Monday, April 20, 2009

An Open Letter to Jason about UDL

This is an open letter to the science instructor who was interested in learning more about Universal Design for Learning. Thank you for your interest. And hopefully others can learn, too.

Dear Jason,
I'm glad you are interested in UDL. You want to know how to begin? Well, I have never attended a workshop so I wouldn't worry about not having any around you. Really the idea is: do what works. Your job as an educator is to reach EVERY child. The reality is you will not reach every child with every lesson. So you need to figure out what to do to reach those who were not taught the first time around.

Think of it this way:
You teach a lesson on - say - what DNA is composed of. (I asked my 8th grade daughter what she has learned in science this year and this is what she came up with.) The first time you teach this lesson, you use a textbook, some pictures, and a worksheet. And maybe 50% of your students get it. Day 2 you try again. This time you also add a video. Now you have reached another 25%. That's still only 75% of your class. And you have finished with your repertoire of lessons. What do you do now? If you had time, you might be able to pull the 25% who didn't get it into an extra period for instruction. In fact, that's exactly what you do. And this time, with the smaller group instruction, you reach all but 2 students. Pretty good, you think. Maybe that's the best I can do.

Here's where you need to start reevaluating what happened. First, you might have been able to reach more students with the first lesson if you had used a video to start off with. Second, had you put them into small groups from the beginning, you might have reached all but 2 on day 1. But what about those 2. Remember, your job is to reach EVERY child.

Let's see why these 2 were struggling. Maybe one child - let's call him Joe - just really hates science. He has failed science for years, no one at home really cares anymore, and you are just another reminder that he cannot be successful. Joe would rather sit in the back of the room drawing pictures or staring at the clock waiting for the period to be over. And maybe the other child - let's call her Sally - has a very short attention span. She cleans out her pencil case during the entire lesson, not really focusing on your voice. She is distracted by the snow falling outside, by the girl next to her playing with her hair, by the vibration of her cell phone.

Now Sally needs to be able to stay focused. How do we do that? We try some things. Maybe Sally needs fidget toys. These will give her permission to play, as long as she understands that her brain needs to be focused while her hands are at play. Maybe Sally needs to move around. Let her stand in the back of the room or sit on a spinning stool or sit on a carpet on the floor in front of you. Maybe Sally needs to discuss your lesson with others. That would mean that a chatroom would be great for her. Let the students go into the chatroom and discuss your lesson. Sally can be occupied and focused at the same time. So after much trial and error, you have finally reached Sally.

Now on to Joe. Joe is more difficult. Joe has a disability which makes learning more difficult for him. He needs repeated instruction, modeling, and extra time to learn. But Joe hasn't been given the opportunity for all of this before so he just fails. You have two jobs, then. Convince Joe that he is capable and show him how to be successful. Joe loves to draw. (Remember he was sitting in the back of the room drawing.) He is very creative. In fact, the only classes he enjoys are shop and art. But here he is in science and he must learn about DNA. Joe needs a job. Tell him that, at the end of the week, he has the responsibility to create a model of DNA. He can do it with a computer, on paper, or as a 3-D model. But on Friday, Joe is going to present his model to the class. What will he do while you are teaching? He will be working on his model in the back of the room. He will have all the material needed, including resources to help him learn the concepts. Will Joe be successful? Probably not the first time. Joe might show a pretty lame DNA model. But he might just surprise you. And, either way, failure is not an option. So if you need to, you will give Joe extra time during the day to complete the assignment. Joe MUST be finished on Friday. And he will present to the class. And he will feel pride. Next time he will work even harder.

Just a warnin
g. UDL comes in because, while Sally is standing in the back of the room, Stephen realizes he wants to stand also. And when Joe grabs a computer to look up information about DNA, Arlene wants to join him and show him the cool site she found last night. Before you know it, all of your students are learning in their own way and you are no longer teaching lessons in front of the classroom. You are now facilitating their learning. Don't be surprised by the chaos in the room. It will happen and it will be wonderful.

Does this happen overnight? No. Is it a lot of trial and error? Oh,yes. Does each trick work each time? No way. That's why children need a "toolkit" full of tools to assist them in their learning. Eventually, it is up to them to do what they need in order to be successful. And this is very difficult work. Once again, remember that failure is not an option. Not for any child. So keep at it. What else can you do? Read everything you can get your hands on. Create a strong PLN to give you ideas when you are stuck. And never give up.

Good luck and keep us all informed. We need to keep hearing about what others are doing.

'flickr live ~ renovated {notes}'
'day ninety seven'
Candy Blox'


loonyhiker said...

This was such a wonderful explanation of how it all works! Thank you for explaining it so clearly! I hope you don't mind but I will be using this in my grad class this summer!

pporto said...

Great examples of UDL in the real world. I'll be passing this along to the teachers in my UDL group. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this description of a beginning educator, I get scared that *any* sort of chaos in the classroom means that the teacher is not educating, and worse- doesn't have control of the class. I wonder how administration reacts to the idea of UDL? I know that this is a concept I want to explore more as I enter into student teaching...I just wonder how receptive the teacher and the school's administration would be! Thanks for the insight :)

Jason Buell said...

Thanks for the response. New baby so I'm behind on the blog reading. I guess my typical weekly teaching schedule looks something like..intro demo, introduce concept, usually directly teach something, lab/experiment, reflection, diagnostic assessment, Friday I usually have the students pick a worksheet based on their diagnostic results.

So...I think I need to start with the remediation Friday thing. I struggle most with the different ways to access the information. ON a weekly basis I try to make sure to hit the same concept in many different learning styles. What I don't like, and what you seem to have conquered, is the sequential nature of it. Certainly if I can get it through something kinesthetic,I shouldn't have to be bored out of my mind (and probably get in trouble) during the auditory portion. We don't have any classroom computers so technology isn't really an option.

BTW, I brought in a bunch of fidget toys for our STAR testing. Students loved them. I think it really helped. Unfortunately sticky fingers walked them out the door by the end of testing. I also let some kids borrow them to help in other classes, but their teachers took them away because they "weren't paying attention." I've gotten a lot of dirty looks lately from other teachers because of that and because I've been having my classes outside since the weather turned nice.