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3/8/2018

Universal Design for Learning Equals Learning Opportunities for All

By: Kimberly Monachino

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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4/26/2018

Co-teaching...Two Teachers in One Class Equals Success!

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-638711984.jpgAs you walk down the hallway of a school and peek in and out of classrooms, you may see two teachers in a classroom instead of one. Often, the scenario is a general education teacher and special education teacher working together to teach all students in the classroom, including students with disabilities. These teachers work together, sharing their ideas and planning lessons. Both teachers support each other and work as a team. This type of teaching model is referred to as co-teaching. In a co-teaching classroom, there is a mutual respect and partnership between both teachers to present learning in diverse ways based on the needs of the students.

Co-teaching simply means two teachers working together to deliver instruction. However, there are different ways that two teachers work together to deliver instruction in a co-teaching classroom. One approach is called one teach, one observe. In this model, one teacher delivers instruction while the other observes student learning. The second teacher walks around the classroom checking to make sure the students understand the lesson. A second approach is called one teach, one assist. With this approach, one teacher takes the lead role and the other teacher rotates among students to provide support. This model allows one teacher to respond to individual students in a quicker manner. A third approach is parallel co-teaching. In this model, the two teachers divide the students in two groups and teach the same lesson. This allows for each teacher to have fewer students and focus on specific skills. In the fourth approach, station teaching, both teachers are actively involved in instruction as the students rotate from one station to the next, learning new materials. The fifth approach is alternative teaching, which allows one teacher to take a small group of students and provide instruction that is different than what the large group receives. The last approach is the complementary teaching model in which one teacher instructs the students while the other teacher offers an instructional strategy that supplements or complements the lesson. For example, the first teacher may model note taking on the board as the second teacher presents the lesson. If you do a Google search for co-teaching diagrams, you will find many images illustrating of the various co-teaching models.

There are many benefits for all students with using any of these models. Particularly, students with disabilities can access the general education curriculum and general education classroom setting. Students with disabilities benefit from being part of a classroom with high academic rigor with a teacher who understands the academic content and a special education teacher who can adjust the instruction. Lastly, students with disabilities may feel more connected with their classmates in the classroom and community.

Next time you walk down the hall of a school, take a peek in a classroom. You might be surprised what you see. Remember, two teachers may be better than one for all students.

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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8/9/2018

A Parent’s Hope for the New School Year

By: Wendy Grove

GettyImages-531229189.jpgThis week, I am writing not as an education professional, but as a parent. My daughter is the child that made me a mother for the first time. Last week, she turned 11 years old, and I want to tell you about her. She is brave, creative, artistic, smart, stubborn, self-centered and difficult. She likes singing songs, watching anime, reading Percy Jackson books, snuggling with her two dogs, swimming and showing off her new polka-dot tennis shoes.

My daughter is in special education where she gets help learning because she has dysgraphia. This is a learning disability where her brain does not translate her ability to tell you a story or read a book into writing with a pencil. She cannot spell or write words, sentences or paragraphs like a child her age is expected to. In addition to this learning disability, she is diagnosed with extreme generalized anxiety. Her anxiety is with her everywhere, not just in specific situations. Recently, as a fifth-grader, she received a brand new diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. This means she struggles to pay attention, especially during instruction. She also has been identified by her school district as gifted in science and accelerated in math, reading and social studies.

In less than a month, my baby starts middle school. A new school. A new social situation. A new routine. New teachers. A lot of new kids. My heart is racing just listing all the new things coming for her. I wonder, how will she do with all that newness? My daughter has an individualized education program (IEP) that gives her academic and social supports. Staff from the middle school met with me, and the IEP is in place and ready to go when school begins. They told me she will be supported and wrote down how and when and who will provide the support. I want to believe this so badly. I remain hopeful, but my mother’s heart wonders if she really will be okay. Really, I wonder if she will be more than okay — I want to know if she will thrive. Will my daughter thrive in middle school with everything that makes her so uniquely her?

In partnership with her school’s educators, I am trying hard to make sure my child gets to be her best self, even on her most difficult days. I am sharing this with you because I want you to know us. I want you to hear my hopes and dreams as an educator and as a mother. I hope that by sharing my story, I can encourage other parents to partner with their schools to ensure their students’ success.

Maybe you have a child going through a similar transition. Maybe, like me, you also are tired. And, maybe you have not had a great experience at the school or with a person who works there. But, let me assure you this: educators care. They became teachers, principals and school counselors because they want to help kids. They genuinely want success for our children. They want our children to feel safe and supported in their learning. For these reasons, I must believe that she will thrive. I believe her teachers will spend time getting to know who she is as a student, so they can help her achieve her goals. I also know my role in this is important, as a partner, communicator and a support to both my daughter and her teachers.

I want to encourage you to think about what kind of partner you have been, or could be, with your child’s school. What beliefs do you have about teachers based on your experiences? Whatever the past experiences have been, this year is a fresh start. Take time to tell your child’s school about your perfect baby girl or boy. Tell someone there about your concerns and what you hope for your child. Be brave. Use your voice, and be confident that you know your child and your contribution to his or her success is critical. Be present. Be open as a partner with your child’s school. Trust in the educators’ knowledge and experience and to the underlying goodness of their intentions to do right by your child. You’ve got this! We parents can do this! Together with the schools, we can positively shape the experience of school and make sure our kids thrive.

Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM