Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning in My Life

The suggestion was made to look around my place of employment to discover examples of Universal Design.  Next I was asked to look for examples or opportunities for Universal Design for Learning.  The difference between these two suggestions is the term learning.  The first, Universal Design is thought of in terms of accessibility for all individuals.  The second – specifically to the learning environment.

(If you missed my previous post explaining UDL…check it out here: https://engagedinlearning.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/what-is-universal-design-for-learning-udl/ )

Fun!

I work at a school.  A school that also houses a dental office (open to the public), a small student-run restaurant (open to the public), and a cosmetology clinic (open to the public). So, looking at Universal Access is something we’ve done many times in the past.  Many modifications have been made just in the 10 years that I’ve worked at my school…additional modifications would be wonderful, but funding is usually an issue.

Examples of Universal Design:

  • ADA regulations are met as required by law (ramp entrances, lowered sinks in the restrooms, wider door entrances, and the like)
  • Strobe lights for fire-alarms are in effect (for Deaf)
  • Yellow reflective tape mark door frames that may be opened to the cafeteria, etc. as cautions to prevent injuries.
  • Flourescent lights have been replaced by energy efficient and less harsh lighting.

Needs for improvements:

  • Doors to some rooms (office, resource room, guidance) are heavy and no automated doors are found
  • Some of our “theory” rooms are on the second floor of the classroom (if we were to have a student with a physical disability, there is space to move a theory room to another location, however, this is a concern that is routinely discussed with our JOC who makes financial decisions).

The next part of the suggestion/directive was to look at opportunities or examples of Universal Design for Learning in our school  This is exciting for me…I work at a Career & Technical Center…by definition we tend to teach students in a combination of methods that include theory (lecture type format), demonstrations, and application to build skills.  While some believe this is, in itself Universal Design…I don’t believe that is true. If we teach in the same methods we have always taught, and we teach in the same method each day…we continue to teach to the same students.  Those who learn in that method will learn and those who don’t won’t.  So, I looked at the various programs and in our school in general and looked at methods of teaching, arrangements of classrooms, and technology availability and use.  I reviewed the 9 Principles of Universal Design for Instruction and made the following observations (in part…this list could be never ending).

Principle 1: Equitable Use: Instruction is designed to be useful & accessible by all &  Principle 2: Flexibility in Use: Instruction Designed to accommodate a wide range of abilities

  • Books on CD and downloadable to auditory format
  • Various simulation programs that allow those who for instance, can’t solder due to physical limitations, but who could complete the curriculum of the Electronics Technology Program, to use the computer to simulate soldering and demonstrate an understanding of the concept of soldering.
  • Availability of LiveScribe Pens (technology allowing students who struggle with taking notes to record lecture/theory)
  • Some teachers provide copies of powerpoints used in lecture so that students can add any of their own notes and listen during theory.
  • Some teachers use skelotal notes.
  • Some teachers have replaced diagrams and drawing of equipment with photos or actually have moved to using the actual equipment and tools for testing instead of drawings.

Principle 3: Simple & Intuitive: Instruction is designed to be straightforward & predictable

  • Some teachers write the daily schedule on the board each day so that students know what time different activites will occur throughout the day. They can plan and predict and prepare for transition time.
  • Some teachers have a board listing the deadlines for upcoming assignments and the test dates coming up.
  • Some teachers use and provide rubrics for grading.
  • Students at our school get daily grades…these grades are based on uniform, following safety requirements/procedures, work ethic, homework completion, behavior, etc.  Some teachers use a very clear rubric that clearly shows where their daily grade comes from.

Principle 4:  Perceptible Information: Intsruction is communicated effectively regardless of sensory abilities

  • Because we are a public school, students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, have vision impairments, etc. have the necessary technologies and supports provided.  This year we don’t have any students who fit into these categories.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error: Instruction anticipates variation in student learning

  • This concept varies by program and program expectations…and teacher style…
  • Some teachers have students check in between steps of projects before they continue on to next step…this allows an opportunity to prevent an entire project from being wrong because of one missed step.
  • We have paraeducators who provide support for students and instructors to help anticipate difficulties and we attempt to modify instruction to gain the skill.
  • Many opportunities for practice naturally occur (welding techniques must be completed three times before grading – mastery, students take vitals in the health class each day when they start the day…eventually students will “get it” whether on the first or tenth of 15th try because of continual practice).
  • Use of smartboards, ipads, video, youtube, internet, project-based learning, etc.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort: Instruction designed to minimize physical effort for maximum learning

  • The opportunity for this varies by program area as we have some very physical programs and students must be able to become physically involved, however…
  • Ipad use of voice technology to record notes, live scribe pen use, computer use for typing out questions.
  • We have paired up some students with a good notetaker in the class to provide a copy of the notes or with a para-educator to provide notes if required.
  • Calculator use for math work.

Principle 7: Size and Space approach and use: Instruction designed for appropriate reach, approach, etc. & Principle 8: A community of learners: Environment promotes interaction & communication

  • Some classrooms have the desks arranged in a u shape with the teacher between them to help facilitate
  • Often students are paired or teamed together to complete assignments that mimic the work place.
  • Students will practice skills with each other (health professions, dental technology).
  • When working on the hands-on portions of the tasks (skills, projects, etc.) students are encouraged to use ‘natural supports’ (i.e. other students) to share knowledge and work together.
  • Some programs use email between or have a shared drive on the network system to share assignment lists, files, etc.

Principle 9: Instructional Climate: Instruction is designed to be welcoming & inclusive

  • We have a handbook that outlines our lack of tolerance for bullying, harrassment, etc.
  • Our resource staff who are assigned mainly to support students who have IEPs, actually enter each program that they work in (classroom) and work with any student who has difficulty. By doing this, it is clear that we are not pointing out any one student who has special needs but that we are including everyone in the learning supports provided.
  • Student photos are posted throughout the school showing their work in the programs…so students see their classmates and visitors see students working.
  • Examples of student work are displayed throughout the school.

Finally…areas for improvement….

  • We do not, that I know of, have a statement about inclusion or inclusive practices or accessibility.
  • I don’t believe individual teachers discuss or provide information about how to disclose disabilities to the teacher. (However we do provide all teachers with an IEP and all teachers attend their IEP meetings before the start of the school year).
  • Some teachers need more ideas, suggestions, tools to improve predictability, climate, etc.
  • Some teachers need more understanding of tolerance of learning differences.
  • Some instructors need to change old methods of doing things (writing in cursive, or providing tests that are hand written)

This is a long blog, and for that I apologize, but I encourage everyone to look around their place of employment…discover where there may be accessibility issues.  If you work in education, explore the 9 principles and see if there are places for improvement to help reach all learners in ways that perhaps you haven’t thought of before!

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3 Comments

  1. Very thorough job Wendy! You’ve delved deeply into great examples of universal design in structures and environments. The 9 principles of universal design of instruction provide a nice model to extend that approach to the classroom and instruction. I’ll be interested to see how you perceive opportunities for universal design for learning (UDL) as this course evolves. UDL is a bit different from UD, UDI and many other “UD” approaches. In a few weeks we’ll delve deeper into learner variability. Look back to this post after that discussion and see if your thinking changes or expands.

    Reply
  2. Very organized and thorough post Wendy. I enjoyed reading how UD and UDL principles are incorporated within your building and instruction. Thank you for sharing great information.

    Mindy

    Reply
  3. Your post is very nice and well written. I feel like my ideas are always all over the place while using the blog. Very good examples of UDL and I liked that you included areas of improvement.

    Reply

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