Flexible Learning Doesn't Mean Bending Over Backwards
By Merissa Petrosino and Amanda Maher
Throughout our educational careers, as teachers and students, we have usually followed a set curriculum that presents materials and activities that follow a particular sequence. Some of these 'boxed' curriculums have even presented the material laid out by the minute. You've know these kind of plans..."You say ____________, the students say______________". Then you do page 50 and call it a day.
Through personalized learning, "we concluded that what's more important than the type of instructional materials students encounter is their purpose". Whether offline or online, we want to emphasize that the content and tools that students access year after year should not be a completely fixed set of resources. In short, those materials ought to be flexible - allowing for a differentiated path, pace, or performance tasks (Education Elements).
It's amazing what allowing for a little bit of flexibility and choice brings to the student's experience in the classroom. For some students, saying "pick if you want to do the evens or the odds' makes all of the difference in their performance. Or after the mini lesson, choose if you'd like to practice math facts, work with manipulatives, or sit with the teacher for reinforcement. By being flexible we are able to give students what they need, advocate for themselves all the while they are working towards the same rigorous standard. Flexible path and pace empowers our students to choose their own path.
The goal of every single lesson is student learning and growth. Part of that growth is to empower our students to own their own learning. Here enters the Universal Design for Learning Framework.
"Learning pathways are the teacher-curated set of learning activities and checkpoints that lead all students to a common outcome or objective (standards or competencies). Creating differentiated pathways for students allows us to honor the unique needs, talents, and strengths of each student as they progress through their learning journey. This is supported by the Universal Design for Learning framework, which encourages educators to provide multiple means of engagement, action, and expression for learners. It is also important to consider ways to provide flexibility for navigating between different learning pathways. This expands the number of learning opportunities available to students, rather than limiting them to a single pathways." (CAST 2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org.
Long story short...flexibility is our friend. When we allow for flexibility in the classroom, we empower our students. This will lead to better, more authentic, more efficient learning. We all know that when our students, teachers are happy. This will leave more time for learning and less time dealing with behavior issues. More learning, stronger classroom environment. Seems like a no brainer.