Outer Space Immigrants: Arts & UDL in the Classroom, Part Three | Richard Jenkins

Having learned about the specific strengths and needs of these diverse students, I now had an intentionally designed learning plan that I hoped would be more likely to deeply engage them in their learning. For this residency, I would meet the students once a week for twelve weeks. I would be guiding them through four activities. For each weekly meeting, I would have 40 minutes with the students. For the first project in our residency, I guided them though a drawing project in which they would create their own fictional Outer Space Immigrant cartoon characters.

On the first day we identified and practiced different lines, shapes, and patterns. Then we combined these elements to create “practice aliens.” The first option I provided for the students was to have the ESL teacher present to provide translations of my instructions. For the Special Needs students with auditory processing delays, I kept my instructions brief, allowing them extra time to digest my words. This accommodation proved be a helpful option for the ESL students as well, in their own comprehension the instructions.

On the second and third days, the students drew their characters on larger drawing paper, then inked them and colored them. Drawing was already appealing to many of the students. This recruited immediate interest in the activity. And, drawing also transcended language barriers by allowing students to express their ideas in the more universal form of images. This boosted their confidence.

The students got to work eagerly creating their characters. As they progressed, I saw that many of the children needed help understanding and meeting the artistic criteria. So, I used rhetorical “think-alouds” to remind students of the steps in the creative process as well as the assessment criteria. I used statements such as: “remember to start with a large central shape first,” or “remember to include lots of different lines, shapes, patterns, and colors in your character.” These statements gave the students strategies to monitor and assess their own progress.

On the fourth day, the students assigned individualized traits, names, fictional cuisines and home planets to their characters. The students with special needs required additional means of expressing their ideas. So, I took dictation of their ideas, wrote them on a board, and had them copy the writing onto their paper. This worked well for the two boys who quickly began transcribing their ideas.The youngest special needs student, however, needed to have my finger pointed at each individual letter as she wrote them down. As I worked with her, I began to understand what the Special Education teacher meant by “receptive delays.” She seemed to struggle with remembering a sequence of verbal instructions. She needed to hear each piece of the instruction in small bits, one-at-a-time.

Every day of our residency, the ESL teacher remained present to provide translation and support for her students and for me. In our initial planning meeting, she expressed anxiety about having to both provide translations for my instructions and to integrate the Special Needs students into her classroom. But, witnessing all of the students’ enthusiasm and engagement as they created and shared their characters, and growing accustomed to her own role as the translator and supporting teacher, she began to feel more encouraged about the success of this residency.

Employing UDL in order to generate multiple options of representation, expression, and engagement, was proving to be essential for the students’ learning. Because I was able to create options for the students, their disabilities or their lack of fluency with English ceased to be barriers to their learning. Consequently, I was able to I maintain the same learning goals and assessment criteria for all of the students.

As I worked with the students, I began to gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and needs. This understanding informed my planning for our second learning activity, Outer Space Greetings. Look for more about that in my next posting.

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