Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Future is in the Margins

Last week, I introduced the concept of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) as the framework for Instructional Design once an academic and social profile has been created for a class.  Once again, this is driven by the cornerstone philosophy that student needs should drive teacher planning.

In the book The Universally Designed Classroom - Accessible Curriculum and Digital Technologies by Rose, Meyer and Hitchcock, we learn that their work in creating the UDL framework is based on the educational experiences of our struggling students.  It became clear that the adaptations in representation, expression and engagement for these students were actually exemplary practices for all students.

For example, one common obstacle for struggling students is that of printed text.  This may be due to visual impairment, cognitive difficulties or a host of other reasons.  In this case, the use of digital media has allowed not only text to speech capabilities for the visually impaired but most importantly, a whole new way to interact with content for all students.  The technology of digital multimedia has provided a content platform that is completely flexible, that can be annotated, linked, networked and customized for each individual learner (Rose).  As with many new technologies, we have only just begun exploring its educational potential and practice in the classroom.  On a more public scale, we saw the introduction of Closed Captioning many years ago for the hearing impaired but then saw its application in fitness clubs, language schools, airports, etc.  It has now become technologically and socially ubiquitous.

We are beginning to understand then, that when it comes to our struggling students, the disability is based in the interaction process with the curriculum, not with the students themselves.  I firmly believe that all students have incredible talents to share and are smart in different ways.  It reminds me of the work of Howard Gardner, who brought forward the understanding of multiple intelligences in 1983 (see pic below).  Over 25 years later, we are still not incorporating that knowledge into our instructional design, in a systemic way.

Similar to Gardner's work, the UDL framework recognizes the diversity in learning but goes even further with a highly structured and supported approach based on current brain research.  Neuroscience has identified three nerve networks in the brain that play an active role in learning - recognition, strategic and affective networks (Rose, Meyer, Hitchcock).  That is to say, the what, the how and the why of learning.  The framework then (pic below) is the representation of this knowledge through multiple means of representation (what), multiple means of expression (how) and multiple means of engagement (why).

Have a great week.
Stephen Petrucci
Director of Instruction
SD 60

Here is a representation of Gardner's work:

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