Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Art and Science of Teaching: Planning through UDL

Here's the audio of this blog:

*  The following reflections are inspired from chapter 4 of "The Universally Designed Classroom" by Rose, Meyer and Hitchcock.  As usual, I have tried to incorporate UDL design principles into the blog itself - such as audio, larger text, hyperlinks and graphics.

Last week, I looked at the shifting paradigm of how we view students with learning difficulties.  Starting with the assumption that all students can succeed, we are compelled to re-think our expectations and most importantly, re-think our planning - with ALL our students in mind.  This is directly in line with my first blog of "finding the cornerstone" - that is having an informed academic and social profile of your class.

In my mind, the most crucial element in designing instruction for student success is that it must be done collaboratively.  More specifically, it requires a "partnership between special and general education - a partnership that embodies shared responsibility, commitment, resources, and accountability" (O'Shea & O'Shea, 1997).  This makes me think of the current structures we have in place at most schools where there is typically a cadre of general education teachers and one special ed teacher (LA).  My experience in schools is that these colleagues certainly do collaborate but primarily in the "retrofit" stage of a child's lack of success.  In other words,  lack of student success leads to a request for assessment by the LA, which then leads to adaptations or even modifications for that individual student - sometimes with little correlation to the general instructional practices happening in the classroom.

I should clarify that the skill set of the general ed. teacher and the LA teacher are not necessarily that different.  Some classroom teachers have a variety of training and pro-d around special needs students.  Most of our LA teachers come from a regular classroom and don't necessarily have the specific training or expertise in special education but are fortunately plugged into ongoing professional development.

Regardless, what I am beginning to learn is that we need to find a way to get general and special ed teachers together at the INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN phase.  That is, as a team, start with your classroom profiles and design units and lessons that incorporate multiple means of representation, expression and engagement (the UDL principles) - thereby rendering the learning accessible for all students.  Once again, the adaptations that we consider for individual students who are struggling, would actually be good instructional design for all students - and should be incorporated in the planning stage.

Certainly, we do a pretty good job of this with our low incident students - whereby there is a transition plan from one year to the next with collaboration between the inclusion teacher and the classroom teacher.  However, these strategies tend to be isolated to that individual student and as we all know, there still exists a multitude of diverse needs in the so-called "average" group.

Easier said than done.   But in fact, as a progressive school district, we have found creative ways for teacher collaboration built into timetables at various schools.  This aligns well with our district motto, which is "Together We Learn".   However, providing this opportunity is only the first step - we need to ensure that special ed teachers are involved in that collaboration, that the planning is based upon the needs of all the students and that the collaboration itself is purposeful and structured. 

Here is a link to an article that includes an example of entire grade 5 unit designed with these principles in mind and also includes lesson-plan template:  Thematic Unit on Endangered Species

Here's the graphic of the lesson plan template:


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