The WHY and HOW of Universal Design for Learning : Part 3 of 3

UDL Tools

When introducing and encouraging the use of UDL concepts in the classroom; specifically methodology and tools to embed into curriculum and lessons, I think, just as we do with students, we need to begin with tools that will likely entice and excite teachers and achieve positive results.  By respecting the amount of time that teachers spend in and outside of the classroom to help educate our students, we are more likely to engage the teacher and create a motivation for using UDL tools.

But first, we must determine the individual teacher’s goals and identify their perceived challenges.  Questions like; Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of one on one assistance you spend with individual students? Do you find that students lack motivation? Are students performing well on tests? What are the current methods used for assessment? Etc. These questions can be asked to help assess where the teacher is coming from, what supports they are willing to accept help with, and what tools may best serve the needs of the students and the teacher.

One method that may prove beneficial when introducing UDL to teachers and attempting to get their “buy in” is to have them visit the CAST website and the Curriculum Barriers Tutorial. I believe that often times, teachers don’t see the barriers that students may face, or they only see that barriers that students identified as having disabilities may face and don’t realize that these barriers may exist for all learners in one way or the other.  CAST Curriculum Barriers Tutorial is available at the above link as well as directly at: http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/tools/curriculumbarrierstutorial.cfm

One challenge that I see all teachers face with students as they begin their (usually) senior year at our school, is that they are not accustomed to learning.  What I mean by this, is they have often learned to regurgitate information for a test or a culminating project. (i.e. memorizing dates, names, places for a test, spewing it out for the test, erasing it from memory, and moving on to the next chapter). I’ve talked about this in past blogs.  For the first time, many students need to really engage in their learning and to learn for lasting memory.  (No longer short term, rote memorization, but learning to apply, to use, to retrieve down the road). When teachers consider how to shift the students way of learning, they will see that UDL tools can assist them in reaching this goal. Remember, long term learning occurs in the Pre-Frontal Cortex where the executive functioning occurs (Willis, 2012). And, the pathways to reach long term memory are strengthened by the release of dopamine and reinforced by active, repetitive use (Willis, 2012).

Below are a list of tools and strategies that I would like to introduce to the teachers and staff at the school where I teach, addressing the most basic concerns that teachers have expressed.  This is a list of beginning tools; those that may produce the most immediate results, take the least amount of time on the teacher’s part, and reduce the greatest barriers to learning, to better serve all students in the classroom.

Addressing problems of boredom, lack of student motivation, students not engaged in learning or class participation

  • Begin lessons with humor (verbal, visual, video, song)
  • Add technology to the delivery of the lesson (video clips, powerpoint, itunes, photos, youtube, etc.)
  • use quick response systems (anonymous methods of assessing students and engaging students) – ipods, texting, web-based.
  • Add personal stories to lectures.
  • Provide copies of powerpoints/notes so students can follow along, fill in, add to, pay attention to auditory format, etc.
  • Use interactive whiteboards
  • Encourage the use of livescribe pens for students who will benefit from listening to lecture at a later date.
  • Use QR Codes (scan codes) for students to access notes, powerpoints, videos, lecture, etc. at a later time (www.QRstuff.com , www.tagmydoc.com )
  • Supplement lecture/theory with examples and stories.
  • Allow student/s to “teach” or “introduce” a lesson.
  • Use whiteboard paddles or dry erase board to respond to questions (others cant see but students respond and teacher can quickly assess and involved students):  http://www.orientaltrading.com
  • Create emails to encourage students to correspond with you when they have questions.
  • Use collaborative seating arrangements (U-shape, Grouped, etc.)
  • Provide opportunities for choice in project/assignments examples: wordles, i-movies, etc.
  • Provide examples of previously completed projects for reference.
  • Provide easy to understand rubrics in advance of assignments (www.rubristar.com)
  • Allow for peer and small group work.
  • Provide visual references for multi-step tasks.
  • Allow use of highlighters and colored folders or paper.
  • USE DVD/CD/Text website provided with most texts to supplement learning,
  • Provide technology to create final projects, encouraging creativity and choice.

Addressing Problems with organization and daily planning and assignment completion (time management) issues.

  • Breakdown assignments into smaller “check in’ chunks (providing opportunities to check in and experience success and receive feedback along the way).
  • Use technology to build in alarm clocks, buzzers, reminders, etc.
  • Have students document and graph their time on tasks.
  • Use color to code types of materials, assignments, due dates, etc.
  • Use ipods and outlook for calendar management.
  • Allow students to identify technology that may help them with organization and time management.
  • Use internet/web/email to send out reminders regarding due dates or homework assignments.
  • Consider having digital format of text or material available on the web for students to access if they forget their textbooks.

References

Willis M.D., J (2012). Neuroscience & the classroom: Strategies for maximizing students’ engagement, memory and potentials. Integrated Learning Conference. November 7, 2012.

Advertisements

There is no “Average” student!

In a world full of standardized tests and labeling, where students are grouped and categorized and schools are judged on things like scores on tests given once a year at select grade levels, it seems hard to believe that there is no “average” student.  But think about it…how could there be an “average” student when we KNOW that we each learn differently?  Our brains, complex computer-like systems, are not all the same. We, in education, have known for a long time that we each learn differently….but I’m not sure we realized just HOW differently we learn. It’s not as simple as “I’m a visual learner” or “He’s a kinesthetic learner”.  (I always struggled when asked how I best learn – it always seemed to me that I learned SOME things through listening/talking, but other things by doing or applying what I was learning. And still other subjects I learned simply by seeing and visualizing.)  And, now, according to cognitive neuroscientists and research in education, it seems I am right! I learn different things differently!

It seems that if we, as educators, approach teaching with the belief that there is variability among learners, not only in the method that they gain knowledge, but also in the methods that they interact with information and demonstrate their knowledge, that we can ensure that we reach each student to the best of our ability.  And, not only that we reach the student, which should be of primary importance, but we will also become proactive teachers as opposed to reactive teachers.  So often, we teach and then look around for the students who have missed something and we attempt to adjust our teaching in a one-on-one or small group setting to help that particular student or group of students “get it”.  Or, we change the method of evaluating for that particular student.  Instead, by approaching education with an understanding of systematic learner variability, we can prevent this reactive teaching. We can prepare our lessons and our instruction and our evaluation to become better teachers. We will no longer be presenting barriers to education but we will present students with opportunities to become actively engaged in their learning.

This concept of learner variability extends past the walls of traditional educational environments. Professionals working with individuals with or without disabilities can benefit from having an understanding of how our brain works and how we each learn and in remembering that the brain is a complex organ that varies from person to person.  When we change how we approach learning to consider learner variability, we eliminate or reduce the tendency to look at the disability, and instead look at the unique strengths and abilities.  This shift in thought allows us to focus on positives and reduce the tendency to compare to a nonexistent “average”.

%d bloggers like this: