only my thinking process but also the students as well. I first thought that if I give students (especially middle school) a “choice” they would always choose the easy route. In the beginning, yes most did, but with the conversations and letting them know that in the end, they would still have to reach certain goals and standards, they did start to make different choices.
In middle school mentality, everything is a game and a competition. So when a student dares to say I think I can try the next step, many other students feel the confidence as well. I have heard students say, “I think I have practiced enough at this level, I want to try and see if I can move to the next level” So from this I felt more confident in creating assignments with varying levels of skill, and by the end, most students were trying to achieve higher and asking for help not just from me, but also from their peers.
Most recently I tried out a self-paced classroom for the last month of school. There were 10 units and 5 goals within each unit. Each of the goals had different activities or assignments to choose from to complete the goal. Then I had charts around the room and students colored them in as they finished. Students were getting excited to see their growth and then using the chart to find other students who were on the same level and working together. I even had students ask if they could work on things at home so they could finish faster.
It has really been great to see students learn to take pride in their learning and want to achieve higher. Was it easy? NO! It’s still a struggle every day and attempting to retrain the student mindset is tough, but it is getting easier to navigate. I have failed and literally thrown out ideas so many times, but each time I learn along with the students what didn’t work. Also if you are willing to listen, students really do know what they want and how they learn, so let them do some of the planning for you.
My number one takeaway from this journey so far is that if you are open and honest with your students, they will help you help them.
Sharron Reusze, 7th-grade math, Jackson St. School