UDL & Transition Planning

Universal Design for Learning in Transition Planning

As we each move through our lives, there are moments of transition. Some transitions are simple, expected, comforting or hardly worth noticing. But some transitions are HUGE, powerful, overwhelming, intimidating, and just plain scary!  Think about that transition from middle school to high school, or from college to the “real world” or the first time you had to teach a class.  As a teacher who works with students during their high school year as they prepare for that world beyond high school – that world full of adult responsibilities, employment, independent living, college or other schooling, I am continually reminded of the anxiety that the students are often facing. They may not always verbalize their fears and frustrations, but they may exhibit behaviors of concern, begin giving up, or even try to purposefully fail.  It is fear I see at these times. So, I am often trying to help students feel less nervous and ensure that some supports are in place to help them be successful. As with every change in life, we need to plan for the next step. 

Thinking to those pivotal moments in my life…the big transitions…college graduation, moving to a new city or town, etc…..what scared me? The uncertainty and the insecurity.  This is what transition planning is designed to help prevent! (or at least lessen).

Unlike buying a new pair of socks, which doesn’t take much thought, transition to adulthood, begins well before a student’s senior year. Admittedly, I think we could all do a much better job at preparing students for transition….sadly, time and money often interfere. We do the best we can.  Ideally transition planning actually starts from the first day of the individuals’ life…growing more systematic and meaningful as the journey through elementary school, middle school and high school unfolds.  This process includes gathering information, activities, events, and careful planning to help a student prepare for the next steps in life.

 The National Collaboration on Workforce and Disability published an InfoBrief in February 2012, titled “Using Universal Design for Learning: Successful Transition Models for Educators Working with Youth with Learning Disabilities”.   In this InfoBrief, the authors discuss the importance of embedding UDL strategies to instruct and engage learners of all learning styles in the curriculum and lesson.  Furthermore, the authors point out that by implementing UDL techniques teachers can maximize students’ strengths instead of focusing on their weakness, thereby allowing students to achieve in areas that they may have found impossible to learn in the past.  In order to encourage success in high school and post-secondary education (if desired), we need students to experience success in the classroom and also be more prepared for college.  This makes sense!

The Interdisciplinary Council on Vocational Evaluation and Assessment states that

“The foundation of vocational evaluation and assessment is that all human assessment should be holistic and humanistic.  A holistic approach encompasses issues of diversity, all relevant attributes of the individual, his/her existing or potential environments (ecologies), and the interactions between the individual and the environments. A humanistic approach to vocational evaluation and assessment requires consumer involvement, and processes that are designed and implemented to benefit the individual served, with an emphasis on individual capabilities rather than disability.  Further, the environment should fit the individual rather than the individual adjust to the fit of the vocational evaluation” (VA Board for People with Disabilities, 2011).”  

Think about this for a moment…

 Now think about how we teach transition related activities.  Are we able to gather information from our student about his/her interests from a variety of methods?  So often, students participate in a computer administered interest inventory and print out a result.  Sometimes they are then asked to look up the career interest codes on the computer.  But, does this have meaning to all of the students?  Have we truly tapped into the students’ method of expressing his/her interests?  Did the computer create a barrier? Did the questions create a barrier? Was focus or reading or comprehension an issue?  The point is, UDL principles need to be part of all that we do for all students and, yes, even when it is transition related activities that we are talking about. 

And, as we begin the activities related to transition – the job shadowing, career exploration, interview practice, community exploration, self-care, budgeting, etc. – we need to appropriately transfer the UDL methods used in the classroom to the new environment.  Further it is important that we add (and instruct) any additional UDL solutions that may help reduce barriers.  This may mean learning about assistive technology, digital media, apps and tools.  If UDL principles have been used throughout the schooling experience, this transition  to using strategies in a new environment will be almost second-nature for a student and likely not carry the anxiety or stigma that perhaps would be felt if a student is not familiar with assistive technology or is not comfortable asking for assistance or supports.  The hope is, that when a student is adequately prepared for transition to independent living, employment, or post-secondary education, he has the self-confidence, the self-awareness and understanding, and the self-determination to experience success.  An added benefit to UDL, if it has been implemented throughout school, is that other students won’t view the use of assistive technology as anything different, because with or without a disability, since it was implemented to help all students, it is likely they are using assistive technologies too.

 UDL & Transition = Success in Several Ways

  • Students have more understanding of strengths, needs, learning styles.
  • Data collected concerning abilities and interests is more relevant when collected in various methods.
  • Students understand HOW to learn (important for employment & post-secondary education).
  • Students have experienced more success and likely gained more self-confidence.
  • Students are familiar with assistive technology that can be used across environments (education, employment, personal life).
  • Students have learned strategies that work for them in accessing curriculum, gaining knowledge and demonstrating knowledge gained.

References:

Expanding career options with universal design for learning (ECOUDL). (2011, March). Virginia board for people with disabilities (Project Dissemination guide). Retrieved from http://phillipsprograms.pbworks.com

Using universal design for learning: Successful transition models for educators working with youth with learning disabilities. (2012, February). National collaborative on workforce and disability (Issue 33). Washington, DC.

 

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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”.

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!

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/

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