Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Planning for Student Centered Learning With Technology

The following was written as a reflection on my learning in week three of the Teaching with Technology course I am taking as I work toward a master's degree in educational technology leadership.

This was a content-packed week in our Teaching With Technology course, and although I have been working consistently on the coursework, I find myself finalizing my assignments just under the wire of the no-penalty grace period. I am tired, but not discouraged, as there have been many important learning moments for me over the course of the last seven days.

The first theme I encountered this week is that of planning for instruction and the needs of learners first, and then planning to use technology if it will help address learner's needs. Fortunately, in most cases, technology does make indvidualzation and instructional support more possible than ever before. One example that stood out to me was from the book Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Solomon & Schrum (2007). On pages 92- 93 Christopher Johnston writes in a sidebar about using a blog in math to help students articulate their problem-solving strategies on a new problem posted each week. One of the issues faced in math education is the rote memorization of procedures without understanding of the "whys" behind the steps. I thought the use of a math blog to help students solidify their understanding was a brilliant idea, and an excellent example of using technology for an authentic purpose rather than just using a blog for the sake of blogging itself. This was just one of many examples of incorporating technology in classrooms when and where it makes sense, and it gives me food for thought about how we might need to tweak staff development opportunities in our district, so we are emphasizing the "why" of technology integration more than "how-to" of using technology.

Planning for instruction and the needs of learners was the major emphasis of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles I learned this week through readings, UDL lesson plan design, and creation of an online book using the UDL Book Builder. The in-depth work we did with applying UDL principles to a complete lesson plan design helped me for the first time to get my head around the essence and practical applications of UDL - the "how-to" of meeting the needs of the diverse learners in today's K-12 classrooms. Again, meeting those learner needs is more possible than ever before because of the wide range of technology tools we have at our disposal for delivering content in multiple formats and giving students diverse choices for demonstrating their learning.

As I read in Chapter 6 of Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002) about addressing the three identified UDL brain networks - the recognition network (the what of learning), the strategic network (the how of learning), and the affective network (the why of learning) - and then had to make sure I addressed them in the development of a lesson plan, I made a connection back to the 14 Learner-Centered Psychological Principles which we were introduced to and had to apply in our Curriculum Management course. In both systems, educators are encouraged to put the needs of the learner or learners above everything else, and then design instruction and activities around those needs while keeping in mind methodologies that will engage the learner on multiple "fronts" of cognition. I think that the UDL model is easier to keep in mind when planning, since it includes only three networks and many of the strategies for addressing the networks are similar or overlap. Making the connection, though, made me realize that although I am not in the K-12 classroom, I am still a teacher of teachers when I develop staff development, and just as I was able to address the 14 Learner-Centered Psychological Principles in designing staff development for our Curriculum Management course, I can also use UDL principles in designing effective staff development experiences for teachers. I look forward to being able to apply these principles in real-life very soon.