Reframing the Assignment

The Fall 2017 semester has been a very busy one for me. The Therapeutic Recreation program, a new Health Sciences program officially opened in the Fall 2017 semester. With that, there has been a shift in the course assignments that were originally created during the college curriculum review phase. The original assignment that was used in the Fall semester utilizing and implementing the UDL principles was for a course in the Health & Human Services program. The low stakes assignment designed introduced students to one local social welfare program of interest. This activity encouraged students to use critical thinking by allowing them to become actively involved in their learning by taking the concepts of social welfare policy and analysis and connecting it to the role of a social worker within a clinical setting. Utilizing UDL within the course and with assigning students this activity allowed students to illustrate connections with real life experience to the practical and theoretical knowledge on Social Work & Human Services and the role of a Social Worker/Human Service professional within a clinical setting. The activity received a lot of positive feedback from the students, in terms of engagement and integration of real life application of clinical skills from a clinician in the field of Social Work.

With that, I am looking to re-designing this particular assignment for one of the Therapeutic Recreation course, HTR 201- Therapeutic Recreation Clinical Fieldwork. I will develop a low stakes activity that will encouraged students to use critical thinking by allowing them to become actively involved in their learning by taking the concepts of therapeutic leadership learned in the HTR 102- Professional Issues in Therapeutic Recreation course and connecting it to their capstone course and clinical fieldwork internship (HTR 201- Therapeutic Recreation Clinical Fieldwork). The assignment will be built around the students’ interaction with patients/clients in any of the following fields of practice: children, HIV/AIDS, mental health, long term care/nursing homes, substance use. The activity will interrelate with my research on investigating, “How can UDL and its principles be implemented within a clinical environment?” “What are the best practices for clinical practice using UDL to measure competency for students with disabilities?”

As with the low stakes activity in Health & Human Services, the challenge with incorporating UDL and the three principles with the HTR 201- Therapeutic Recreation Clinical Fieldwork course is that the most of the skills required of students to demonstrate competency and mastery of concepts, coursework and hands on patient care are, in most cases, determined by federal, local and state regulatory, accrediting and licensing bodies not affiliated with the college. The idea of assisting students in establishing a “professional identity” will be incorporated in the clinical fieldwork course. The activity will assist students to who must complete an internship or fieldwork experience in a clinical setting by providing the student with some supports and/or accommodations that are individualized and flexible in order to incorporate UDL within the clinical setting.

Taking students out of the classroom so that they could develop an interest in establishing a professional identity to the extent that they are able to successfully demonstrate the ability to apply classroom theory and practice with personal life experiences by synthesizing and transferring learning beyond the classroom (Integrative Learning) will be the goal of the activity.

Reformulating Our Assignment…

I took the time to reflect on the last semester and the consideration of my UDL assignment into my SCH150 (Drugs, Society, & Behavior) course for Spring I 2018. I am working to fully implement a scaffolded assignment after implementing, a low-stakes version, in my class during the Fall I 2017 semester. Over the course of the Fall II 2017 semester, I worked to adjust the low-stakes portion of the assignment and to expand the more complete assignment for the course. The premise of this assignment is to expand upon the considerations of drug policy, based upon course information and review of current affairs related to drugs and drug policy within the United States.

In the Fall I 2017 I had my students complete a low-stakes reflection at the end of the course on their perspective related to the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Specifically, if they felt that this policy was still correct in its application and classification of substances within the United States. Students were encouraged to either write out the blog post or to record and upload a vlog post. Currently in Spring I 2018, I have more fully-integrated a scaffolded assignment with both low-stakes and high-stakes portions using different modalities to access the various strengths of students within the classroom. First, after a brief discussion on the history of U.S. drug policy and the aforementioned act as well as watching a documentary “Breaking the Taboo” and writing a brief reaction response, students record and upload a brief (up to 5 minutes) recording on their current perspective on the aforementioned act (i.e. what does it say, is it a good policy). The students will receive feedback as well as discuss their perspectives in class on the topic further. Students will begin compiling their evidence to think about potential reclassification of drugs within the current structure as we dive into discussing the different substances over the course of the semester. Students also continually watch films and write brief reaction posts that will help further inform their final paper. At the end of the course, students will have compiled the final high-stakes paper and then will work in teams to have a low-stakes debate in-class (once I provide position statement for them to approach the debate).

I am still working on adjust the assignment. However, my DfA colleagues have continued to be a wonderful support to this process. It has been through their work and listening to their assignments that I have been able to re-evaluate how to approach work within the classroom. It is helped me figure out the key objectives and understanding that there are a multitude of ways to work toward accomplishing that objective for the course. Overall, this project and initiative will help ensure a  more inclusive and accepting environment at LaGuardia and beyond.

 

 

Fan Fiction as Anti-Ableist Praxis

Last term, I wrote about something I was doing with my theatre class. It was a consent-based model of participation and assessment, which I use in all my classes but make physically explicit in my theatre class. This term, I think the compositionist in me was feeling left out; so I’m going to focus on something new I’m doing in my English 102 class. At LAGCC, this class is Writing Through Literature.

I’ve long been an advocate of fan fiction as a form of potential community building. Additionally, I think fan fic can be a radical reclaiming of who gets to create the narratives we tell ourselves. Emotions — the grief of straight cis white able-body-minded men writing everyone else’s stories, as well as the sheer joy of recognizing ourselves on the backs of dragons — drive the fan fiction writing process. So, too, does a sense of social justice and the thirst to be included that marginalized creators feel deep in our bones. Historically, fan fic is a genre created by and for marginalized authors who don’t otherwise see ourselves in dominant narratives.

And if fan fiction is about joy, about community, about justice and representation and improving our writing skills while flexing our inclusivity muscles, why, then, should it not be practiced in our writing classrooms?

So, this term, I’m having my comp students write fan fiction of Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Poem for a Lady Whose Voice I Like.” I have never seen them all take to an assignment with such fervor, and it is, so far, amazing. Letting them analyze the poem and engage deeply with Giovanni’s text and subtext while being able to craft their own original stories has been an absolute revelation thus far.

Why am I including this as an anti-ableist, inclusive practice, though? Because emotional inclusivity and emotional access to classrooms is, I believe, just as necessary as any other form of access. Are all my students fan fic readers and writers? Nope. Have each and every one of them expressed excitement about the idea that they’re allowed to craft their own tales as a valid way to analyze literature? Have each and every one of them found that suddenly, their chosen forms of expression — and through this, their chosen forms of learning — are sanctioned and encouraged and rewarded in the classroom? Yep. Yep, they have.

And to me, that is every bit as anti-ableist as it can come, especially when we consider the sheer amount of young people who experience depression and anxiety who are engaged in fan fiction reading and writing outside of the classroom.

My assignment is on my course blog, and you can peruse it for yourself; and, perhaps, even draft a little fan fic of your own!

Collaborative learning as an anti-ableist and inclusive teaching practice

This semester I teach two sections of Social Psychology, which is a capstone for Psychology Program. Teaching this course allows me to continue working with both of my research questions. Specifically, I am exploring how collaborative learning can increase accessibility to learning and students’ engagement and experimenting with integrating disability into curriculum and teaching.

I designed this course as an interactive and collaborative space in which students can actively engage in exploration of social psychology from critical perspective. Specifically, the class examines and challenges traditional cognitive-experimental approaches in social psychology from a critical social psychology perspective, including disability that is frequently left out even within critical perspectives. Therefore, I expanded the traditional curriculum of social psychology and disability became integrated in various topics of social psychology (e.g. research methods, self and identity, etc.) as well as it became a topic covered along the other social categories, such as race, gender, and class. So far, students have been always very interested in any topic related to disability and particularly its intersection with other aspects of identity. The students are quite fascinated to explore the parallels between disability, ableism and disableism as well as other types of societal oppressions that constitute self and identity, but have been traditionally explained as a composite of innate and individual characteristics. Being able to assist students in this process of discovering social nature of our subjectivities is extremely exciting and rewarding.

The high stake assignment that I am implementing in this class is a staged paper on ‘Social Self’. In this project students have an opportunity to develop un understanding of self and identity as socially constructed through and by social discourses and other social practices. Students start with a personal experience of a struggle or oppression of their own or somebody close to them. Gradually, they learn to apply discussed theoretical concepts to analyze a described experience and understand the dynamic, fluid, and social nature of our selves and subjectivities. This project consists of several short papers and collaborative class activities that support and prepare students for developing their final papers. Before submitting the papers, students have an opportunity to present their work in the form of presentations. (Oral presentation is a requirement of the course). The whole class provide each student with feedback and further suggestions that the students have chance to incorporate in their final drafts.

(I experimented with this approach to presentations and final papers in the Fall II semester. Having an opportunity to present the work in progress rather than a final product seemed to significantly decrease students’ anxiety around presenting in front of the whole class. This format created a learning space in which students not only presented their work but also practiced their expertise and applied their knowledge to provide further support to their peers in accepting, collegial and collaborative manner.)

In terms of timing, students are submitting their first part of the project after the Spring break, and we will throughout the semester toward the presentations scheduled at the end of the semester. Students will submit their final papers during the week of finals.

I am looking forward to the feedback and support of DfA faculty group throughout this project.

Dusana

Reflective Post 3/30

I plan to implement my UDL activity in my ENG101 class. Currently, my timetable is as follows:

This semester: reformulate my low-stakes activity

Fall I: reintroduce my low-stakes activity in September/October; use this assignment as a scaffold for the high-stakes assignment that, will naturally, build on it. At present, I am working on the same research question; however, this spring and summer I will do more research to asses whether or not best practices in composition pedagogy have been updated and or revised, in order to continually address UDL inclusive teaching practices.

My colleagues on the DfA team are already providing invaluable support and creative inspiration. In truth, I couldn’t ask for a more generous and dedicated group of colleagues to work with. All we need to do is continue encouraging and motivating each other. The end result will be establishing more transformative pedagogical practices at LAGCC, which will continually raise our students’ levels of academic engagement.

Reflection on Low-Stakes Assignment-Health Sciences

This semester, students in my Social Welfare & Social Policy course were required to complete an assignment that was designed to introduce students to one local social welfare program of interest. This low stakes activity encouraged students to use critical thinking by allowing them to become actively involved in their learning by taking the concepts of social welfare policy and analysis and connecting it to the role of a social worker within a clinical setting. In order to complete this assignment, students must visit a community based organization (clinical setting) that provides social services in any of the following fields of practice: family and child welfare, addictions, health care, mental health, disabilities, services for older individuals, services for minority populations, and correctional services. This activity interrelates with my research on investigating, “How can UDL and its principles be implemented within a clinical environment?” “What are the best practices for clinical practice using UDL to measure competency for students with disabilities?”

Utilizing UDL within the course and with assigning students this activity allowed students to illustrate connections with real life experience to the practical and theoretical knowledge on Social Work & Human Services and the role of a Social Worker/Human Service professional within a clinical setting. The activity went very well. The students responded that they were highly engaged and pleased with being provided with an up close opportunity to see the actual work of a Social Worker and to engage in a conversation that outlined the clinical skills needed in the field.

The challenge with incorporating UDL and the three principles with a Health Science course is that the most of the skills required of students to demonstrate competency and mastery of concepts, coursework and hands on patient care are, in most cases, determined by federal, local and state regulatory, accrediting and licensing bodies not affiliated with the college. One idea that was sparked was the thought of assisting students in establishing a “professional identity”. This would involve more interactions with course assignments that take students out of the classroom so that they could develop an interest to the extent that they are able to successfully demonstrate the ability to apply classroom theory and practice with personal life experiences by synthesizing and transferring learning beyond the classroom (Integrative Learning).

What may work better would be to think about ways to best assist students to who must complete an internship or fieldwork experience in a clinical setting would be by providing the student with some supports and/or accommodations. I am not sure what those supports and/or accommodations would look like; however, the goal would be to make any supports and/or accommodations individualized and flexible in order to incorporate UDL within the clinical setting.

 

From Low-stakes to High-stakes: Scaffolding Assignments for a Mid-term Exam

I designed a low-stakes, in-class exercise, structured on finding appropriate direct quotations and formulating paraphrases, for my students’ ENG101 mid-term exam. Because the mid-term is a two-hour in-class essay, I thought it best to design this particular exercise, as it eliminates a few steps in the writing process and allows students to focus their full attention on drafting and revising during the actual exam.

Since my research question involves identifying best practices for composition classes, this type of scaffolded assignment provides a seamless combination of efficiency and self-directed measures that are encouraged to assist students in becoming more comfortable with the drafting, revising, and editing steps in composition best-practices pedagogy.

All of the students were able to find direct quotations and/or develop appropriate paraphrases that related to the following themes from the narrative essay, “The Back of the Bus,” by Mary Mebane and The Autobiography of Malcolm X: institutional racism, segregation, anti-black violence, dehumanization, internalized racism, white supremacy, and Black nationalism. This portion of the exercise went very well; however, the challenges that followed were related to properly citing the source and formulating proper analyses.

The pedagogical strategies/ideas that were sparked during my conversations with students were the following: 1) I need to create another low-stakes exercise on how to develop strong analyses of sources; 2) I should have students work in pairs on this analysis exercise, since some students were particularly gifted in generating strong analyses while others needed more mentoring; and 3) I learned that these types of low-stakes exercises should be done at least once a week, since ENG101 meets twice a week. Incorporating these changes would allow for continuity, reinforcement, and eventual student mastery of these necessary steps in the writing process.

For my spring activity, I will definitely implement the exercise on developing strong analyses of sources. From past experience, when I have directed students to work together on different types of peer-critique exercises, I have learned that this type of partner-based activity is one that benefits both student mentor and mentee. The added bonus of these partner-based activities is that the students actually enjoy learning from each other. This exchange really creates a welcoming and engaging culture of learning in the classroom.

Okay, But Did It Work? — A Reflection on Consent-Based Participation Practice

Last term, as a pilot faculty member with the Designing for All project, I joined my colleagues in creating a low-stakes assignment for a course that I hoped would increase access to my classroom. I have publicly outlined the parameters of this “low-stakes” activity, but in brief, I was teaching HUT 101 at LaGuardia, which is Art of Theatre.

Many of my students were theatre majors: some were not. When we were designing our grading contracts together (something else that’s an essential part of my consent-based pedagogical practices), one of my students said, “so, we should all try to get comfortable being uncomfortable.” This insightful comment followed an extensive discussion we had about risk, vulnerability (which, incidentally, in the middle of the term, I got tattooed on my arm and they were delighted), and keeping ourselves healthy. This discussion focused on the fine line between pushing yourself to do something that scares you and then feeling good about it, versus knowing that the very act of pushing yourself to do a certain thing at a certain moment will give you a panic attack and/or make things worse. We’re all constantly trying to find that line in our theatre classrooms, and in our class, we were explicit about our commitments to supporting each other in pushing ourselves healthily, rather than destructively; and caring for each other when lines were accidentally crossed.

The cornerstone of this discussion — and of our class in general — was our consent-based system of participation. We each (myself included) had red, yellow, and green index card name tags that we changed with our mood. These Personal Traffic Lights signaled to ourselves and each other whether or not we were feeling able to participate physically and readily (green); whether we were feeling tired and/or unsure, but ready to try something new, if tentatively (yellow); or ready only to be physically present in class, not feeling up to engaging in a more direct way than simply being there (red).

The persistent criticism and caution that I heard from fellow faculty members was that students would elect to always be on red; and, since I made it clear that no one would ever be penalized for being on red, they would get a free pass to not participate (in traditional ways). This consent-based system, people argued with me, was setting my class up for disaster, for exploitation, for an utter lack of participation and gaming of the system.

As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.

Both on a classroom-wide level and on a one-on-one level, we negotiated what students could do to participate while they were feeling red. Perhaps they’d write their thoughts and give them to me quietly; perhaps they’d email me after class with their comments; perhaps they’d help their team, in the case of group work, by quietly researching, even if they physically wanted to sit far from the group. All of these things happened, and so much more.

My students who were on red participated in profound — and profoundly unexpected — ways.

One of my boys, when we were presenting our monologues, was on red. He usually was on red during class. Nonetheless, he got up and performed an absolutely beautiful monologue with passion and poise, even though he showed signs of panic right when he (voluntarily) stood up to begin. When the other students were offering feedback, one raised his hand and said, “Man, I notice that you’re on red right now, and you did a kickass job anyway. That’s badass and brave. Thanks for sharing with us.”

And the rest of the class applauded and snapped while this student beamed and bowed.

There was a chain reaction, then: more and more students who were feeling red that day performed, and they were all congratulated with particular fervor.

Even during peer reviews, students on red were extremely productive. One of my students was on red during peer reviews and quietly backed out of interacting with others. His partner gladly joined another peer review team, without comment or criticism; just a supportive clap on the shoulder. The student emailed his work to his partner; they both agreed to look at each other’s work later, in the comfort of their own spaces. In the meantime, the student worked on editing his own ten-minute play, sometimes coming up to me and softly asking me questions and for guidance; but for the most part, he stood alone in the corner, working on his own piece. Which, by the way, turned out to be amazing.

I had students who were never on green; who were perpetually on yellow. One of these students never spoke during class; ever. She talked to her group mates in small group work, and she talked to me (sometimes) one-on-one. But never, ever, ever, in front of the class. She even went so far as to ask a classmate to read out her monologue for her, because she wasn’t feeling able to read it aloud herself; it was a spectacular piece of writing. However, on the last day of class, this perpetually yellow student gave a bold, confident, organized, poised presentation as part of her collaborative group project: in front of everyone.

So, I found that the criticisms — the gaming of the system that people kept cautioning me against — had no play in my classroom. Students on red and yellow often participated in the most creative and incisive ways, and the bonds between the students were higher than I’d ever seen in another class. They developed group Snapchats just for them, and I know many of them are keeping in touch now, after term has ended.

We as a society too often associate consent — explicitly or not — with weakness. With a lack of masculinity. With wishy-washy-ness. All of this, of course, is wrapped in a misogynist culture that associates gentleness and consent with negativity, with being less-than. Throughout education, but also in the humanities — which is already mired in feminizing tones of not being ‘hard’ subjects — countering these attitudes (especially when we’ve unconsciously internalized them) is a tremendously important aspect of designing classrooms.

Consent-based pedagogy, then, can be a very important part of explicitly inviting, welcoming, and validating students whose bodyminds are disrespected and disregarded by more mainstream pedagogical practices.

Reflections on low-stake group activity

I implemented a low-stake group activity in my Environmental Psychology class when introducing students to the Henri Lefebvre’s concept of social construction of space. Based on my previous teaching experiences, this was the most challenging concept for students, especially when they were expected to apply it in their own theorizing of place.

I was hoping that this exercise would provide students with an opportunity to engage in exploring the core ideas of this concept (e.g. three dimensions of space: perceived, conceived and lived space) as the activity prompted them to generate data (i.e. concrete situations of how space is used, designed and reimagined) that illustrated the concept and enabled students to make their own inferences and conclusions. Students were thus later able to connect abstract concept and their everyday experiences of places they encounter on campus at LaGuardia (e.g. classroom, library, cafeteria, halls, outdoor space, etc.). I hoped that this collaborative activity would allow students to engage in collective exploration of their relationship with places, provide each student to contribute with their own ideas, reflections and observations of the space as well as consider use of these spaces by members of other social groups (based on gender, age, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, dis/ability, religious beliefs, etc.). I also believed that working in small groups would provide more intimate environment for students who might not feel comfortable voicing their ideas in a larger group or are hesitant to articulate and write their ideas when asked to work individually. Working in small groups allowed students to distribute responsibilities, and find the niche for their ways of preferred contribution and expression (e.g. speaking, writing, drawing). Students were provided with written and visual prompts (written questions and prompts, and images of the assigned spaces) on posters that they used to generate their ideas.

 

Specifically, students received the handout with the following instructions (besides the oral instructions):

As you read in the assigned chapter, Henri Lefebvre suggested that spaces are not mere containers of things and people, they are not static and passively ‘given’, rather they are ‘socially produced’ by human beings through our relationships to other people and places, and through activities we carry in them. As you learned from reading the chapter, Lefebvre proposed that humans produce three types of space: conceived, perceived and lived space.

As a group think of your assigned space and collectively answer the three sets of questions and probes on the poster. Try to come up with as many ideas as possible and describe the space in detail.

Poster probes and instructions for students:

CLASSROOM

[Images of the classroom HERE]

  • What makes this space a …classroom….? How do you know it is a … classroom ….? What are the indications that this is a …classroom …? What kind of activities (spatial practices) are usually carried out in this space? By whom? Who belongs to this place (or does not?)
  • Who decides that this is a … classroom …? Who decides what this place looks like? How is this place conceptualized (thought of and planned)?
  • How else could this place be used? How else it could be ‘imagined’? For what purposes? By whom?

When considering these spaces think of yourself as well as members of other social groups (e.g. based on gender, race and ethnicity, dis/ability, sexual orientation, or different social roles at the college, such as students, faculty, staff, etc.)

In my Design for All research I am in interested in how collaborative learning can facilitate students’ engagement and accessibility to learning and how dis/ability can be integrated into curriculum and teaching. The implementation of this low-stake assignment enabled me to explore both of these questions.

Based on students’ responses and my observations of the class students enjoyed reflecting upon their every day use of space on campus and coming up with their ideas. Many students reported that they have never thought of space this way, other social and cultural groups’ use of space and considered it an eye-opening experience, especially when considering space from the perspective of other members of social and cultural groups. Students engaged in lively discussion, especially when considering students diagnosed with physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities, as well as power relationships that space often promotes or reproduces.

This was a simple group activity, however, students’ engagement in this assignment made quite a difference in their understanding of the concept. (I was also able to compare this with another class from the last year). In our further discussion of Lefebvre’s ideas and other two related articles that applied his concept, I could utilize ideas generated by students in this class activity. Even more importantly, students could readily use their own examples from the assignment in making inferences, asking clarifying questions and understand connection between their and other authors examples.

I believe that my expectation of this exercise promoting inclusivity were fulfilled as it addressed all three aspects of UDL principles. This exercise offered if not multiple, certainly alternative or supplemental means of:

  • representation – the concept was also explored by reading an article by Lefebvre describing the concept of social production of space and work of other two scholars that illustrate application of Lefebvre’s concept
  • expression – as activity offered various means by which students could contribute to learning activity and demonstrate their knowledge,
  • engagement – as students engaged in active exploration of their own (and other social groups members’  relationship) with space. Students vigorously interrogated spatial aspects of social relationships in the spaces they use and are familiar with. Furthermore, by exploring the relationship of members of various social identities and categories with environments, students’ awareness of diversity and differences was addressed and their own sense of inclusive environment was promoted.

In my research I am interested in developing a curriculum and instructions that will integrate dis/ability and social justice in teaching. I am also interested in developing teaching instructions based on collaborative learning that would lead to increased engagement of students and access to learning and thus promote their inclusion in learning.

In addition to creating inclusive environment by implementing UDL principles in my teaching practices, I believe that teaching instructions need to be organized in a way that the students can actively contribute to co-creating inclusive environment. In other words, I am thinking of the accessibility to learning as not something exclusively created by the instructor and delivered to the students. Rather, I prefer to think of accessibility as a part of classroom culture which is collectively co-constructed by all learners as they engage in learning-teaching process.

One of the goals of my research and teaching practice is to develop such curriculum and design such teaching practices. I am planning to design and implement instructions and assignments (in my Social Psychology class this spring) that would allow for collective construction of accessible learning culture of the classroom that would promote equitable education.

 

Are You Listening? Presentation at CUNY IT Conference

On Thursday November 30th, as part of the CUNY IT Conference, several Designing for All team members will be presenting a session called “Are You Listening? Supporting Inclusive Learning Design”. You can access a pdf of our presentation slides here.

Here’s the description of our session (from 1 – 2 pm on November 30th at John Jay College):

As faculty, IT, librarians, and Accessibility Services, how do we actually provide fully accessible learning materials and foster an environment where every single student feels completely welcomed and acknowledged? What are the ramifications of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Open Education Resources (OER) for those of us with different roles in supporting inclusive pedagogies?

Facilitated by LaGuardia’s Designing for All pilot project team of faculty, students and staff, this session offers opportunities to share and learn from each other. Which pedagogical frameworks ensure that students are not hindered from accessing their curricular materials or learning environment due to financial, physical, or other reasons? How can we – the key players in the landscape of accessibility and inclusiveness – recognize different priorities for providing access while effectively supporting students and faculty in meaningful and effective ways?

Come learn how we are working with these issues at LaGuardia. Tell us what you are thinking and doing on your campus, and help us build the CUNY-wide initiative to move the University towards becoming a truly inclusive learning environment!

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