Revising Traditional Curriculum Using Universal Design for Learning

A few weeks ago, I completed a lesson plan that utilized a sundial that I created using Makerware software and printed with a Makerbot 3D Printer.  After some study and research, I am revisiting that lesson plan this week with an important framework in mind: Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Please watch the following video clip from CAST to learn more about UDL:

Below, I have embedded my lesson plan.  Written in red are the specific modifications I made to my lesson that help align it to UDL.

The first thing that I realized after aligning my lesson plan to the CORE activity was that my lesson was exclusive of so many types of students.  Typically, I pride myself on my inclusivity and differentiation in my lessons. One of the hallmark elements of the Project-Based Learning framework is “Voice and Choice.”  I deliberately spent time trying to design a lesson that gave students great amounts of choice.  While I still feel like I accomplish this through the “show and tell” project, there were many gaps in the lesson’s inclusiveness prior to my revision.

Another thing that I am ashamed to admit I forgot to consider was students’ prior knowledge of the sundial.  Many students in my classroom have never seen The Lion King, a staple of my childhood.  Many more still were not alive to experience the trauma of 9/11.  Who am I to assume, then, that every student is going to be familiar with a sundial and its purpose?  I introduce the sundial at the very beginning of the lesson, now, through a video that both explains the sundial and its technical elements, and that describes its ulterior purpose.  Being introduced to the sundial and analyzing it and then analyzing an object of their own scaffolds the levels of support for practice and fluency.

Still yet, student collaboration and communication was enhanced by an application of the principles of Universal Design.  Prior to the lesson’s revision, I had not planned for any opportunities for feedback or active engagement/interaction between the students.  Even worse, I had not listed any tools for communication between students and the teacher.  Though I use these every day in my classroom–I just assumed coming from my context that the need for a Learning Management System would be implied.  To remedy this issue, I introduced the element of peer feedback on the project.  This feedback would be exchanged via Google Hangouts, and asynchronously, through Edmodo or a Google+ Community.

To encourage student reflection, I also added a reflective element following the presentation to evaluate oneself on their perceived strengths and weaknesses.  In this manner, students are motivated to hold themselves to a higher level of accountability because they must reflect upon and justify their own contributions.

For blended learning contexts, the implementation of this model is even more imperative than in standard settings because of the string of benefits students can gain through the model while working at a self-paced rate.  These include visual and auditory alternatives, access to translation tools, opportunities for information transfer, multimodal tools for communication, construction and composition, goal setting, resource management, progress monitoring, choice and autonomy, awareness of importance, and opportunities for collaboration and critical thinking with peers.

The implications for the application of the Universal Design for Learning framework are all positive.  As I mention above, it is so simple to become so confident in our lessons (as I did) that we forget which students we may be leaving behind.  Though we may not teach these students each semester, we do need to be cognizant of the fact that these enhancements are necessary for more students than we may realize.

References

CAST. (2009). CAST: About UDL. Retrieved 20 June 2014, from http://www.cast.org/udl/

CAST. (2010). UDL At A Glance. Retrieved 22 June 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDvKnY0g6e4

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