Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back to School in your Neighborhood

This is cross-posted at TechLearning.com
I was doing a little research for my back to school post at TechLearning Blog. I read through the blogs of my peers, I researched school calendars of other countries, I researched four  day school weeks, and the reasons why our school calendar is the way it is, in the Northern Hemisphere at least and why school calendars are different in the Southern Hemisphere or not.

All this article intends to be is a jumping off point for a conversation. There are some facts which this post is based on, but no hard core research. That is for someone other than myself. I was surprised to see the last PEW Internet Trust survey about school calendars was in 2004. Maybe PEW has something in the works. I hope so.

As many of us begin our school year in August and September it is interesting to note that most US schools are looking at 177 to 185 student days. In my quick search of overseas school calendars I located some beginning at 185 and extending to 200 student days. This should give us pause, in the US. Why do our students attend school fewer days than our global friends?

Most of us are beginning school at the end of the harvest season. I find this to be true in the Northern Hemisphere as well as the Southern Hemisphere. I understand why this was true a hundred years ago, maybe even 50 years ago, but I don't know the percentage of students and families who are engaged with the harvest of our crops and why this type of calendar should still hold true.

Many schools  base their  calendars with respect to local religions and culture. Many states and countries dictate the school calendar with some variation at the local level. This is true across the globe.

Then the question of the number of days per week that schools are in session. Most schools stick with the traditional 5 days a week. It is interesting that when energy costs rose astronomically some (very few) schools decided immediately that they would make a huge shift and designed school calendars with longer school days and fewer days per week. Did this shift make sense educationally too?

I wonder what it would be like to make a school calendar and school day based on the needs of students and teachers? What is your school calendar based on?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What is in your toolkit?

I am getting ready this week to work with some special educators on a project they have in mind, yet, in addition, I am going to introduce something I know they need and hope they will use. If you have read my posts before, you know I usually speak about purpose, and the reason for trying something, reflecting, and then deciding whether to keep with the new tool, journey, conversation. Here is one conversation I cannot get out of my mind. This post is dedicated to all the students in our classrooms and even those standing outside of our classrooms. I will keep this in my toolkit forever and will do my best to share with others. Thanks to the special educators mentioned in this post they are my heroes.

If I had a dream that I could awaken to in the morning, it would be that all of us had heard of Universal Design for Learning and had this embedded into our daily practice with our students and peers. Karen Janowski recently spoke about Universal Design for Learning at Edubloggerconeast and asked the audience how many had heard of Universal Design for Learning. It was surprising how many great educators in the room had not yet heard of Universal Design for Learning, UDL. What was more surprising was that once this group of educators heard about UDL, they were ready to take the journey. We would love for you to join us, too.

What is UDL? The CAST website describes it as: Universal" does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it is meant to underscore the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners.
UDL mirrors the universal design movement in architecture and product development. Think of speakerphones, curb cuts, and close-captioned television—all universally designed to accommodate a wide variety of users, including those with disabilities.
Embedded features that help those with disabilities eventually benefit everyone. UDL uses technology's power and flexibility to make education more inclusive and effective for all.

Isn't that what using technology is all about? Finding alternative ways of completing an activity? Can you think of a Universal Design concept that you yourself have benefited from? Now, can you image using this model in your classroom? (My favorite examples of UDL that I personally benefited from are posted here.)

With UDL options and strategies two exceptional classroom teachers Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard have accomplished what we all strive for. What did they do? How did they do it? By adopting UDL strategies and their own philosophy these two fabulous educators have added this to their list of accomplishments: 96% of their students, both regular and special ed, had achieved or exceeded grade level standards in both reading and math. from the UDL spotlight

You can read about an award they won from the CAST spotlight, nominated by Karen Janowski. (Check out Karen's blog, as well.) The CAST website and the associated websites offer a virtual classroom for educators in how to plan for your lessons, strategies for students, a network of others who are working in the UDL field. This will require some reading on your part and then some elbow grease to add new components to your daily class management. Read Lisa's open letter to Jason, a science instructor, about how he can introduce UDL into his classroom. Her letter is compelling and at the same time a roadmap to success for anyone wishing to use UDL strategies. Check out Christine's blog for more insight on how UDL affects their teaching, their thinking and their classroom pedagogy.

We can all do this! Lisa mentions that a PLN, personal learning network will help. Here is the address to a Personal Learning Network you can join. http://udl4all.ning.com/ Please consider this your PLN, share, ask questions, get support and watch your students thrive.

This may be the most impressive thing you can do for your students this year. Add UDL to your toolkit. Share your experiences with us. Next year when Karen asks, "How many have heard about UDL?", I want all the hands in the room to be proudly raised!
If you have other resources please share them here with us!
Image from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/My_toolkit_for_reading.jpg