Guest Author: Kelsey Astle, Learning Support Teacher, Chestermere Lake Middle School – “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” John Dewey.
Since I began my teacher career five years ago, technology has exploded. How I learned as a student is not the way our students are learning. The world our students are preparing for is changing; therefore, I must change how I teach to prepare them for tomorrow.
Recently I started to research Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL is based off of the idea of Universal Design, which was an architectural movement in which architecture was designed and constructed to accommodate the widest spectrum of users, including those with disabilities, without the need for subsequent adaptation or specialized design. When thinking about the current classroom demographics, our classrooms have a variety of barriers (i.e. learning challenges, readiness, different learning styles, English language learners, student motivation and student engagement). It makes sense to look for an instructional framework that offers the classroom instructional environment new ways for students to engage in the instructional process through differentiated instructional practices and digitized instructional content. UDL was developed upon the belief that no two students have the same patterns of strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Based on the principles of multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement, UDL provides teachers with a framework that will help access all students in their classrooms. It changes the emphasis from students adapting to the curriculum, to the need for curriculum that adapts to student need.
In order for UDL to be successful in my classroom, I needed to identify and remove barriers in the curriculum. This is accomplished by setting clear goals for student learning. When planning a UDL unit, I start by answering a few questions: “What are the basic ideas that the students need to learn?”; “What are the different ways of learning this idea?”; and “In what different ways can students demonstrate their understanding?”. With the use of new digital media, I have been able to have multiple representations of curricular content, which allows my students with learning challenges increased access to learning opportunities. The flexibility of digital media reduces barriers and allows students to access a broader range of knowledge. As a teacher I have found CAST’s UDL Lesson Builder Tool helpful in planning UDL lessons and units. This tool also provides sample UDL lessons, which I found helpful when I first began planning.