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Good Listening, Good Feelings: Social Emotional Learning and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451


Karen Evans teaches at Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE), a public high school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Karen Evans is a high school ELA teacher who works in both general education and ICT classrooms. When trying to diversify for a wide range of learners representing many different types of languages and cultures, Karen found using Universal Design for Learning and Understanding by Design frameworks opened up new learning opportunities for students in her high school ELA classes. She demonstrates this work in a high school English Language Arts unit.


BASE High School is a diverse school. The majority of the students identify as African-American, Afro-Caribbean, Latinx, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern. There is a growing population of English Language Learners from all parts of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and South America. Almost 80% of students qualify for free lunch. It’s a school climate that is consistently improving: This year brought us a wide range of abilities, personalities, and needs.
In Karen's 9th grade English classes, students run the gamut from advanced readers who read for pleasure and correct any stray Powerpoint mistakes, to students who qualify for alternative assessment. There are also a lot of students whose behavior patterns, skills, and confidence barriers open up daily challenges. Trying to diversify for such a wide range of learners has posed challenges in Karen's general education classes, and for both her and her co-teacher in their ICT class. Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Understanding by Design (UBD) have helped open new learning opportunities for students. 


Learner 1

Jacinda has lived in the United States her whole life but has always qualified for ESL services. In her home, and even with her extended family, Spanish is the only language spoken. She is more comfortable speaking Spanish and often translates in her head before writing. Her grammar, spelling, and syntax are often a mix of Spanish and English as a result. She has a greater fluency in oral English than in written English and enjoys group discussions more than writing.  

Learner 2

Andrew has always taken classes in a Special Education, Integrated Co-Teaching setting. He struggles to comprehend complex texts and he is task oriented so it is difficult to get him to take the time to complete a project by focusing on the meaning, rather than task completion. He often just writes in any answer just so he can be finished. This often leads to half complete or entirely incorrect answers that make little sense. He struggles to locate valid evidence for his writing.

Learner 3

Kwame is driven. There is no other word for him. He loves to write. He loves to try new vocabulary words. When doing revisions, he follows every piece of advice to the letter and I almost always see evidence that he has retained this advice and followed it in the next piece of writing. He always wants to say something original and is vocal in his disappointment when somebody “takes his answer” before he got the chance to say it. Unfortunately, his skills are below his ambition. He is often trying so hard to write something fancy, he ends up jumbling up his syntax or falling into malapropisms. 


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Some of the challenges of this work, of course, is time management. Making a motivation hasn’t happened in every lesson. I tend to reserve it for the more “important” lessons or the difficult ones, where I know students will have a lot of questions. Also, the tactile kits walk a fine line between being a learning tool and being a distraction, depending on the group of students I was working with.

However, I continued to use them when we read Things Fall Apart: I bought kola nuts and students reenacted the hospitality ritual from that book. They used a natural straw to draw on their skin as the children do. They counted their cowries and thought about how many yams they could buy with them. I even let them pass around a locust preserved in plastic so they could imagine eating it. Overall, these strategies engaged students in texts that they might not otherwise have been able to understand and I will continue this practice next year. I am already thinking about what I can get for when we read “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”