Predictably Successful Outcomes from Purposeful Design

six motorcyclists practicing a cone weaver exercise on a closed range
Near the end of this past March, I set a goal for myself to expand my teaching and I began a new adventure. March 27th was the start of 10 days and well over 100 hours of preparing and learning to become an instructor/coach of beginner motorcyclists. 

Combining two of my greatest passions, education & motorcycling, just seemed like a most logical (and fun) next step in my life! I'll admit that I went into this new endeavor thinking that I'd bring an abundance of knowledge, skill, strategy, and perspective about education to these "bikers," and I'd be revered as a Super RiderCoach, responsible for bringing inclusivity and equity to the teaching & learning of safe motorcycle riding.  Well, the reality of what I walked into quickly made me realize several eye-opening things that I'd like to share. 

Before any activities, exercises, or other interactions at all, the first thing that quickly began to put me in my place was a statement at the very front of our RiderCoach Handbook about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and our trainers drawing attention to it. This was, indeed, a strong confirmation that all possible accommodations being made would be the expectation from that point forward for anyone and everyone. I first thought to myself, "how incredibly cool and refreshing is that!" Then, I wondered why that felt refreshing to me. After all, I was coming from the world of education, special education, in fact! I then tried to think of even a single classroom or school I'd been involved with that started interactions with students & parents with a statement of accessibility, accommodations and the ADA, and the only ones I could even start to compare were the AEMing for Achievement Teams that PATINS had worked intensively with to get an Accessibility Statement and Policy in place. Yet, here I was with a bunch of "bikers" who prefaced all learning to come with not only a public proclamation of the value they placed on inclusivity and accommodations, but they also had actual guidelines for accommodating students with disabilities that was available! 

How could this be? How could it be that the very same concepts of inclusivity I thought I'd be proudly bringing into this group of motorcyclists, was actually the first thing they told me? Then, I thought to myself, "well, a statement is just words if there are no meaningful actions behind them." ...and once again, I was put in my place by the very next statement in the handbook! 

"The curriculum is modularized for flexibility and customization in order to meet the varying needs and interests of program administration interested in maximizing student outcomes."

"Whoa..." I thought to myself... "I think I just read that this curriculum is based in Universal Design for Learning!

Now, I was deeply intrigued and also feeling a bit like the world of K-12 education from which I came, might just be significantly behind and less comprehensive/effective when it comes to inclusivity than this bunch of "bikers" are! 

Further reinforcing this realization I was coming to, were the next few general instructions I was given: 
  1. Utilize gender-neutral statements when addressing students
  2. Never call out any people to read aloud in class (this isn't a reading class and we aren't testing reading) 
  3. Never ask people to check both eyes with the chart when demonstrating the importance of vision checks at a doctor. 
  4. Work in collaborative groups and allow the members to utilize one another's strengths
...and this was all before we'd even gotten to any parts of the actual curriculum or content! These were simply the expectations for any and all students that might come through the door! Once we go to the content, the topic of Engagement was the first thing to be discussed! That, I'm sure, sounds familiar to many of the readers of the PATINS Ponders Blog as it's the very first of the three summarizing bullet points of Universal Design for Learning!

Multiple and Flexible means of: 
  1. Engagement
  2. Presentation of materials
  3. Interaction and response
We discussed utilizing background knowledge, experiences, hobbies, preferences, etc., as ways to approach making sure all students were engaged, before presenting content, which we were asked to do in multiple ways including visually and auditorily! 

Eventually, we got the range and had students on motorcycles, which furthered this notion of high quality, purposefully designed education that I'd been noticing. Also, most of which I'd love to see in all classrooms! 
  1. Limit talking. Pick one thing at a time (the most important thing) to work on and limit coaching to 7-8 words or less at a time. "...longer-than-needed explanations of how to use the front brake lever can overload the brain and result in key information becoming confusing or forgotten, and could even reduce the amount of practice time."

  2. Remain fully cognizant of what it is you're really wanting to assess, in any given moment. For example, if the thing I'm really working on is getting a student to keep their eyes up in a U-turn, I'm not going to draw attention to dabbing a foot down at first. Furthering this, if I'm assessing a student's ability to stop precisely inside a box, I'm not going to drawn attention to them missing a downshift before that stop.

  3. Empathize with all students. Many may already be close to cognitive load capacity when they get to class. 

  4. Try to induce good & positive stress through having high expectations for all students regardless of any prior motorcycle riding ability! 
...and this was truly just the beginning. Many statements followed, including ones like, "Motor skills are best learned if they are acquired naturally instead of being forced, and it helps if basic development is provided in a somewhat random and varied manner. For example, the skill associated with making a U-turn is introduced in perimeter turns, and riders often repeat actions in different contexts (like varying weave dimensions, reversing direction in an exercise, or practicing the same path of travel later on in the program with increased skill)." This probably sounds a lot like explicitly teaching the generalization of skills to many of my SpEd Teacher friends! 

In summary, it quickly and repeatedly became apparent to me that this course was very purposefully designed to be inclusive, promote an equitable learning environment, to be empathetic and accommodating of differing learning needs, and was truly based in the science of learning.

All of this combined with a curriculum full of very demanding skills and tasks and tons of information... in other words, "high expectations!" I began to wonder about the success of this. ...did the data actually support all the work, the intentionality of the design, etc. I asked a lot of questions and sought out the data. I was told things like, "the purpose of this course is to create more independent and safe motorcyclists on the street," and "failing riders does not serve that purpose." Then, in looking at the actual state data on crashes and particularly crashes with fatalities, the percentages of both are very significantly lower for students who've gone through course! In other words, it works! 

Since then, I've coached six classes of riders as a certified RiderCoach and every time I think about all of the things in K-12 education that I wish were a little (or a lot) more like the way "bikers" teach one another. Our purpose in K-12 education is not to fail students. It's not to preserve the bell curve, weed students out, or separate students into ability levels. It is to create independence and success. By purposefully designing instruction and curriculum and learning spaces, (both physical and virtual) that are inclusive of all students, empathetic to their prior knowledge and current situations, universally designed with flexibility, choice, and engagement, we absolutely can experience greater success rates! By remembering things like, "spelling doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to creative writing," and "phonetic decoding doesn't necessarily need to be a prerequisite to comprehending written text through auditory reading." 

Utilize No-Cost resources, like the PATINS UDL Lesson Creator! Consider applying for the PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant, which is open for new apps until the end of June! Reach out to PATINS Specialists and request No-Cost training on making your learning spaces more inclusive and accessible to ALL of your students! We're here to help and eager to do so!
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Tuesday, 22 June 2021

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