The danger of eliminating the challenge is something I’ve been thinking about too. After day two, it has helped clarify my thinking about it. In Todd Rose’s talk, he discussed how we should use UDL to support the goal and not focus on hitting every point on the UDL checklist. If it supports the goal, use it; if not, don’t use it. To me, Charlie’s ideas on how to support students to learn the skill of critical thinking helps move towards the goal of fostering critical thinking.
Eliminating barriers while keeping challenges high is a theme that wove through many workshops this year. To help continue to guide me through this conversation with myself and with others, I think I’ll return to the question, “What’s the goal?”
Andrew, I appreciate your concern and wonder if you have ideas on how both goals, accessible, engaging learning AND learning to reason analytically? I think they are not mutually exclusive goals and the challenge is to meet them both.
Andrew and other Conference goers-
You have touched on an interesting argument that I have begun to think about more in terms of defending a”system” wide UDL implementation. Basically, how to not let UDL become an enabling mechanism”? We do not want better learning by design to become easy learning. Accessible learning? Yes, but that leaves assessing critical thinking and determining if it happened up to the educator.
What are you thoughts on finding the sweet spot between designing accessible instruction/materials and uncovering performance (learning)?
Skip said that the challenge is to eliminate the barriers to learning without eliminating or reducing the challenge. I am primarily concerned in this context with the relationship between writing and critical thinking (and I think of writing as involving more than just the immediate form of the words, sentences, and paragraphs that we type on the computer screen). Writing is closely related to critical thinking mainly because writing also entails a broader organizational structure, and for some kinds of writing at least–such as writing an essay for a history or literature course–such a structure typically requires high level abstract reasoning … at least that’s what we hope!. I do worry that UDL principles will lead teachers to offer alternatives to writing the traditional essay in such a way that the kind of critical thinking that is central to the work of the essay will be watered down or perhaps even eliminated. Having worked one summer with the Vermont chapter of the National Writing Project I know that there is a real risk here: some teachers designed writing projects that, from my perspective at least, greatly reduced the role of analytical reasoning in writing (essentially let students off the hook because they found analytical reasoning difficult). To the extent that the ability to construct an abstract argument (and let’s be honest: most people are not naturally good at this) is central to at least one foundational form of critical thinking, the elimination of the barrier in the form of alternative assignments or alternative methods of assessment could quickly become the elimination of the challenge. –Andrew
I think the issue Andrew and Zack raise is one we might take head on over the next year. The concern has many forms – Andrew’s is one.
I for one was never taught how to construct a logical argument. I think it was assumed by my teachers that I just knew how to do it, and if I didn’t, I was to get it somewhere. But it’s a little tough going after something you don’t know you don’t have.
Maybe somewhere in the near future, the CTL or the UDL scholars or even the honors college might offer an event that takes on the logical abstract argument and seeks to find where in the university responsibility resides for ensuring students have that capacity. Surely, we must agree the ability to offer such an argument is one disposition that signifies acquisition of a college diploma?
Then, we might have some fun. Could we see if there are UDL strategies that could in fact strengthen how 19 year olds might learn to acquire this disposition? I’m thinking supports like visual diagrams, annotated PDFs, camtasia videos of a professor explaining what a logical abstract argument is, how to spot one when you see it, how to actually construct one yourself, what one is and isn’t, etc. Seems to me these UDL strategies might strengthen both the teaching and learning of this disposition.
I had these same thoughts when I heard sociology and history professors lament that students couldn’t reason like sociologists or historians. Did anyone ever teach them? And while we’re thinking about this, we might also think about whether the ability to make a logical abstract argument is the same in English, Sociology, History, or even Psychology? If the disposition context bound or context free and what are the implications of that for all departments at UVM… .