Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Life Skills 101: Don't Let Your Uncle Marry Your Mom

This right here is a wonderful article. Happiest, best, most positive thing I've this week. And it's been a nice week. No complaints vis a vis the week thus far. But, still!

Here, let me read you a bit:

PEABODY - Crystal MacLarty stands at the front of the class with a sword in her hand. She is lecturing on "Hamlet" and uses all the tools of the trade to relate one of Shakespeare's most memorable plays - even brandishing the plastic prop.

On the computerized white board behind her, she beams a slide presentation full of story bullet points. A student at the front of the class uses cutouts of the main characters on a small felt board to help him understand the story. He follows along in a version of the play that has been translated into helpful word symbols.

"Put yourself in Hamlet's shoes," MacLarty declares.
MacLarty asks the 18 students to draw three squares: one for their mother, one for their father and one for their uncle. She tells them to cross off their father's name and draw a line from their mother to their uncle. "This is the situation Hamlet found himself in," the teacher announces. "His father died and within a month, his mother married his uncle." Peals of "ewww" and "that's gross" carry through the first-floor classroom.

Welcome to Peabody High's Life Skills class, where MacLarty harnesses a teaching method called Universal Design for Learning. It's an idea gaining acceptance in special education classrooms like Peabody's. Universal Design taps technology to help teachers and students adapt materials to their varied needs and skills. The idea sounds simple enough, but until computers and the appropriate software were developed, students had to rely on mass-produced materials and textbooks.

"There are so many new resources," said retired special education teacher Sandra Ring. "You don't have to read to understand concepts."

Ring, who helped introduce UDL at Peabody High, said the Life Skills classroom is a model for the state.
"It's about a whole high school change," Ring said. "It's here, my dream. Technology, that's the key."

Here's what I love about the effective use of technology in the classroom: it can stop schools from being (in the words of educational theorist John Goodlad) "sorting mechanisms"...places where a few students are picked out and held up to everyone else as "good and worthy." Places, for many, then, of shame. Places where the individual very often just doesn't measure up. That is not what education should be about. Certainly not taxpayer-funded, public education. How dysfunctional would that be? To be legally required to pay into a system that labels almost everyone (including you and your family) as somehow 'defective'?

I laughed when I read about the student that uses character cut-outs to help him act out the plot points of Macbeth...Ben does that. With James watching his every dramatic nuance: Every night, when I read to the boys before bedtime, Ben gets out his collection of 'pelagic friends' (yup, his words...) and physically acts out with his toys whatever I am reading.

How brilliant is my child? That he came up with this idea, his own personal comprehension aid, all on his own?

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