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.

 

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

I just made a new Voki. See it here:

www.voki.com

Writing a Classroom Instruction Goal that Lends Itself to Flexibility for Diverse Populations (UDL)

As Rose and Meyer point out in Chapter 5 of “Teaching every student in the digital age, universal design for learning”, “Well-designed standards focus primarily on ‘learning how to learn’, calling for students to gain knowledge, skills, and understanding.”  So often, however, standards may be too specific – including methods of instruction or specifics that don’t allow for flexibility of instruction or assessment.  Other times, teachers themselves, may become too wrapped up in “teaching to the test” or get caught up in the misperception that they need to create very structured goals and objectives that end up becoming very limiting and putting unnecessary constraints on the educational process in their classrooms.

A traditional goal that a teacher may use could be “Students will use the web to research a health related career and complete a PowerPoint presentation to provide information about this career to present to the students.”  Thinking about the purpose of this goal – learn about a health related career, this is using the Recognition Network, I believe this goal can be made more flexible by realizing that the methods of gaining the information can be varied as well as the demonstration of the knowledge gained.  A better statement of goal may be “Using a variety of methods (interview, web, text, etc.), students will present information about a health related career”.  This allows for a variety of methods of gaining the information about the career and offers flexibility in method of presenting; PowerPoint, YouTube video, brochure, report, poster, videotape, etc.

By creating goals that allow individual thought and creative problem solving for students, we are preparing them for employment and post-school success.  Employers often state that they want workers who can problem solve and think creatively.  This is exactly what we are encouraging of our students when we take the time to recognize the real purpose of the lesson and then set a goal that is not limiting and instead, encourages flexibility and appropriate challenge and support.

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)

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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