Today's Tip Tuesday focuses on adding choices and options into our lesson planning. I aim to keep my posts applicable to all ages and grades. However, with an elementary background I tend to focus a little more on the little monkeys. I do apologize in advance to all you middle school and high school teachers for not sharing as many ideas for your grades. In saying that, the more we connect, the more ideas I gain for the older monkeys!
Choices and options are IMPORTANT & ESSENTIAL components of lesson planning for today's classrooms. It is not uncommon to have a huge amount of diversity within one class- anything from students learning the English language to students who require significant physical support to students who are working from an individualized plan. Without providing variation in your lesson planning it is nearly impossible to teach all your students.
We need to make the leap from thinking about students as part of a grade level that is based on prescribed expectations (of behaviour, of actions, of academics) to thinking about students as individuals within a common learning community based simply on age. Once we start thinking about kiddos being clumped together in a grade level because of the year they are born & you start to think about how diverse that group really is the feeling of HOW AM I GOING TO DO THIS takes over... right?
It is nuts to think of how different each kiddo can be....sometimes the only similarity is the year in which they are born. BUT that is okay. As teachers, we want to teach students- all students. I am going to tell you something- take it for what it is- F$%^ the curriculum. Grade level curriculums are often the anchor that hold you back from developing a deeper understanding of inclusive education. When we think of grade 4, there are certain outcomes we think about and certain expectations we assume to see. This type of thinking will not be of benefit to an inclusive learning environment.
So, one way to support you in developing that deeper understanding of HOW to teach in an inclusive classroom (despite all the crap you cannot control) is to stop thinking about students in relation to the curriculum- it will not help you. I say this, but we still have grade level curriculum guides that you are expected to use and access for your students. I want you to think about the guide as just a guide that supports you through a spectrum of knowledge development. It points in the direction to go- but how you get there depends on individual journeys. The easiest way for YOU to support individual journeys is by offering choices and options to your students- a buffet!
Here is a list of 5 options and choices you can start using TODAY:
1. Access points to the outcome: Reduce the outcome to the concept (ie: number sense, operations, geometry, data collection.....) & forget the prescribed skill level. Let the students participate in the activity at a level appropriate to their journey. It is okay if they are working on attending skills, language development, or higher ed skills- adding additional access points or entry points allows all students to be present of the activity.
2. Technology: Love it or hate it- there is a great use for technology when working with diverse needs. For kiddos who require additional support with writing (whether they need a scribe or modification), voice-to-text is an awesome support for some students. It provides independence, ownership, and it reduces your workload. Technology also allows students to build presentations of their knowledge easily- the interest level for many students increases (regardless of additional supports) when they can showcase their work on a tablet or through a green screen. There is so many uses for technology when teaching in today's inclusive systems.
3. Variety of materials: Do not just give kiddos one or two choices- chances are you will miss a few kiddos. Provide multiple types of resources for use. Let the kiddos pick what they think will support their needs. Some will take advantage of this at first and pick the 'coolest' option, let them- the novelty wears out after a bit. For example, during Art - give the kiddos markers, crayons, pencil crayons, capless markers (found at Dollarama)- let them pick what will work for them. The criteria is independence and ownership in work. For the kiddo who has limited use of her hands, capless markers are a game changer! If you are teaching about pastels, requiring all students to use pastels, just make sure you offer pastels in different sizes (lengths & widths) and perhaps offer some sort of grip for those students who require support in dealing with different textures. Think outside the box!
4. Storage: Provide different suggestions for your students to store their materials & you should store your resources (to be used by the students) in appropriate ways. Forget the perfect coordinated classroom- think about the essential classroom. A classroom that allows all students access to what they need with no (or minimal) support. Instead of having bins of magnetic letters on the shelf (that is a great thing to dump for some kiddos), have a few containers of magnetic letters on a shelf at different heights. Keep your books on a book shelf both vertically and horizontally at different depths. Jacket hooks and cubbies should be placed a different levels and with different spaces in between the hooks. Make sure you use bins or storage containers that can easily be accessed by all students.
5. Variety of resources: This is fairly common sense- but don't stick to one type of resource, offers variety in what your present to your students. If you are studying poetry- showcase poems from that will interest all your students. Some students interest might be peaked by Dr Seuss whereas other students might connect to Sylvia Plath.