Universal Design for Learning and Innovation Blog
My burning question: How can educators design
their classes to be more inclusive to benefit a
greater number of students?
My First Formal Teaching Experience:
I remember back in one of my first teaching placements while doing my Bachelor of Education through Trent University when my practicum advisor told me that I was too creative. As if creativity in education was a bad thing. He liked practical activities straight out of the textbook. He was afraid of trying new things, and hated the fact that I was comfortable coming up with my own activities for the grade 5 class that we were co-teaching. I had a horrible experience with this practicum advisor as he always assessed my lesson plans negatively when I strayed from the textbook, even though I made it clear in my lessons plans that I was following the Ontario curriculum. In my next classroom placement my mentor or practicum advisor loved all of the creative poems, games, and math activities I came up with for her grade 1 class. She even brought the principal and other teachers in to see one my classroom activities as it involved reading while making sock puppets. Then this activity led to students creating stories with the sock puppets they had created. The students seemed to appreciate this creative style I used too, which was the most satisfying moment of that teaching placement. I always wondered why the first teacher I worked with was so resistant to creative teaching practices. He wasn't a bad teacher, and he cared about his students, but he was afraid. He didn't hate me, he feared the way I taught. If he had to come up with his own ideas, they might not work, and he might fail in the process. I know I have, but I keep trying new methods anyway.
Creativity and UDL:
In the cover for this blog page, I use a bowling lane to represent Universal Design for Learning. This is reference to Shelley Moore's (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtUlU8MjlY) analogy that teaching is like professional bowling. To reach the outside pins, or marginalized students, we have to throw the ball at an angle, or get creative to try and reach the hardest to reach students, while reaching all of the other students as well. This doesn't happen by simply repeating things from a textbook or following a syllabus that was not made for your students. It involves knowing your students and coming up with creative solutions never thought of before. I'm not saying you have to have the most creative ideas to be a successful educator, but you need to overcome the illusion that practicality is better than creativity, it's not. Mueller, J.S., Melwani, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012), in their article "The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas" in the journal of Psychological Science, demonstrate that uncertainty creates a bias against creative practice and causes people to fear creativity. As educators we need to embrace uncertainty to encourage creative practices. We also need to inspire others to lean towards creativity in the face of uncertainty. Otherwise, we keep educating some of the same types of students while completely ignoring others. That sock puppet activity that I tried and was afraid might fail benefitted two underachieving readers in the class who were extra motivated to read for the first time. Had I stuck to the textbook, I may have missed their potential for reading.
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018
SSHRC-CRSH, Shelley Moore: Transforming Inclusive Education:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtUlU8MjlY Published on Apr 4, 2016
This picture was created by OPSEU (the union representing teachers in the last provincial college strike) in response to Don Sinclair's (A representative from the college council) response that the future of teaching is unclear in a gig economy and some jobs might be replaced by machines. For more rediculous statements by Don Sinclair, this is a link to the audio in which these statements are provided.
Teaching with Emotion
Werner (2016), although referring to the study of global issues, states:
"Expressions of feeling-such as surprise, anger, wonder, uncertainty, awe, consternation, commitment engage the interest and imagination of students, extend their involvement with the subject matter, and imbue the curriculum with the kind of personal significance that impels rather than hinders learning" (194)
Students should be excited to take part in lively discussions, group projects, and case studies. Too often in computer courses, from my experience, the teachers become like robots, simply allowing students access to learning/testing software and allowing the software to do the teaching. I know I have fallen into this trap before when using this kind of software. It's easy to do. What teacher wouldn't want a software program to do all of the marking for them? The problem is the student experience and achievement. Letting a student learn on their own from a computer program doesn't infuse them with excitement for the course or the subject matter. The computer program does the bare minimum, and it shows with student achievement. In these computer programs at my school there is a standardized, and internationally recognized Microsoft Office Specialist Exam. If the student scores over 70% they officially become certified. The problem is that only half of the students in all of the classes being taught at our school achieve this score. Meaning that only half of the students in the class can use this certification to advance their careers once they graduate. To me, this number is unacceptable and I plan to make sure that at least 80 percent (or more) of my students achieve this certificate at the end of this semester by infusing emotion into it and by not relying on the GMetrix computer software to run my classes.
I have tried to focus on all UDL guidelines to help my students this semester, but more specifically, the engagement guidelines.
Emotional Investment and UDL
I started to provide students with more choices in class, whether that is the choice between which case study they would like to tackle, or the choice in how to learn the content best. They might choose a tutorial video, PowerPoint presentation, group work, or through a game (although, many prefer a tutorial video or game). This helps with the first two guidelines, but I believe infusing emotions and passion into the course really help to minimize distractions, which is the third sub-guideline in the engagement category. If you remember watching a movie, t.v. series, or sporting event that you were emotionally invested in, it would have been pretty difficult to distract you or you might feel like attacking anyone who does try and distract (nothing can distract me during Game of Thrones). By showing excitement for Microsoft Excel and providing students with challenging and engaging case studies, I limit the potential distractions and threats to my students' learning.
The results so far have been great! Every single student in the class reached over 70% on the midterm which is very similar to their final, certification exam. I hope to keep students engaged for their benefit and achievement on their final exam. Without emotion, one cannot hope to reach all students.
Werner, W. (2016). Teaching for hope. In R. Case & P. Clark (Eds.), The anthology of social studies: Issues and strategies for secondary teachers (Updated ed., pp. 193–197). Vancouver, BC: The Critical Thinking Consortium.
There is an example of a Kahoot quiz from both the teacher and student perspective that I created above.
If you have ever tried using a student response system such as Nearpod, Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, or Socrative, you might find that these are fun ways to gather information from students that include: quizzes, discussions, and poll questions. It is amazing to see student responses live that can be anonymous or not.
The only problem with this is that it isn't usually followed with any specific pedagogy in mind. If you ask a teacher what the student benefit of using this is, they might tell it's fun, or the students love using it, but if asking about what the true learning benefit is, or does the technology replace older methods like having students write responses on the board, or leaving sticky note responses, this will be tough to answer.
Another issue is that not all tablets and cell phones are created equal. I have used Kahoot quizzes and have accidentally left out students who still use flip phones that aren't internet friendly. Illac (1970) writes, in his article "Why We Must Abolish Schooling," when speaking about the disadvantage of that low-income students face in schools, "it is not their access to traditional schooling that separates them, it is their access to things like 'conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself'”. Things have changed since the 1970s, but there are still students who have less resources than others outside of the classroom. In the context of student response systems, they may not have equal access to cell phones and tablets required to engage in these activities. One should not assume that we all have equally working cellphones to make these activities work.
Therefore, two questions need to be kept in mind when designing lesson plans that involve student response systems: First of all, What is the point of the activity and is helping students learn? If you want students to strictly remember facts in a fun way, then student response systems are great, but they don't involve higher order critical thinking so we need to keep that in mind. Secondly, do the students have equal access to engage in the activity? Assuming that students have equal access to the activity would be reckless and inaccurate. Tablets and laptops could be provided before hand by the school library (hopefully).
Illich, I. (1970, July 2). Why we must abolish schooling. The New York Review of Books, 15(1), 9–15.
Based on talks I have had with colleagues, they like the idea of Universal Design for Learning, but are worried that it might create a lot more work for themselves. This makes sense. As educators, we have a lot of work to do between marking, prepping, and attending weekly/monthly meeting on top of active teaching hours. However, designing a course around UDL principals does not have to a lot of extra work if given the appropriate resources. This led me to find three of the best websites for providing educators for universal design in the classroom.
1.CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology):
CAST offers some training courses for educators who are serious about UDL design. Although, I am not impressed with the $1000 price tag considering the courses are not given by an official and accredited university or college. However, there are some interesting case studies and resources for parents and teachers on universal design in the classroom.
2. National Center on Universal Design for Learning
This website is probably the most impressive out of the three I have provided. Resource links and examples are attached to each UDL guideline. Multiple resources or teaching tools are provided to educators to help their students meet all of the UDL guidelines and checkpoints.
3. UDL on Campus:
This website focuses on UDL in higher education. I found the section on what to consider when creating a syllabus to be very helpful. There is even a training video provided to go over how to make your syllabus more accessible to all students.
These three website gave me a few ideas on how to improve my course and syllabus design to better meet the needs of all students. Click on the titles above to go to these websites. If you are reading this and know of any other resources for UDL guidelines, let me know in the comments section!
As educators, how do we know we are doing what is best for our students? An easy answer is that we don't, but another possible solution is being mindful of who they are and how to teach them based on their own skills, background, age, and all kinds of experiences that make up the unique individuals in your classroom. In his article, “Teaching as Contemplative Professional Practice,” Flakenbeg (2012), asks teachers to be mindful of their students in a similar way that someone practicing meditation is aware of their breathing and inner thoughts. This is great while teaching, but one can assume with more experience we all get better at this with more teaching experience. It's all about knowing your audience and after a few years of teaching, it becomes easier to be aware of your audience during a lecture or class discussion. While being mindful is important during class, what about after, and what about this reflection thing that we keep telling our students to do, but we never have time to do for ourselves?
Self-Auditing for Student Success
I am a big believer in that education is never a perfect science, and we are always learning and improving our methods to best suit the needs of our ever-changing groups of students. Based on Kolb's (1984) work, and his learning cycle, we know that learning is the process of experience and reflection (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). This is why educators ask students to reflect on their experiences in the classroom. The question is, how often do teachers and instructors actually do this? Upon thinking about this, I realized that I don't take as much time to reflect after my classes on what went well, what went poorly, and how can I improve my teaching methods to be more inclusive by matching the UDL guidelines. I recently created my own self-audit or self-regulation worksheet with Excel and it has helped me to take a more student-focused approach in my Microsoft Excel class. See what I did there? I used Excel to track my Excel class marks. You could call this Excel inception!
This organizer helps me to organize my journal notes so I can self-assess and improve my lesson design if it could be more inclusive. This took a bit of work to organize, but is paying off by keeping me aware of what is working and what isn't in my teaching strategies. For the full workbook, click on the file below to download.