By: Kimberly Monachino
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: Chris Woolard
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on May 17, 2017 but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite.
It is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.
“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.
Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.
A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.
As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.
The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.
To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.
Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.
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By: Staff Blogger
In my work, I often present to educators, and I try to find ways to immediately engage them. One of my favorite activities to kick off a workshop is to ask participants to draw maps of places from their childhoods. I adapted this activity from Dr. Barbara Boone at The Ohio State University. Participants have five minutes to draw a map of any size, but it must include some places where they spent a lot of their time. Then, mapmakers discuss similarities and differences between their maps and the emotions tied to the places. Often, most maps in the room are similar. However, occasionally we get to discuss two very different maps. Many with geographically larger maps discuss how challenging it was to change schools and move between communities. At the end of the activity, we discuss what the maps of the students we serve might look like.
One-third of young adults in foster care reported five or more school changes. This is important because just one move can increase a student’s risk of not graduating or delaying graduation. Now, imagine what the maps of students in foster care might look like. Many of their maps would paint pictures of frequent moves that disrupt established relationships with trusted adults and their peers. In the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), lawmakers attempted to address the challenging and frequent transitions that students in foster care experience.
ESSA seeks to stabilize the education of children in foster care in four key ways. First, ESSA requires county child welfare agencies to work with school districts to identify the best educational setting for each student transitioning in foster care. The procedure for determining the best interest of the student should focus on maintaining as much of the student’s education stability as possible — including staying in his or her school of origin. Second, if a student can continue in the school of origin, ESSA requires the school district to arrange transportation services for the student in foster care. Transportation is key to ensuring stability. Third, if a student is unable to stay in the school of origin, ESSA requires that the new school begin the enrollment process immediately while working to remove barriers to enrollment and evaluating the student’s academic needs. Finally, when a student in foster care must change schools, districts must work diligently to facilitate the transfer of records as quickly as possible.
This shift in how we serve students in foster care will pose some challenges for districts and county agencies. For too long, school districts and child welfare agencies worked separately to support the same students. Today, ESSA challenges two distinct, large systems to work collaboratively and focus on what is best for students in their care. ESSA also challenges districts and child welfare agencies to share in the cost of transporting students in foster care. Even with these challenges, there are opportunities. Agencies and schools are building new channels of communication and systems to better meet the needs of the students they serve.
There are three critical actions that districts and county agencies are taking to effectively implement these requirements and build positive momentum around this work.
- Prepare: Districts and child welfare agencies must ensure that staff from the very top of an organization all the way down to support staff are informed of requirements. All staff must be ready to engage in procedures to support students in foster care. By being prepared, everyone can work to immediately enroll students and make sure they have the resources to learn and feel comfortable in their school settings.
- Coordinate: Districts and child welfare agencies should work together to write best interest determination and transportation procedures. With clear procedures in place, both parties can fulfill their respective responsibilities to support the educational stability of students in foster care. Many districts and child welfare agencies are forming regional or countywide networks that write these procedures.
- Collaborate: Districts and child welfare agencies are thinking outside the box and respecting the expertise of each party at the table. Together, they are creating solutions to complex problems. Both districts and county agencies have unique insights to the needs of each student. Those insights should be simultaneously respected. Working together to find student-centered solutions is what collaboration is all about.
All in all, ESSA’s new requirements for students in foster care is positive. These requirements ensure that school districts and county child welfare agencies are working together to keep relationships with trusted adults and peers intact. At the same time, they are making student-centered decisions for what a student’s best educational setting may be. While there are challenges, there are unprecedented opportunities to improve academic outcomes for students in foster care.
Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.
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By: Guest Blogger
Editor’s Note: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. To highlight this important issue, we asked Corina Klies and Beth Malchus-Stafa, from the Ohio Department of Health, to share some advice for how adults in education settings can help young people form healthy relationships.
Think back to high school, college or your workplace. You easily can identify those relationships that are worth an A+ versus a D-. What makes up an A+ relationship? Many of the qualities needed in a healthy relationship are in the image to the right.
As a teacher, administrator, coach or parent volunteer, youth look to you to model qualities needed for healthy relationships. Positive relationships with youth create safe learning environments and reinforce examples of healthy relationships.
Often, adults feel they don’t know how to begin a conversation or have the skills to talk about dating violence. They feel more comfortable referring to the school policy or providing statistics: One in three girls and one in seven boys will experience dating violence before they are 18 years old. It’s easier to just put up a poster acknowledging Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month during February than it is to really discuss it.
While it is important that youth know the school policy for dating violence — and statistics, definitions and posters are great for raising awareness — it is more important for youth to learn the skills needed to maintain healthy relationships. These include mutuality, affection, courage, consent and accountability. These skills shouldn’t be relegated to a single class or learning session. These skills should be incorporated into daily experiences. In English classes, they can be part of book discussions, history classes can discuss conflict resolution, marching band teachers can provide tips on working together in a squad and student internships can teach good working relationships between supervisors and co-workers.
Adults also can demonstrate healthy relationship skills with teachable moments. A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises when a teacher or adult has an ideal chance to offer insight. While adults cannot prevent youth from making hurtful comments or protect them from unkind behaviors all the time, they can stop youth from making hurtful comments or demonstrating unkind behaviors in their presence.
Using teachable moments is an easy three-step process: see it, claim it, stop it.
See it means telling the youth and possibly those around who witness the behavior what you observed. Claim it means stating why it was offensive and possibly against your school’s student code of conduct or classroom rules. Stop it means turning the situation around and suggesting different behaviors. This model of intervening and re-teaching behavior is a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy.
Again, think back to high school, college or your workplace, how did you learn about A+ relationships? Maybe you didn’t and had to learn through trial and error. Healthy relationships are hard work, like learning to understand the Pythagorean theorem. Both take homework and repeated lessons over time. Here are some exercises for you to perfect the use of teachable moments.
Someone is texting Greg during class. His cell vibrates several times. Ms. Shankleton gives Greg a detention. After class, Greg and his friend Kallia approach Ms. Shankleton to talk about how he received 35 texts this morning from his girlfriend. He doesn’t know how to tell her to stop. Greg shows Ms. Shankleton his girlfriend’s texts. They are about who he talks to; what he’s wearing; and why he’s late to walk her to her class. Ms. Shankleton follows the training she received on her school’s policies for anti-harassment, intimidation and bullying and teen dating.
What would you say to Greg? What would you say to Kallia, the upstander,? What does your school policy say you should do for Greg? How does your school policy use the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports strategy of intervening and re-teaching behavior to address the young woman’s (Greg’s girlfriend) texting? How does your school policy address electronic and technology in the context of teen dating abuse? What type of training is provided at your school to promote upstanding behavior? Does your school work with community agencies to provide referrals? How are parents involved?
Here are possible, responsible ways to respond to this scenario:
- To Greg: “Thank you for telling me. I am sorry I didn’t understand what was happening. Repeatedly texting someone over and over like this is a form of dating violence This is a serious situation; can I go with you to the guidance counselor?”
- To the upstander Kallia: “Thank you for being a concerned friend and coming with Greg to see me.”
It’s Friday night and the band parents’ concession stand is winding down. Mr. Kepperly is grilling the last two hamburgers. He watches Adam single out a girl next to the wall of the concession stand. Adam calls her an offensive, derogatory name and asks why she is talking to Jackson. The girl is distressed and keeps saying: “It’s about our English project.” There is a crowd of youth growing around the two.
What would you say to Adam? What would you say to the crowd? What does your school policy say a parent volunteer should do to help Adam’s girlfriend? How does your school policy train parent volunteers? How does your school policy address teen dating violence at public events?
Here is a possible, responsible way to respond to this scenario:
- To Adam: Mr. Kepperly goes up to the two and says: “Adam, I just heard you call her a name. In our school, we find this language offensive, and we don’t use that kind of language with each other. That behavior needs to stop, and you need to walk away.”
- To the girlfriend: Mr. Kepperly asks if she is okay.
Mentally practicing these scenarios can help make us more comfortable addressing these situations in real life. As adults who interact and work with youth, we must accept the responsibility to do more than memorize statistics and put up posters. We have the power to intervene when necessary and guide young people to forming positive, A+ relationships. The next time you witness inappropriate relationship behavior, don’t be afraid to see it, claim it and stop it.
Corina Klies works for the Ohio Department of Health overseeing a grant that focuses on providing culturally specific services to sexual assault survivors in the African/African-American, Asian/Asian-American and Latino/Hispanic communities.
Beth Malchus-Stafa is a public health consultant at the Ohio Department Health. She is a content expert in the area of bullying, teen dating violence, and sexual and intimate partner violence prevention.
Beth and Corina are members of the Ohio Department of Education Anti-Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying Initiative.
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By: Virginia Ressa
I get really excited when it is time to visit a school. I know I’m going to get to talk to students and teachers, see displays of student work and listen in on lessons and classroom discussions. When you enter a school for the first time, it takes a minute to orient yourself, to get a feel for the atmosphere and culture. You might hear the sounds of students in the gym or see a line of kindergarteners headed for the art room. Some lobbies are full of trophy cases and pictures of graduating classes from 50 years ago. Others are modern and sleek, with announcements on bright monitors. Each school is different because it is the community of students, teachers, administrators and families that create the school. School buildings come in all shapes and sizes, and even those that may look similar on the outside are wholly unique on the inside. Then, as you walk through the hallways and peek into classrooms, you see that each classroom is as unique as the students and teachers working within.
When I worked for a district, I often had the opportunity to visit schools and observe classes. I frequently found myself thinking, “I wish other teachers could see what this class is doing!” I have seen great examples of instructional practice and wished I could capture the scene to share with other educators. Before smartphones, tablets and social media, this was difficult to do. However, in today’s world, it’s easily done. Smartphones allow us to take great pictures and videos, and social media allows us to share those images instantly. We have the tools to celebrate and share the outstanding work happening in our classrooms every day.
If you follow the Ohio Department of Education on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’ll see that State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria has had the opportunity to visit many Ohio schools and classrooms. I love to see the pictures, and especially the videos, he posts. It’s inspiring to see our teachers and students in action, to see the colorful classrooms full of literacy materials and art projects, to hear students learning together. By sharing his pictures and videos, Superintendent DeMaria has taken us with him on his tour of Ohio schools, sharing with us the hard work educators and students put into the learning process and celebrating their accomplishments.
The superintendent isn’t the only one sharing the happenings in our classrooms. When you search Twitter and Instagram for #MyOhioClassroom, you’ll find pictures and videos of elementary, middle and high schools from small districts and large districts, urban and rural schools — using #MyOhioClassroom, we can connect to students and teachers anywhere in the state and share in the unique learning happening in their classrooms.
Inviting others in to our classrooms using social media provides us all an opportunity to celebrate teaching and learning. As Ohio works to improve our schools, we need to look to each other to share ideas, motivate us to try new things and provide our leaders with examples of the high-quality teaching and learning happening in so many of our schools. I encourage you to search for #MyOhioClassroom to see what teachers are posting. I just found pictures of Butler Tech students starting clinical rotations at a local nursing home. I see that Ms. Krohn’s students at Moreland Hills Elementary are writing in their math journals. First-graders in Westlake City Schools are wearing surgical masks as they become “word surgeons” creating contractions. Third-graders in Crestwood Local Schools are having lunch with Principal Gerbrick as a reward through their Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system. If you regularly follow the hashtag, you will see that teachers are posting new items every couple of hours. What will you find when you search for #MyOhioClassroom? What’s happening in your school today that you could share?
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, do not be intimidated. It’s much easier and more fun than it looks at first glance. Here’s a blog post from the International Society for Technology in Education — “Twitter is dumb! Or is it?” — that will help you get started. Once you get your account set up, you will want to follow @OHEducation to get news and updates about public education in the Buckeye State and @OHEducationSupt to follow along with Superintendent DeMaria as he visits schools and posts pictures and videos. (Fun Fact: If you follow his feed, you may get to see him singing!) I also welcome you to follow my account @VirginiaRessa, as I do my best to share evidence-based practices to help all students be successful.
Have a question? Post it in the comments below or write to me directly at Virginia.Ressa@education.ohio.gov.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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