Sunday, February 10, 2019

Do You Ever Really Know Your Students?

As educators, we recognize the importance of building relationships- relationships with our students, our colleagues and ourselves. We are in a constant state of learning more about people with every interaction we have. There is always something more to discover about a person- their interests, their learning style, their understandings and more.

It can sometimes feel like we're peeling back the layers of an onion, but there are so many layers we never get to the center. I would like to suggest that each layer is important for us to explore and that is worth committing to!

John Hattie's research helps ground educators in the importance of knowing our students.

Did you know that John Hattie's research uncovered that the accuracy of teachers’ knowledge of students in their class can have a 1.62 effect size on student achievement (an effect size of .40 can stimulate a year’s growth)?

In what ways does this research impact your thinking about students? And more importantly, how can you design your learning environment so that you are constantly able to learn more about your students AND they can learn more about themselves, too?

I truly believe Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a big part of the answer! When we design lessons incorporating the principles of UDL we give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. The principles of UDL tap into the different networks in the brain including the affective network (linked to engagement- the WHY of learning), the recognition network (linked to representation- the WHAT of learning), and the strategic network (linked to action and expression- the HOW of learning).

Visit the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) to view an interactive UDL Guidelines chart

Last week Katie Novak ("an internationally renowned education consultant ...Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Massachusetts... designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and universally designed leadership."- GoodReads) generously gave up her lunch hour to share her UDL wisdom with coaches in my district...and after listening to her equating UDL to offering dinner guests a buffet vs. a casserole (UDL being the buffet), I made the connection to Hattie's research on educators knowing their students.  If we lean on the UDL principles, we empower students to know themselves as learners and make choices that are best for them (with teacher support as needed). Knowing every layer of every student can feel impossible, but anticipating barriers for students (based on observations, data, learning style inventories, etc.) and offering options for students to choose from is not.  As Katie explains in the video* below, UDL helps students become expert learners (*please note this video is a snippet of the full discussion).

I'm not suggesting teachers stop peeling back the layers of the onion.  It is essential that we continue to gather data and use it to inform our practice BUT the barrier removal and student agency is they key with UDL.

Now the challenge is determining the next steps in our schools. How can we help all educators recognize the importance of knowing every student?  How can we create structures that allow educators to share strategies that are working? How can we reflect on our current lesson design to be mindful of the UDL principles?  Please share all suggestions below!

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