"Get rid of the stairs." What prevents a student from accessing your curriculum? Is it something in the design of your lesson? Are we consciously or unconsciously putting roadblocks in the way?
Consider the front entrance of a beautiful building...with no ramps. We recognize that a person who uses a wheelchair will be disadvantaged, and we know that installing a ramp will help that individual. What we forget is that this change will help any member of the public with mobility issues (wheelchair, walker, cane, cast, infirmity, stroller, etc).
Universal Design for Learning (UDL - for an overview, click here.) is a way of rethinking our lessons.
UDL provides a blueprint for creating flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that accommodate learner differences."Universal" does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it is meant to underscore the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners. (1)
What are the "stairs" and "ramps" in your program? What hinders or helps all the learners in your classroom?
Thoughts On Teaching For Student Diversity
Some of you know that I was a guest teacher in a French Immersion math class out at UBC for an hour. I was allowed to teach in English BUT then spent three hours as an FSL Level 1 student as part of the class. WHAT AN EYE OPENER!
(I highly recommend that you spend some time in alternative settings where you aren’t an expert. We forget what it is like to be a weaker student for whatever reason.)
This class in French was an incredible struggle for me. I had 4 years of French in BC high schools 35 years ago but I’ve taught at a French Immersion high school for over 14 years so my ear for French has improved and I’ve seen written output daily. I had little idea of what difficulties I’d have processing the class even though it was on a topic of expertise for me personally – math.
I found when anyone spoke English in my vicinity, I’d gravitate to them naturally and ‘fall into’ that conversation. It was a rest for my brain. I thought of all my ESL students taking a rest by listening (and participating) in their own languages. I thought of the math challenged students ‘taking a rest’ in discussing things off topic that were easier to process.
I also found four big ideas that would have helped me in the French class that I want to do in my own classes to help those who are language challenged:
1. Speak slower - I told one student that I likef his French the best because he spoke the slowest.
2. Use more written instructions - the class instructor at UBC spoke all directions in French and many times I wasn’t totally clear on what to do. I process written French must more effectively by having time to fit things into context and to fill in the unknown words between the known words. When instructions were in spoken French, I didn’t have time to do this well and I was usually lost.
3. Use pictures more - When one student was presenting his idea for his project, I kept thinking, “If only you would have had a picture/example, I could have made sense of your project so much easier.”
4. Make sure the big idea is clear - Another student presented his project which I thought was on “Discovery Guides” and struggled with how he talked about his work. I asked in English and found the topic was “Guided Discovery” – a totally different concept!
One of my resource teacher has challenged me with another big idea.
5. Talk less - many students are just overwhelmed with input and once their brains are full, no more processing is possible.
In our study group we were discussing Universal Design from architecture and looking at the invention of sidewalk cutouts to make them wheelchair accessible. In accommodating for this special need (or diversity) many others benefited. People with baby carriages or strollers, people with difficulty walking and students pulling their huge rolling backbacks all benefited by this adaptation made for another group’s diversity.
I reflected on how my implementation of these five big ideas will benefit more than just the language challenged in my classes. It will aid visual learners with the pictures and written instructions. It will aid those who process more slowly or differently because there will be more wait time to make sense of the mathematics. It will allow for those who chose, or were enabled, to attend to the task at a later time than the majority to get involved. It will reduce the ‘clutter’ that clouds some students ability to see the concepts.
What other innovations or adaptations do you make to help some students? Do these adaptations also help other needs in our diverse classrooms?