Friday, 11 November 2011

Chapter 2: Equal Access in General Curriculum


Once we understand that our students with learning difficulties incite better instructional design for all students, we begin to see that the curriculum itself also needs to be re-evaluated - It cannot continue to be a "one size fits most" approach (Rose, Meyer, Hitchcock, 2005).

We have come a long way in the last 20 years as far as developing technologies and adaptations that allow our special needs students to access a "regular classroom".  This policy of inclusion is one of the most positive and fundamental changes I have seen in education.  There are certainly challenges to this policy and many educators still consider a learning disabled student to be a sure sign of more work and an obligation to change how they "normally" do things.  This is perfectly understandable as teaching is hard work to begin with and we don't always provide the time, resources and professional development teachers require to build a truly inclusive classroom.

In many cases in our own school district we have followed a fairly predictable pattern with any students that present with special needs or learning difficulties - send them to the LAT (Learning Assistant Teacher) put them on a modified program and develop an IEP (Individual Education Plan) with their own goals.  While this may be an improvement from the past, we are still missing a key understanding - the disability often resides in the curriculum, not the student.  For example, when we establish a Learning Outcome such as "the student will write a 500 word essay on the BNA Act", we have limited the demonstration of knowledge to pen and paper.  Why not allow for multiple means of expression for any student to demonstrate that knowledge? 

As educators, then, we sometimes succumb to the temptation to modify what a student is capable of doing and therefore do not have to report on his/her progress in relation to the general learning outcomes.  Fortunately, we are beginning to see that this is not only unfair and inaccurate, we have started to listen to parents of these special needs students who have known all along that their child can succeed with their peers.  Not only that, these parents were understandably frustrated by seeing acronyms such as "MOD" or IEP on their child's report cards, instead of grades like everyone else.

This of course bring us back to the concept of Universal Design for Learning which encompasses a variety of ways to access, express and engage in learning.   It points towards finding the right tools or scaffolds to allow all students to succeed.  Curriculum, after all, is not simply a series of factoids but rather a plan for learning.  This is particularly relevant today as we look at 21 Century learning skills that emphasize collaboration, critical-thinking and communication.

Have a great week,
Stephen Petrucci

PS.  One great way to provide scaffolds or supports for student learning is through the use of graphic organizers - here's an example of one on the topic of UDL:


  1. Thank you for your very clear explanations of complex themes, Stephen. Just wondering: would you perhaps add a "Last Posts" and/or "Archive" widget in a side menu?