UDL Framework and Assessment

As mentioned in my most recent blog, assessment should be delivered in meaningful ways; reducing barriers to students and provides authentic and relevant assessment data, thus identifying what is working and what is not, what additional supports may need to be provided for which students, and the ability to adjust the methodologies used along the way. In addition, teachers are able to address various individual learning styles, promote self-confidence and self-determination.  Universal Design for Learning; a concept that grew in part out of Vygotsky’s educational concepts and Bloom’s Taxonomy, provides avenues to both instruct and assess students through methods that include scaffolding, peer coaching, collaboration, creativity, etc.

UDL identifies three guiding principles for developing curriculum that eliminates the barriers that often prevent learning; providing multiple means of representation (Supporting Diverse Recognition Networks); provide multiple means of action and expression (To Support Diverse Strategic Networks); and to provide multiple means of engagement (To Support Diverse Affective Networks).

It makes sense that the same barriers that affect the learning process also may affect the assessment process. So, it further makes sense that teachers provide opportunities for assessment that reduce barriers. By successfully identifying preferred learning styles and possible barriers that may exist for all students, teachers can adjust assessments to provide opportunities that meet the needs of all learners. These assessments are then valid, formative, authentic, and relevant.

What are the benefits of approaching formative assessment from the UDL framework?

  • Instruction, when presented with UDL principles, matches with assessment.
  • Data will now be used effectively to identify possible barriers that students may be facing, identify learning styles, identify teacher methodology that is working effectively, and provide data that shows what has been effectively taught vs. whether a student can take a paper and pencil summative assessment well.
  • Immediate Feedback: Students are able to get immediate meaningful feedback to help them improve their understanding (Petty, 2011)  Link to Formative Assessment Youtube Video

    Link to Formative Assessment Youtube Video

What are the Challenges of approaching assessment from the UDL framework?

  • Time: Teachers are often required to cover specific amounts of material in specific time frames. Providing a variety of opportunities for varied assessment can be time consuming in both the delivery and in the teacher’s ability to provide immediate and relevant feedback.  I believe that formative assessment, however, can be embedded into instruction which may allow for a reduction in the required time for planning, implementing and grading.  How can this be done?

Links to the “HOW”:  HOW to embed assessment into instruction

  • Administrative Support:  These non-traditional methods of assessment may not be well understood from administrators or other teachers.  The concept multiple choice summative evaluations has been used for many years and can be a barrier with older or more traditional teachers.

Understanding the Difference between Formative and Summative Assessment: youtube video

Assessment: The How & Why

Blooms new taxonomy: addressing learning styles and authentic learning and assessment

School. So often in the k-12 experience, teachers provide a text book, assign a chapter or unit, and then administer a written test.  Usually in multiple choice format, maybe matching definitions or dates, a few true or false questions, and perhaps an essay or short answer or two.  The grade supposedly reflects what you learned.  Students study the night before (good students may study a few days in advance). They memorize information (dates, characters, definitions). They then regurgitate it on the day of the assessment.  What is measured? The ability to memorize information?  The ability to take standard, traditional tests? Have students actually learned, and I mean really learned, the information, process, thoughts? How do we know?  My point is, are we measuring learned information and skills or are we measuring strategies of memorization and test taking?

When I was in high school and undergraduate college, I remember taking history classes. I actually enjoy history now, but not in those classes.  We had huge, thick textbooks. We completed a unit on World War II or some other time in history. We memorized important dates, treaties, people, events.  We took the unit test; usually a series of multiple choice questions, a few matching, and a series of short answer or essay questions, all requiring us to regurgitate the information we memorized.  I struggled on these tests immensely!  I did not retain much of anything in long term memory, except when it was something that really interested me. Why? – because I was neither engaged in the learning nor moving any information into long term memory. When we were done with that unit, I didn’t need to know the information again until the mid-term exam or final exam, at which point I would repeat the cramming process. (I didn’t do well on those exams either).

These types of assessments, referred to as summative assessments may have their place, but it is important to know what they truly measure and what they do not.  Summative assessments provide summary information in a formal method, often administered at the end of a unit or course where all students take the same assessment (usually written).   As Rose & Meyer attest in Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning,  most of these types of assessments do not accommodate individual differences.  Furthermore, it’s questionable whether a teacher is gathering the intended data. The summative assessment is not providing the instructor with information on the effectiveness of teacher methodology, it is not identifying the barriers or needs of the individual students, it is not indicating the causes of success or failure. A summative evaluation is providing information related to a student’s ability to be successful in this type of test-taking, the ability for some students to affectively memorize and demonstrate memorization in a summative assessment format, and in cases where being able to take these types of assessment are necessary it will determine the preparedness of this format of testing (for instance a class for the Certified Nursing Assistant will need to ensure a student is prepared to participate in the state-directed traditional format assessment to become certified).

So, in the example above in my experience in history classes, not only should the method of instruction provide for the learning differences among students; multiple means of gaining meaningful information, varying instruction methods, and the like, but the assessment process must be a formative one. In other words, when formative assessments are used, teachers and students both benefit. Ongoing measurement in a variety of formats, as supported by the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), provides for learner differences and provide meaningful information for the teacher to address needed supports and change in teacher methodology to ensure all students are being taught the intended curriculum.

Teaching the content of history with video, story-telling, linking history to current day trends, would have engaged me in the learning. Providing opportunities to create my own story, illustrate time periods, create plays, research music from the different time periods in history, create visual timelines, and provide creative means to express what knowledge I have gained would have accurately taught and measured my success. I would have been ENGAGED. I would have been able to self-assess my progress. The teacher would have known if she reached me and if I learned. She would have motivated me in my own learning. And, instead of memorizing and regurgitating dates and places and names, I would have been able to hold a conversation about a time in history, probably even using those dates and times and places!

We must ENGAGE our students in the learning process and ALSO ENGAGE them in the formative and authentic evaluations of their learning.

Animated video about Authentic Assessment. (http://youtu.be/c_gibuFZXZw)

Authentic Assessment Wordle

Next Blog Post: The UDL Framework and Assessment Approach: Strengths and Challenges.

UDL: An Educational Opportunity for All!

I am continually fascinated with research about how learning occurs within the brain. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with partial-complex seizures (epilepsy).  For those of you unfamiliar with the different types of Epilepsy, I encourage you to educate yourself, since this is far more common than you realize, and if you work in education, you should know! My seizures are non-convulsent. You wouldn’t know that I was having a seizure if I had one, in fact, I can continue to talk right through it, though I would prefer to pause for a few seconds while the flushing feeling goes through me.  It’s all controlled by medication, but along with the medication comes some short term memory issues and sleepiness.  Why am I bringing this up? Because although not diagnosed until recent years, I believe that I likely was having seizures in my sleep for many years growing up and didn’t know it.  I also wonder to what extent these seizures may have impacted my executive functioning skills or organizational skills and the like? (maybe I have found a valid excuse for having the absolute worse organizational skills and difficulty finishing things I start?)  I likely will never know, but the brain is fascinating to me.

I have been reading about how we each learn.  How different parts of our brain are used to recognize, for instance, a word in writing vs. a word that is spoken, or attaching a word to a picture.  How we retrieve information and how we apply information learned.  What is also fascinating to me is how our approach to students in the classroom can focus on deficits (presenting barriers to learning) or focus on strengths and abilities (creating opportunities for learning).  By changing the approach to education – by taking a proactive approach to learning/teaching – we are able to reach more students during the first round of teaching.  In our traditional method of teaching, we often present information and then check for understanding and have a handful of students who because of skill deficits or learning disabilities we react to by creating one-on-one or small group instruction opportunities, reteaching our material to the whole class, etc.  But when we change our approach to teaching to begin by providing instruction for all students, regardless of barriers, we can greatly reduce the amount of reteaching we need to do. Furthermore, those students who “sort of got it” when we taught it in our traditional manner, likely really “got it” when presented in this new way!

And, so this makes me think about UDL and Transition. It also makes me ponder how to best use my knowledge and skills to help serve the students who I work with. One of the biggest complaints I anticipate with the “talk” of UDL in the classroom, once people realize that this is a concept that stretches beyond ACCESS to classrooms and curriculum, is the perception that incorporating technology and the like will be time consuming.  What I hope to be able to convey to others is how much time it will free up if you reach students on the first round instead of having to reteach and review with those who didn’t “get it” on the first go.  I envision a shift in thought from seeing students with disabilities as those who need the multi-modality of teaching to seeing all students benefiting from various methods of presenting, incorporating, engaging, and assessing.

I believe that over time, when more teachers understand the benefits of UDL in it’s entirety, students will begin to become actively engaged in not only their own learning but their own understanding of the learning process.  With this comes empowerment and self-determination!  It is my belief that transition personnel, whether in schools or agencies, can help to promote the broader concept of UDL by informing others that UDL extends beyond accessibility for individuals with disabilities.  It ensures accessibility and opportunity for all students.

Some great resources for teachers The UDL Toolkit

Video: Learner Variability and Universal Design for Learning

Video: Learner Variability and Universal Design for Learning.

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

Let’s talk about Universal Design for Learning. The course I am taking right now is all about this UDL concept. I had previously thought about it in two forms – Universal Access (Thinking ADA regulations for accessibility), and another term for Differentiated Learning of sorts. I am quickly learning that UDL is SOOOOO very much more! And so much more science based.

In the context of Education, it falls under IDEA regulations…

“…an approach to teaching, learning, curriculum development and assessment that uses new technologies to respond to a variety of individual learner differences.” (IDEA)

This definition is so much broader and more encompassing than what I had initially believed it to be.

What I’ve discovered is that while UDL certainly includes the accessibility component, it also applies to the specifics of the learning methodology…acquiring information, using the information, applying the information, demonstrating knowledge, engaging in the learning.

And more importantly for those educators who believe it is just more differentiated instruction, a term that I think has been overused and sort of lost meaning for many, its foundation is in brain research.

Someone recently said “well why didn’t we know this before? This can’t be new.” And what I have discovered is with new technology comes new research and new knowledge.  Studies of the brain have revealed that we use different parts of our brain to both gain various types of information and to use this information and retrieve this information and interact with this information and apply this information to new contexts.  Our brain is so much more complex and learning is so different than what we once thought. Educators today, if they seek to educate their students, must understand this new concept of learning and understand the importance of implementing methods to UDL into their curriculum, their classrooms, their environment for all the stages of learning.

More on UDL: http://www.cast.org/udl/

“Is there anything about your life you want to change?”

This is a great link to some tips to help students/children start to think about their futures!

“Is there anything about your life you want to change?”

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