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.

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.

I just made a new Voki. See it here:

www.voki.com

Changing how I see my classroom: Looking through the UDL lens

The questions were raised “Think about the strengths and challenges of some of the materials and methods that you have used in your classroom, in your transition setting or in the workplace, How could you enhance those resources through a UDL lens? Who would benefit from these changes?”

I am a learning support teacher, one of two, who supervise 8 paraprofessionals who support approximately 80 students in 20 different classes (19 different career and technical programs).  Students attend out school for one year in hopes of acquiring skills and credentials for employment and/or post-secondary education following their graduation.  Our instructors come directly from industry prior to becoming teachers. Most have chosen to become teachers because they believe in their trade/career and want to educate youth to enter their field.  Once hired, they begin their coursework in Vocational Education.  Having said this, most teachers at our school teach the way they were taught.  For some this means textbook reading, answer the questions at the back of the chapter, write out vocabulary words, listen to an hour of lecture, demonstrate a skill, teach the steps through demonstration, and then have the students perform and practice the skill.  Overtime, most teachers expand their delivery system to encompass “best practices”.

My position is unique as I don’t teach a specific class. Instead I support paras and teachers in helping to convey information to students related to their career, work one on one or in small groups with students to help them complete assignments, prepare for tests, complete projects, or provide support. Often I work with students to help motivate and encourage and build self-esteem.  I help create linkages to agencies for post-school and help them apply to jobs, apply to college, or work on other issues or skills needed for future success.  So, to implement UDL within my daily work, requires me to shift my thinking a bit and actually look at a variety of avenues for implementation, from student to para to teacher. Furthermore, each program is so entirely different not only in their content, but the nature of the skills needed, the expectations of the program, and the style of the teacher, that it is difficult to provide an overview of how expanding UDL techniques in our school could impact our ability to provide successful education to our students.

In Chapter 3 of “Universal Design for Learning in the Digital Age”, Rose and Meyer point out that traditional classrooms use books and lecture as methods of instructional delivery.  These text and print and word delivery methods do not allow for flexibility in learning.  The complexity of the brain requires many skills/abilities to be able to gather information and even demonstrate knowledge which can, for some students, make barriers very evident, when only traditional methods of delivery are used (text, picture, sound).   As an instructor, I am forced to look for those individuals who have barriers and then create other methods of conveying information or assessing those individuals.  But even then, I am missing those who are not identified, but maybe could do much better with other methods of instruction and assessment!  This traditional method of instruction, from the teacher’s perspective, from the learning support teacher’s perspective and even from the student’s perspective is reactionary. In other words, I am forced to react to those who are struggling.  It’s exhausting as a teacher and unmotivating as a student.  UDL strategies can change all of this!  As an instructor, if I could employ new methods of instruction and assessment (websites, wiki’s, video, youtube, blogs, etc.), I could engage students in learning and even create it so they are becoming the learner’s driving their own education with me, as the teacher, facilitating the process!   I, as an instructor or teacher, am no long reacting to the barriers and needs of students after the fact, but preventing the barriers in many cases from taking the front seat. I am ensuring that all students have a chance to learn the material in as many ways as possible.  They are engaging in the learning process.

The student who has ADHD and tuned out during lecture/theory time, is not reinforcing whatever was missed through interaction on the website where he can replay the lecture that was recorded and corresponds to a blog where students are discussing the chapter content and the youtube videos that the students made demonstrating the skills they are learning.  Textbooks exist as supplemental material but not as the only material.  Tests are important in preparation for industry certification testing, but other assessments are used as well.  As Rose and Meyer mention, this new approach offers flexibility in instruction but also requires that educators become flexible in their thinking about instruction.

To answer the final question: who will benefit from this…EVERYONE! Teachers included – think about the time that won’t be spent reteaching and retesting or brainstorming how to support the student who fell through the cracks because the lesson didn’t include an accommodation for a specific need, or the time spent coming up with a “special assessment” for a student with a special need.  And, at the post-school level, we have helped students become learners and self-advocates and motivated and engaged!

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

Active Learning

What is the difference between Learning and Active Learning? Isn’t ALL learning active learning? No!!!

Imagine yourself in a classroom, one that if you are my age you’ve experienced many times over in middle or more likely high school or even college.  You are sitting upright in your seat, likely a hard wooden or plastic seat attached to the desk portion, inseparable with a lovely metal basket attached underneath so you can fit whatever notebook or book you need on the little desk part.

You and your classmates are sitting in neat rows facing the front of the room, where most likely there is an expansive wall sized chalk board.  The teacher is likely up there and somewhere on the board it might say the date or the name of the class and the teacher’s name, in case you somehow forgot it.  Maybe, if you have a more progressive teacher, on the chalkboard might be an objective for the day or an outline of what today’s classwork might be about. Maybe it says “Algebra I, Mr. Smith, pp.35 odd questions 1 – 25”. Or maybe it says “Psychology, Mrs. Smith, Test on Thursday Chapters 5 & 6”. Or, in more modern times it may read “English 11, What are five examples of symbolism in chapters 4 and 5?”

Reflect on those classes.  Did you learn? Well, you may have. But did you learn all that you could learn? Did you learn the information to retain it, to use it, to understand it. Did you ENJOY learning?

Now, consider this.  You are sitting in your classroom. But, this time there are tables in a U-shape.  Students are sitting in cushioned chairs at these tables, two people to a table.  At one end of the classroom is a Promethean board (a white board interactive board that acts as a white board, a computer screen, a projector screen, and a touch screen). In the center of the u-shape arrangement of tables are smaller tables with three-dimensional sculptures of various shapes.  Hanging from the ceiling are a series of mobiles that other students have made.  Along one wall are tables with computers and ipads. The class bell rings. You look to the white board where a projector has video swimming across the screen with words like “triangle” and “trapezoid” and shapes rotate in 3-D on the screen. The teacher allows this to play for a few minutes.  Then a question comes across the whiteboard.  The teacher reads the question “What properties of a Trapezoid and a Triangle are similar?” She asks everyone to reach for their smart phones and text their answers to a listed number on the board. Within seconds results are displayed on the board.  The teacher instructs you to put away your phones and asks everyone to turn to their partner to discuss the answers that the class shared.  She asks you to write down any that you disagree with and why.  After 3 minutes, the teacher asks for volunteers to share their thoughts and for the class to discuss their findings. She then introduces a short you tube video showing triangles and trapezoid in nature. Homework she says is to log onto the classroom blog and post a comment about today’s lesson, including at least one thing you learned.

Did you learn during this class?  Were you ENGAGED in your learning? Did you remember the information you learned?  What did you learn? What, in addition to the right-there curriculum, did you learn? Hmmmm…communication? technology? teamwork? collaboration? problem solving? and of course geometry.

You were involved in ACTIVE LEARNING.  Not just learning. And, in all likelihood, you probably ENJOYED learning!

Active Learning is learning “that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing”. (*Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: George Washington University, p. 2)

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987)

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!

Engage Me

I love when I am taking a new course or attending a new workshop and my brain starts to go into overdrive and I start trying to find out more and learn more and then I start thinking: it’s almost uncontrollable how my mind just goes. I think about ways to apply new ideas or how I can find out more, or I go to google and start searching words and phrases. I get energized and excited! I WANT to learn.  This is how learning should be for all subjects and for all students.

I, of course, am not naive enough to think that if you put me into a course about chemical engineering, I would somehow jump with excitement.  But, if the content was delivered in an interactive way and I could find a way to connect with it in someway, I think I might at least be slightly curious.

Isn’t that the feeling we want for all students? Wouldn’t teaching be so much more rewarding?

And, youth don’t just need this, but adults too!  When we sit in an in-service with someone lecturing to us about this or that, we doodle – we think about all the things we need to be doing – we sort of fade in and out of paying attention. If they turn out the lights to flip through a powerpoint, it’s worse, isn’t it?

I want to shout out…TALK TO ME! ASK ME! MAKE ME GET UP AND MOVE AROUND!

I want to shout out: ENGAGE ME!!!

The Experience of Learning

I love to learn! I love to experience new things and to take in all that is around me and all that I can…well about things I am interested in at least. As a student in elementary school, I loved to learn! I loved my teachers; I loved to help my teachers. I was the girl who sometimes stayed in at recess to help my teachers make extra credit crossword puzzles on the ditto machine! In middle school, we were “tracked”…meaning, kids were grouped into classes by their IQ test results. I didn’t exactly understand all of this at the time, but I knew which group I was in because the “gifted” students were intermingled with my group (the “almost gifted”) and were selected on Wednesdays to be pulled from the class to participated in special “gifted activities”, while those remaining participated in the SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) cards that were conveniently color-coded so that you could see what levels others in the class had achieved. I don’t believe I ever reached teal.

In high school I fell in love with art. My art teacher was my saving grace. When I struggled in World Cultures or Chemistry, I could escape to the art room. When I didn’t have money to go out for lunch like the others, and didn’t want to sit in the cafeteria by myself, I went to the art room. By my Junior year, I actually began to recognize my artistic talent.  And, I learned that Algebra and I were not friends, but the art room offered me opportunities to feel good and escape the drama of high school!

Throughout undergraduate college I struggled with classes, but did “well enough”.  Again, art classes were no problem…academics were more of a struggle, or perhaps, as I realize now, the academics weren’t as much of the problem as my own knowledge of how to learn. It wasn’t until I returned to college 9 years later to become a special education teacher (a dream I had always had, but in high school didn’t enjoy academics a lot), that I began to recognize how I learned.  It was during the first semester of my first year of graduate school, when I was placed “out of sync” in classes related to earning my Masters in Exceptionalities, when I sat in a class with words and acronyms being thrown around like “IEP”, “ER”, “IDEA”, “NOREP”…that I began to realize that I needed to not only raise my hand and ask questions, but I needed to talk with other students and collaborate in order to learn. It was through the modeling of the professors and their methods of not only teaching, but evaluating, that I began to realize how I truly learn best and how teachers really need to teach.

It was during the two years of graduate school, that I became acutely aware of the method of delivery of information and more importantly HOW I learned this information best.  (And, therefore how to teach others.) For instance, when material was delivered in ways that actively, physically involved me, whether we moved our desks into small groups, walked around the room, or created something, I learned information quicker.  Perhaps this was the method of instruction or the content and application, or maybe just the dialogue that occurred to reinforce the content…whatever, it worked.  When studying for tests, we did this in a small group of graduate students…sitting and talking about the content. Again the dialogue that occurred, hearing myself say the words, talking about the information, reinforced it in my head.  What I wouldn’t have done to have known this in high school or under graduate school!

As a teacher, I find myself often forgetting to reflect on my own learning.  I focus so much on helping students “get” the information – teaching them to navigate a text or helping them learn how they best learn, that when I am learning something new I simply think about the content instead of being aware of the process of learning. (Which, in fact, may be MORE important that what I am actually learning!) But, I think this is something that is VERY necessary for teachers and really all people to be aware of…HOW do we learn best?

Recently, I participated in a free webinar on ADHD in families. I was interested in the topic because I have a family member who has ADHD and I often think that I probably have ADHD as well, and of course, also because I am a teacher of several students who have ADHD. I have a lot of basic knowledge about ADHD and how it affects students in the classroom, but I hadn’t thought about it from the parent or family perspective or how it may manifest itself at home or outside of school. So I found myself listening to this “new” information and sometimes getting distracted when it was information that I already knew (medications, classroom strategies, etc.).  The PowerPoint was presented for us to look at during the session, but was not provided ahead of time to print out. This made it frustrating for me, because I am someone who enjoys taking notes and then being able to look back…having the PowerPoint would have helped me write the notes next to the slides and recall the information. This is the same reason I still prefer paper books over e-books. I want to physically turn the page or turn it back. The delivery format was auditory and visual which was fine, but wasn’t quite engaging enough for me. Because the topic was something I was interested in, the links provided during the session sparked me to continue after the webinar in search of more information.  Furthermore, I shared this information with others.  But, mostly I became very aware of my inability to focus (interesting since it was a presentation on ADHD)!

I think, as teachers, it is vitally important that we take time to be aware of our own learning styles, how we engage others. I do many presentations at conferences across the state. I have done very interactive presentations engaging the audience, and I have, admittedly, done some presentations that lacked engagement. In almost all of my presentations I do offer additional resources to find more information on the topics for those who want to learn more. But, it is easy to forget that adults need the same teaching methods as youth!

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