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.

 

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.

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

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!!!

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

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

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

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