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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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8/2/2018

Building Relationships…Building the Foundation of a Successful School Year

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-893988484-1.jpgIt is hard to believe that another school year is fast approaching. Before we know it, the yellow school buses will be en route and the “20 mile per hour” school zone signs will be flashing. The marquees outside many schools will read “Welcome Back Students!” or “Good luck students and staff for a successful 2018-2019 school year!” 

Even after 30 years in education, I still get butterflies in my stomach the night before the first day of school. There is a renewed excitement about starting a new school year. Teachers, parents and, most importantly, students wonder what the new year will bring.

As we start to get back in the swing of school and learning, remember, one of the most important tasks a teacher must start with, and continue all year, is building relationships with students. Building relationships is the keystone for a successful year. If a teacher has a good relationship with her students, the students are more willing to please the teacher, which can lead to less discipline and more learning. Relationship building is not something you can do the first day or the first week and then forget about. It is something that, for some students, may take all year. For some, those connections may be on the first hello, for others, it will be on the last goodbye.

Here are some tips teachers can use to build relationships with their students:

  1. Greet your students every day. Let them know they are important enough for you to stop and say hello.
  2. Have a “family meeting” several times a week with your class. Take some time for your students to share what is going on in their lives.
  3. Write positive notes or make positive calls home. This allows the child to see you notice and care.
  4. Stop and have a personal conversation with your students. It will give you insight to what is going on in their lives. This also is a good technique for working with your more difficult students.
  5. Try to make connections with your students by including things that are important to them in your classroom or teaching. For example, if a student likes baseball, you can use that as an example in a math problem.
  6. Speak to the students with respect. All relationships, including student-teacher relationships, flourish on mutual respect.
  7. Attend extracurricular activities. By attending an activity outside of school, it shows the students you are interested in them as people and not just “students.”
  8. Share stories about yourself. Let the students see you as a person. This will allow them to make connections to you just like you make connections with them.
  9. Let students have a voice in the classroom. Let them know this is not “my room” but “our room.” Try to stay away from the pronouns my or mine and go with we and ours.
  10. Trust your students! What better way is there to build relationships than to build trust? Also, students must trust you. Trust is the foundation of any good relationship.
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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10/25/2018

Safe, Inclusive Schools Prevent Bullying Before it Starts

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-950957410.jpgAs I walk down the halls of schools, I am always intrigued with the creative and empowering messages that appear on bulletin boards. Especially those messages that focus on inclusive school culture and creating positive learning environments. One tagline read, “Do the right thing even when no one is looking.” Another illustrated a colorful box of crayons with each crayon representing an individual child’s face with the caption “We are a box of crayons, each of us unique, but when we get together, the picture is complete.” Another bulletin board emphasized “Put a stop to bullying! Making others feel bad is never okay!”

I mention these observations in light of October being National Bullying Prevention Awareness month. This year’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month marks the 10th anniversary of its initiation by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. Since 2006, the event has grown to an entire month of education and awareness activities that are being recognized by schools and communities throughout the world.

I am going to provide a basic definition of bullying, along with specific tips for teachers to prevent bullying. The tips are intended for all students, but with an emphasis on students with disabilities. We know that children who bully others also often target children who seem “different.” Children with disabilities are sometimes more likely to be bullied than children without disabilities.

First, let’s start with the definition of bullying. The word “bullying” is applied to a lot of different situations that may or may not necessarily meet the definition of bullying. Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. The key in this definition are the words real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated over time.

Bullying is not when children have a conflict or argument. There are always going to be times when children do not get along with each other and situations of disagreement occur. This is part of healthy childhood development and teaches children the important skills of managing their emotions. It helps them develop coping skills.

Teachers play an important role in preventing true bullying and can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms. Teachers also are aware that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than students without disabilities and often are the first line of defense. Here are some tips on ways teachers can be proactive in preventing bullying of all students, with an emphasis on the unique needs of students with disabilities.

Champion                                                                                                     
Be a champion of preventing bullying by making sure you know your school and district policies on bullying and work to make sure they are implemented. Resources are available to help district develop their local policies.  

Build self-advocacy
Teach students who have disabilities how to advocate for themselves. Help students who struggle with social skills to recognize when someone is being hurtful, and give them language to use to help them respond.

Teach tolerance
Teach students self-awareness and empathy through literature. Books like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt teach self-awareness and review multiple sides of a conflict in a story or scenario. Literature with protagonists who have disabilities, like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Wonder by R.J. Palacio are wonderful for building students’ awareness of specific disabilities. These stories also build empathy that transfers into real-world scenarios.

Build positive classroom climate
Create a positive class climate that is predictable, consistent and equitable. Take time at the start of and throughout the year to model problem-solving and communication. Go out of your way to recognize each student for his or her unique strengths and talents.

Respect
Let your students know you care about and respect them. Show your students you are available to listen and you want to help them.

Activities to promote prevention
Develop activities that focus on identifying bullying in books, TV shows and movies. Use teachable moments from these to discuss with your students the impact of bullying and how characters resolved it.

Morning meetings
During morning meetings, empower students to talk about bullying and peer relations. It is important to allow students to take leadership roles in planning and leading the meetings to help them gain critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Teach students to be “upstanders”
Students need to know that when they don’t stop someone from bullying, they’re contributing to it. Teach your students to be upstanders by showing them how to quickly recognize bullying and basic techniques to stop it — like not creating an audience or inviting the victim into their group.

Share experiences through multimedia
Challenge students to create multimedia projects that express their thoughts, opinions and personal experiences with bullying. The technology encourages creativity and individualism, and the ability to share their experiences builds students’ communication and advocacy.

Supervise hot spots
We know bullying is more likely to occur when teachers aren’t watching. Figure out your school’s “hot spots” for bullying — the places with less supervision and more students. It is important to ask others in the building, such as custodians, office assistants, cafeteria workers and bus drivers where they see problems.

These tips are meant to begin the conversation on how we can make each and every child feel welcome and accepted in our schools. The actions and behaviors you demonstrate contribute to the success of every child. Always remember the power you have as an educator to make a difference in a child’s life.

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