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Reach and Teach All Students: UDL and AT - Part 1

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Hi and thank you for joining us for the webinar on Reach and Teach All Students: Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. My name is Jeff McCormick and I am an Administrator for OCALI. As you view this presentation, you will have the opportunity to learn about and experience some of the features of Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology.

As we begin to think about UDL, let’s watch this video to set the stage…

Well, what did we just learn from viewing the video….

The first question we may ask ourselves is what was learned.  It seems the squirrel was able to overcome the obstacle with interventions from others in the environment.

We might also ask who were the teachers and learners? Clearly the mother was a teacher to the baby squirrel. She tried on numerous occasions to encourage the baby squirrel to jump. The college students were also teachers as they attempted to assist the squirrel using several strategies.

What teaching strategies were used?  The mother tried to model; problem-solve and practice with the baby squirrel.

What were the Interventions? First the backpack, then more bags.  The first backpack wasn’t high enough so they needed more bags. Was this successful? Well not at first, but with multiple attempts and additional interventions the event became a success!

Was there assistive technology used during the attempt, yes, we would probably consider the backpack and the sand bags as AT tools.

Finally, how could the environment be changed to ensure success? A ramp could have been built prior to the squirrel’s attempts to scale the wall. This would be a prime example of the concepts of Universal Design.

In today’s educational programs, most schools continue to rely on print textbooks as their primary instructional tool.

For a student who is challenged by reading, the printed text is often mis-read, and thus misunderstood.

Students who cannot read at grade level struggle throughout their school day.

Within today's classrooms, there is a growing diversity of student needs:

  • Learning disabilities;
  • Language barriers;
  • Emotional and behavioral problems;
  • Lack of interest or engagement;
  • and Sensory, physical, and cognitive disabilities.

Teachers working with students in classroom settings face a relentless demand to modify curriculum, assessment and instructional materials.

Let’s take a glance at a student in today’s classroom. This video shows the disparity between what a traditional textbook can provide and what an electronic source can provide.  Our student’s expectations and knowledge base regarding technology is way beyond what is typically being provided.

According to Dr. Dave Edyburn, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the "achievement gap" is a well-documented problem in schools. The lessons of the achievement gap are clear:

  • Contemporary schooling practices are not effective for some groups of students.
  • Continuing to do what we have always done will perpetuate rather than eliminate the gap.
  • Repeated failure over time creates an achievement gap that is exceedingly difficult to erase.

Educators are faced with the mandates of No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which both emphasize that all students will participate and make progress in the general curriculum. The current emphasis on helping all students achieve high academic standards means much more effort must be devoted to helping struggling students.

How can the promise of UDL help meet the challenges that we face everyday in our diverse classrooms?

First we need to begin to understand what we mean by UDL, AT and Traditional Instruction.

While there is no official definition for “traditional instruction”, we feel that these characteristics meet our general understanding of the term.  In our opinion, typical instruction is usually characterized by lectures, and seatwork.  The students typically learn by listening and observing.  Materials provided, largely consist of printed text and students are grouped by their age and abilities.

The term that we are interested in today, Universal Design for Learning actually arose from the concept of Universal Design.  The legal definition of “Universal Design” as taken from the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 is as follows…

The term 'universal design' means a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible and products and services that are made usable with assistive technologies.

Later on, CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology) translated the idea of universal design to the educational environment and in so doing, they termed a new phrase; “Universal Design for Learning”.  The formal definition for Universal Design for Learning as written in the UDL Guidelines published by CAST is as follows: “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing curricula that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all.”

The concept of UDL is defined by the three guiding principles – multiple means of representation, action and expression and engagement.  You will hear much more about these concepts later.

But for now, I would like to highlight some of the important, take-home messages about UDL.  UDL calls for a flexible design of the curriculum and environment from the beginning – even before a student enters the classroom.  Universal Design for Learning considers the needs of all learners, not just students with disabilities.  And finally, UDL provides opportunities for all learners.

This graphic describes the similarities and differences between the concepts of Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction.  If you are familiar with the idea of differentiated instruction you will notice that UDL shares many of the same philosophies in that they both encourage providing access to materials in a variety of formats in an attempt to meet the needs of as many students as possible.  (CLICK) However, one of the most important differences between the two is that UDL begins with the design of the curriculum before the student enters the classroom whereas differentiated instruction begins with the individual needs of the student and the teacher adjusts the curriculum as those needs become apparent.

There’s just one more important term we would like to define today and that is Assistive Technology.  Assistive Technology can be defined as…” “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with disabilities”

Hopefully, by now you are starting to understand the concept of Universal Design for Learning and you are probably seeing much overlap between differentiated instruction, UDL and assistive technology.  The next few slides will highlight some of the ways UDL is similar to assistive technology but also the ways AT and UDL differ.  Let’s begin with the similarities of UDL and AT.

It is safe to say that implementation of assistive technologies as well as implementation of UDL both utilize a problem-solving process.  It’s not just a matter of providing one avenue or method of teaching and hoping that it will be good enough for the mid-range student with average skills and adequate background knowledge.  Both AT and UDL in practice will utilize various forms of technology and both will address the needs of students with disabilities in an effort to provide access, increase participation and improve overall outcomes.

So the similarities are significant, but there are also some very specific differences between the implementation of assistive technologies and the concept of universal design for learning.

UDL takes the approach that access needs to be provided for all students - those with disabilities and those without.  Whereas assistive technology is an approach to provide access primarily for individuals with disabilities.

Another way that UDL and AT differ is that UDL is a proactive approach.  The teacher designs the environment by setting up the curriculum, instruction and assessment from the beginning – before a student even enters into the classroom.

Assistive technology on the other hand, has traditionally been a reactive approach where the technology is applied as a means to increase, maintain or improve the existing functional capabilities of the student.  So, the specific needs of the student must be known in order to apply the appropriate assistive technologies for their personal success.

UDL and AT also differ in their focus.  UDL targets the betterment of the environment's design and looks at the larger system while AT concentrates on the needs of the individual.

This chart summarizes the information from the previous slides.  We show this to you, so that you can see an example of UDL in practice.  It’s the same information we’ve been talking about, but now it is presented side-by-side in chart form as an alternative format.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what UDL is, let’s take a look at UDL in action.  This video is a success story of sorts – that started with an assistive technology solution for one child, but the school team quickly realized that the solution for one was something that would help many.  In future years, this technology was made available to all – it was implemented as a universal design tool.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the concepts of assistive technology and universal design for learning – we will delve deeper into the theory behind UDL, a bit about brain research, and some concrete examples for implementation of the three guiding principles of UDL which are multiple means of representation, action and expression and engagement.

First, the theory behind the need for universal design for learning.  I believe we can all agree that today’s classrooms are diverse.  We have students with English as a second language, students with both visible and hidden disabilities, and students with varying levels of background knowledge and experiences.

We need to fix the curriculum including the materials and methods of teaching in order to reach the diverse needs of the classroom.  We are not trying to fix the student.

Therefore the curriculum must be varied and diverse – there is no “one size fits all” in the education of today’s youth.  As you can see in the comic, if we provide just one way to access the curriculum, we will be providing a product that is effectively usable by just a small number of students.

Universal Design for Learning grew from an understanding of brain research related to learning. In considering UDL, it’s important to note that current brain research indicates three distinct yet inter-related learning networks. These networks are identified by terms that reflect their function: the recognition network, the strategic network and the affective network.

The recognition network is specialized to sense and assign meaning to patterns we see.  It enables us to identify and understand information, ideas and concepts. It basically helps us to make sense of presented information.

The strategic network is specialized to generate and oversee mental and motor patterns. It enables us to plan, execute and monitor actions and skills. Our use of the strategic network impacts how we demonstrate our learning or mastery.

Finally, our affective network is specialized to evaluate patterns and assign them emotional significance. It enables us to engage with tasks and learning and with the world around us. This occurs because the affective network allows us to evaluate the tasks and learning based upon the significance and importance of these experiences to ourselves.

We are now going to talk about some of the brain research that supports learning theory. This is a PET scan of 4 different language activities being processed by the same brain.  The colors on the PET scans are indicating the area of the brain that is processing the activity. You can see that although these are all language activities, they are all processed in different areas of the brain and in different ways. You might also notice that the colors are not isolated to one specific area, but there is communication among several areas of the brain for one task. This interconnectivity is important for us to be able to simultaneously process information from the various parts of a whole task.  Because of this interconnectivity we are able to read and think about what we are reading at the same time because our brain forms efficient networks.

Each person’s brain connectivity, physiology and chemistry are unique. This uniqueness impacts the processing of information, therefore each individual persons learning experience is internally different.

Because of these differences we should be able to see that it is critical to provide the information that we teach in various formats so that ALL students have the potential to process the information in the ways that are most efficient for their brain functioning.

To summarize what we have learned from the brain research we should now know that

  1. there are no “regular students” in our classrooms and…..
  2. each learner learns differently.

Given that the three brain networks are involved in learning, that each individual is unique, that learning is multifaceted, and that barriers may interfere with one’s learning, CAST proposes the following three UDL principles that are formed to minimize barriers and maximize learning through flexibility:

First, provide multiple, flexible methods of representation to support recognition learning

Secondly, provide multiple, flexible methods of action and expression to support strategic learning

Finally, provide multiple, flexible options for engagement to support affective learning

Common to the three principles is flexibility, choice, alternatives, and options.

Slide 27
The basis for considering and implementing Universal Design for Learning surrounds three key principles. First, teachers can offer various ways to REPRESENT essential curriculum concepts, that is, they can offer different ways to show students important course concepts, which supports our recognition networks.  In the blue text you will see some ideas of various ways to represent information for student learning.

Second, teachers can offer students various formats for ACTION and EXPRESSION of what they have learned, that is, educators can provide alternative ways for students to show what they know in support of strategic learning networks. In the brown text you will see some of the ways that students can express their knowledge

Finally, teachers can offer various ways to encourage student ENGAGEMENT, that is, educators can offer different ways for students to participate in the learning process in support of our affective learning networks. The green text provides ideas to engage students using high interest activities incorporated into teaching and learning.

We are now going to go back to the three UDL principles of representation, action and expression and engagement and examine each in greater detail.

What is representation?  Representation refers to how you design and deliver information to your class.  Teachers can begin to understand this concept by asking: “How do I show students the essential curricular content?”

Here are some specific examples of the fundamentals of representation in practice:
Knowing that students access information in a variety of formats, consider providing multiple formats for how you express essential content. This increases the likelihood of information access and ultimately, how well students learn these concepts.

On this slide you can see some real classroom examples of ways to provide multiple means of representation. A teacher might choose to highlight text in handouts to bring attention to key concepts that a struggling reader might miss while working hard to decode the text. This may help this student to improve their overall comprehension of the material. Overheads may be highlighted to gain emphasis on key concepts, but maybe this time for a student with attention deficit disorder who may have difficulty maintaining attention to pertinent details. Changing font colors may assist some students with visual difficulties to be able to better see the text.  Digital books allow many different types of modifications to be easily made. The text of digital books can be enlarged, font and background colors can be altered and specialized software can allow text to be read aloud. Websites can also provide many supports including digital stories, newspapers, magazines and curriculum content areas with adjustable reading levels.

You can begin to understand the concept of action and expression by asking: “How do I allow students to demonstrate what they have learned from my lessons”. Expression refers to providing students with alternatives for demonstrating what the have learned

Here are the fundamentals for action and expression in practice:
Knowing that students acquire and process information differently, consider allowing students to present the information they have acquired from your lesson in different ways to show understanding of the concept.

Many students can benefit from options that provide multiple means of action and expression. Some students who have difficulty with writing conventions may find it easier to express what they know through a Power Point presentation or simply with an oral narrative. Students who are highly creative may prefer to express their knowledge through a dramatic or artistic rendition of the information.  Still other students who struggle with the mechanics of handwriting may simply prefer to use a computer to type and edit their written work. Digital graphic organizers can help students who struggle with organization to express their thoughts and knowledge in a more logical and coherent fashion.

To understand engagement ask yourself “How do I involve my students in the learning process?

The fundamentals for engagement in practice are as follows:
Active participation is key to learning, consider adopting various ways that students can actively participate in class. Active participation strengthens learning and ultimately, the effectiveness of your instruction. Additionally provide options for choices of content and tools, offer adjustable levels of challenge, choices of rewards and choices of learning contexts. All of these things should assist student’s engagement in learning activities.

Engagement can be improved by allowing students to participate in more choices and options surrounding learning activities.  You may find that you have students who have special interests in your class such as music, sports, and the arts. Planning activities around these special interests can increase engagement.  Some students may enjoy working in groups while others may enjoy working independently. Offering choices of group versus individual work may be appealing to some students. With the wide-range of abilities within classrooms providing various levels of entry into an activity can help to support the confidence of struggling learners on a particular topic and appropriately challenge students who are working at an accelerated level of performance on the same topic. There are many ways to engage students. These are just a few examples.

Given the diversity of students in most classrooms today, teachers are challenged with ensuring that all students are able to access the content standards and demonstrate mastery of the skills and knowledge embedded in these standards. Many instructional methods and strategies are effective for a significant number of students in all classrooms and across all content areas but teachers are often faced with finding specific strategies that address the unique needs of the students enrolled in their classrooms. UDL provides a framework for locating these resources by organizing them under three major principles that we just reviewed.

Be sure to visit www.ocali.org to view all of our resources.  Check out our lending library of books and DVDs online and make use of our free delivery and pick-up of materials. Please review our UDL area of the website and books on the topic. Have a look at our assistive technology information and training materials, particularly the comprehensive AT Resource Guide, which can be downloaded as a PDF document.  This webcast and others are archived on our site and can be viewed at any time.

Thanks for joining us for the webinar titled Reach and Teach All Students: Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. We hope you enjoyed the presentation and discovered some new teaching ideas and resources that you can implement right away in your school to support the students you serve. Don’t forget to explore the CAST website for many more resources related to UDL. Those resources can be found at www.cast.org.  Thanks again for learning with OCALI. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles provide the foundation for environmental design that allows all students to access the general curriculum. Assistive Technology (AT) is any adaptive device or service that increases participation, achievement, or independence for students with and without disabilities. This segment provides and overview of UDL and AT.