By: Kimberly Monachino
Editor's note: March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. We thought this was the perfect time to re-run this March 8, 2018 blog about making learning accessible to all students.
Today’s classrooms are very busy places. They are filled with students who have diverse needs and learning challenges. To meet their needs, teachers may be equipped with a variety of instructional strategies and have many other tools in their tool boxes. However, even with multiple tools, trying to meet the unique needs of each individual child sometimes can feel daunting.
One approach that can help teachers customize the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning originated with the term universal design. Originally, universal design meant creating products and environments that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Automatic doors, closed captions, ramps and curb cuts are all universal designs. These modifications assist people with disabilities, but individuals without disabilities also benefit from these adaptations. For example, automatic doors make entering a building easier if you use a wheelchair or if you can walk but are carrying several bags of groceries.
We know that every learner is unique, and one size doesn’t fit all. The Universal Design for Learning structure is research based and aims to change the design of classrooms, school practices and coursework rather than change each unique learner. It minimizes barriers and maximizes learning no matter what a student’s ability, disability, age, gender or cultural background might be. It reduces obstacles to learning and provides appropriate accommodations and supports. It does all of this while keeping expectations high for all students. Universal Design for Learning makes it possible for all learners to engage in meaningful learning by making sure everyone understands what is being taught. Coursework developed following Universal Design for Learning is flexible — the goals, methods, materials and assessments consider the full range of each learner’s needs.
In a Universal Design for Learning classroom, students have goals and are aware of what they are working to achieve. To accomplish this, the teacher might post goals for specific lessons in the classroom. Students also might write down lesson goals in their notebooks. The teacher refers to lesson goals during the lesson itself. In a traditional classroom, there only may be one way for a student to complete an assignment. This might be an essay or a worksheet. With Universal Design for Learning, there are multiple options. For instance, students can create a podcast or a video to show what they know. They may be allowed to draw a comic strip. There are a wide range of possibilities for completing assignments, as long as students meet the lesson goals. With Universal Design for Learning, teachers give students feedback about how they are doing with lesson goals. Students reflect on their learning and think about their progress toward the goals. If they did not meet the goals, the teachers encourage students to think about what they could do differently next time.
The three major ideas in the Universal Design for Learning structure are:
- Multiple means of representation is showing or presenting the information in different ways to the learners. For example, students with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and others may need information presented in different ways. So, instead of the teacher having all the students read from a textbook or only using printed text, there are options for students based on how they best learn. Some students prefer to listen to a recording of the textbook, use pictures to understand the print or use a computer.
- Multiple means of action and expression means providing opportunities for learners to demonstrate their knowledge in alternative ways. For example, when the teacher gives students options to “show what they know” beyond paper and pencil tests. The students show their understanding by creating something such as a poster, making a PowerPoint presentation, writing a poem or making a TV or radio commercial.
- Multiple means of engagement is discovering learners’ interests and motivating them to learn. When teachers take the extra time to learn about their students’ personal interests and make learning relevant to their experiences, students often become more engaged. For example, the teacher who knows her students are excited about sports and incorporates those interests into reading and math activities.
You can find detailed information about these three principles here.
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning is a great resource for people who want to learn more about this topic. Additionally, you can explore the Universal Design for Learning guidelines here. These guidelines offer a set of practical suggestions that can ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.
Kim Monachino is director of the Office for Exceptional Children for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Kim by clicking here.
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By: Staff Blogger
The Ohio Department of Education held its second annual Literacy Academy on March 18 and 19 for districts, schools and early childhood providers who are working toward raising literacy achievement. The Literacy Academy provides professional learning to support the use of evidence-based language and literacy practices.
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By: Marva Jones
Six months ago, I continued my work on behalf of our state’s students and families as I began working at the Ohio Department of Education. As I reflect upon my first 180 days, I remain energized by the Department’s focused efforts, actions and determination to make a difference in the education community. My experience thus far has continued to allow me the opportunity to sink my teeth into more of Ohio’s strategic plan for education, Each Child, Our Future.
One of my through line career goals (which I call Marva’s Main Missions) has been to maintain and develop respectful and trustworthy relationships – in essence, build partnerships.
Each Child, Our Future states that everyone, not just those in schools, shares the responsibility of preparing children for successful futures. I have been fortunate enough in my career to have worked on several partnerships which mirror this fundamental theme outlined in Ohio’s strategic plan for education.
- During my tenure in Warrensville, we partnered with South University. Eighth grade boys were paired with faculty and staff to sharpen the students’ ideas about life after high school into real aspirations. The faculty mentored these youngsters every other week for a semester. These young boys became young men during the half a year by building their relationships into a strong partnership. The boys took part in several activities, such as attending the college course taught by their mentor, introducing the mentor to their families, enjoying dinner or a sporting event together and inviting the mentors to their own eighth grade class.
- As a curriculum director in Massillon City Schools, I partnered with the library, district staff, parents and the entire community to focus our efforts on preventing the summer slide in literacy. Everyone was involved in donating books to the library. In turn, adults borrowed these books so they could be models for the students in their homes and neighborhoods. The students would read for small prizes and activities that occurred at the library during the summer. Eventually this turned into bonus points at the start of the school year.
- In Canton City Schools, we partnered with philanthropic organizations. Most notably I worked with the Sisters of Charity in a program called Supporting Partnerships to Assure Ready Kids (SPARK). SPARK is a family-focused program designed to prepare children for kindergarten. The program offers free in-home visits with parents and caregivers to prepare 4-year-old children for kindergarten and future success in school. SPARK coaches provided new books, art and school supplies to families when they visited. During the regular visits, the coaches modeled skills and behaviors for parents so they could continue supporting their children when the program ended. In a simple twist of fate, 15 years later when briefly working at The Literacy Cooperative in Cleveland, I supervised the coaches for the SPARK program. The authenticity of the program and purpose had not lost its effectiveness.
- A partnership with the city of Massillon and civic organizations highlighted the importance of performing well on an annual academic test. Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It became a mantra for all students, and the city embraced and echoed the theme of student success. When the time came for students to “show what they know” on the test, a banner for academics (not athletics) was hung across the main street in downtown Massillon. There was no doubt that the city was dreaming and believing all students could achieve greatness.
- Based on my studies in mental health services, I was offered a seat on the Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. Given the social challenges that our students were struggling with at that time, I was at the table to maintain the effectiveness of this innovative partnership, provide targeted supports and create hope for students and their families.
- As principal of Dueber Elementary, I worked to assist families that needed help beyond what we could offer at school. Well before the 21st century programs that are so common today, we partnered with Dueber United Methodist Church. This partnership connected teachers, parents and the faith-based community to provide tutoring services and a place of refuge for students in a latchkey like program.
These partnerships, and many more, continue to help students and families. Addressing the needs of the whole child starts with parents, caregivers and schools and extends to other government and community organizations that serve children. Sometimes these services are disjointed and siloed, but partners must work together to provide seamless supports. Success requires the collaboration of parents, caregivers and families and the education system, especially the early childhood education community. I have experienced firsthand how partnerships transform the education experience – just as we illustrate in Each Child, Our Future.
Marva Jones is senior executive director for Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Marva by clicking here.
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By: Staff Blogger
Delegates, diplomacy and inspiring declarations…the Ohio Model United Nations has it all! State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria attended the Junior Ohio Model United Nations International Summit on Sunday and Monday to meet with students and watch the dynamic showcase of leadership and learning in action. The Ohio Model United Nations is a three-day simulation program in which student delegates represent selected member countries of the United Nations. Students began preparations months in advance of the event, which is centered on writing, presenting and debating original resolutions that deal with current world issues. The Junior Ohio Model United Nations is the only program of its kind in the nation. More than 1,000 middle school students participated in this year’s summit. See more from the summit and watch Superintendent DeMaria interview students and educators below about how the program creates global learning connections.
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