Scenario 3: Persuade administration and general education teachers to use UDL in their classroom
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that benefits all students by giving them equal opportunities to learn. The main idea of UDL is to create your course so that it works for all of your students. This means creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that are flexible and can be customized and adjusted to a student’s individual needs. Here’s a helpful video that will introduce you to the ideas behind UDL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDvKnY0g6e4
You may ask, why is UDL necessary? UDL in the classroom is necessary because everyone learns in different ways. Each student brings a variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning, and it’s important that the teacher shapes their instruction around the way the student learns. Some students may be having troubles with the curriculum or difficulty with understanding the material in the classroom. Some of this can be attributed to the ways that general educators are teaching their lessons, or the learning style of different students. Many students have trouble reading which leads to problems in all other subjects such as understanding concepts in science or social studies. Other challenges may result from learning disabilities that underlie difficulties in achievement. UDL should be a guide to learning in the classroom and a supplement to the general curriculum. The curriculum should still be followed with accommodations for students that are tailored to their unique needs.
Overall, UDL should be implemented in all classrooms with the use of differentiated instruction. Every individual is a unique learner and should have access to be taught the way that best suits them. Since this idea is originated from architecture structures, the goal is that all places are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Stemming from that, architects found that these different constructions, such as automatic doors, were utilized by other people including moms with wheelchairs or people carrying a lot of groceries (Billingsley, p. 192). The goal of this entire system is to reach and engage students in multiple ways.
Ideally in a classroom, this would include different supports for various subjects. A student may need assistive technology to something as little as a pencil grip, or even to the extent of a talker. For math, there could be different visual representations like blocks, paper sheets, or counters. By providing ways for students to learn through different concrete objects, they may understand topics better. Just as a type of AT may be a pencil grip, some students may need powerpoint slides printed out for them or a picture schedule on their desk. There would need to be clear expectations set in the classroom that if one student may need headphones to concentrate on writing, it doesn’t mean everyone does. One of the biggest principles could be “fair doesn’t mean equal, but fair is giving everyone the support they need.” Some other instructional technologies may include using resources from the internet to supplement textbooks such as interactive websites for learning about earth concepts through Google Earth (Billingsley, p. 191).
While this is just an outline of a few supports that can be used in a classroom, there are definitely barriers to implementing these. Depending on the funds of a district, iPads may not be available for those who need time without school work and debriefing by listening to music or working on a simple activity. Some students that need sensory breaks may utilize a separate sensory room where it is quiet, but the design of all buildings do not allow for this. Teachers may not be willing to implement this or think there is not time, but it is accessible for all and will help in your classroom where you can teach to the best of your knowledge. There will always be challenges of implementing change, but by adapting that to the best of your abilities and providing alternate supports for students, UDL is possible for all educators. Any of these can be addressed through team planning or getting help from the administration team, applying for grants for different technology, and using the resources that are provided in the building.
So what does UDL look like in the classroom? Let me give you a few examples:
- Michael, a fourth grader who has ADD, is starting to fall behind in his math class. Under the principles of UDL, the teacher could accommodate Michael by giving him a worksheet that lists out what is going on in class. This would help Michael regroup with the classroom if he spaces off during class. If Michael has attention problems because he’s not interested in the textbook, the teacher could possibly supply him with interactive iPad textbook to spark his interest.
- Juan, a fifth grader, has problems when the class is being lectured to. He constantly finds himself daydreaming and looking at his phone. It’s not that Juan isn’t interested in the topic, there is just nothing going on the class that captures his attention. The teacher could follow the principles of UDL by finding out what student needs to succeed. In this case, Juan is a visual learner, so the teacher might need to incorporate pictures or short videos into the class lesson to keep Juan alongside his peers.
- Christopher, a 2nd grader with ADD, can’t learn from textbooks. He has a one-on-one aide who sits with him for hours trying to read the textbook with him, but he loses focus and he is starting to fall behind his grade level. To help Christopher succeed, the teacher could incorporate different types of activities in between reading the textbook. For example, the teacher could find apps that support reading on the iPad or use a concrete board game that works on beginner reading skills. Christopher could be rewarded by watching fun, educational videos on the computer or by playing educational games on the computer. Changing the lesson from reading a boring textbook to playing educational games keeps Christopher interested and it helps him reach his grade-level academic requirements.
As it is demonstrated in this paper, there are definitely ways to implement the Universal Design of Learning in all classrooms. It does not necessarily have to be a big change, but more of ways that students can work best to suit their learning needs in an environment where they can be most successful. If you want your students to achieve in the best way they possibly can, why not follow this plan?
Billingsley, B., & Brownell, M. (2013). Universal Design for Technology and Learning. In A survival guide for new special educators.