Key Elements to UDL Implementation

keyelements

Overview

As educators, we are always looking for ways to improve our practice for the benefit of our students. Finding ways to incorporate elements of UDL into your teaching practice can be as informal as introducing an alternative assessment option for students (e.g. letting them answer questions orally as opposed to writing their answers) or as extensive as school-wide coordinated effort to systematically plan within a UDL framework.

Implementation of UDL may be a change in practice for the school team members involved. Implementing this change needs to happen at both the micro and macro levels. At the microcosm level, it starts with the classroom, with its teacher and students; at the macrocosm level, efforts at the district level needs to be made to support all classrooms making the attempt to implement UDL.

In the book, “Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age“,  David Rose and Anne Meyer, outline key elements that can help schools and/or districts moving to implement UDL.

  • Technology Infrastructure Support
  • Administrative Support
  • Teacher Training and Support
  • Redefined Roles for Special and Regular Education Teachers
  • Collaborative Curriculum Planning

Technology Infrastructure

UDL and technology are mutually supportive. Technology provides flexible options for students to access curriculum, engage in lessons and demonstrate their learning. With technology, it is critical that the necessary network infrastructure as well as a plan for using the technology is in place for any of the technologies in the classroom. From simple supports like making sure there is a convenient power source for the devices being used to more complex systems like ensuring network connections are in place for students to be able to access stored files or print their work – a classroom technology plan that is supported by the overall school and district plan is critical.

Having a technology implementation plan in place provides clarity around who is responsible for what technology support tasks; it helps everyone understand what is expected and when that expectation needs to be met. Implementation plans also identify any tasks we may not have considered and may help break a long term goal (like iPad access for all students) into manageable and attainable goals for each school year.

Every BC school district employs district Information Technology support staff. However, IT support services and protocols vary widely from district from district. As the amount of technology being used in schools has exploded in the past fifteen years, district IT support staff are often overwhelmed with demand for their work.  The clearer you can be about what IT support is needed to implement your UDL initiatives, the easier it will be for your IT support to create the solutions you and your students require in a timely manner.

  • Get to know the district and school IT protocols.  Your classroom is only one of many connected through a complex network infrastructure – it is important to understand the ‘big picture’ of how technology systems works in your school district.
  • Invite IT people to your planning meetings. They have valuable insights about what can be supported given the existing systems.  They can also give you information on what they can’t support so you don’t waste time planning for classroom technologies that you won’t be able to implement.  At the meetings, ask questions so you can fully understand what is possible.
    • Will your IT support be able to help your efforts implementing UDL in the classroom?
    • Are there guidelines for specific technology types and operating systems that will be supported?
    • Are there any devices or operating systems that the IT department will not support?
    • Are there additional costs associated for installation of additional hardware?
    • Who will pay for the IT services and support? (e.g. installation of Smart Board or extra network ‘drops’)?
  • Take good notes at your IT planning meetings and ensure all meeting participants have copies of the notes.  Work towards developing an actual technology implementation plan that contains specific tasks, identifies who is responsible for those tasks and the deadlines for task completion.  Having an agreed upon plan with an appropriate level of detail will greatly assist the IT support staff in scheduling your work.

Having an IT department that is supportive of and sensitive to educational efforts is not only important, it is crucial when using technology to support UDL in your classroom. Consider that the mandate of the IT department is different from that of educators and there may be times when you don’t understand decisions made about district or school technology implementation.  This can happen if what you are hoping to implement has implications on overall network security.  The IT department’s focus is to provide functioning and secure network supports for all schools around the district. While you may have discovered the ‘perfect’ technology solution for your students, the IT staff may feel it creates a network security risk so may not initially support its integration. Having a supportive administrator and a good working relationship with your IT support staff helps maintain the open dialogue necessary to find a workable technology solution for everyone involved.

You’ll find that including your IT support staff in your planning meetings at school and welcoming them into classroom activities when possible will make for much more effective technology implementation in your UDL-based classroom.

Digital Materials: Accessible Resource Centre – British Columbia
One of the three main principles of UDL is the provision of multiple means of representation.  This means having more options than standard print text available for learning materials.  Students who struggle with text can use digital versions of novels and textbooks in combination with text-to-speech software to access the same materials as their peers.  In the past, the problem has been acquiring digital versions of the BC curricular materials.  This issue has been addressed with the creation of the Accessible Resource Centre – British Columbia (ARC-BC).  This BC Ministry of Education funded response to the increasing demand for digital or alternate format alternatives to print in BC classrooms was created to provide BC students with perceptual disabilities and the educators supporting them with high quality digital alternate format materials based on the BC K-12 curriculum. Access to this repository is determined by each district and is a free resource for educators in BC. The number of available titles and file formats available through ARC-BC continues to increase every year. ARC-BC staff members respond to the curricular needs of BC teachers – they are able to produce new titles and make them available in a matter of weeks. Digital materials are created in a number of alternate formats including Kurzweil 3000 (.kesi), MP3 audio, plain text (.txt) and Braille formats.  For more information about ARC-BC and how you can obtain digital versions of texts you may be using in your classroom, visit their site (www.arc-bc.org) for more information.

Administrator Support

In BC, school principals and vice-principals are ultimately responsible for the implementation of educational programs. They set the focus and tone for the school in the short and long term. A school administration that is supportive of UDL as a curriculum design framework will support opportunities for teachers on staff to attend professional development sessions to learn about UDL and will offer support and funding for implementation of required technology.  In addition, supportive school or district administrators will encourage teachers to collaborate and plan together, finding ways to provide time within the timetable for those activities.  They will also recognize and highlight innovative teaching strategies working to help all teachers on staff develop their knowledge, skills and experience using UDL to support diversity in their schools.

The attitude of administrators at the school and district level can really help schools cultivate a sense of a learning community, one where teachers and students alike feel safe to take risks with both their teaching and their learning. Encouraging flexibility amongst their teachers will lead to optimal learning environments being created in their classrooms.

For these and other reasons, it is clear why administrators play a crucial role in UDL implementation. They can:

  • create a safe and supportive environment for their educators to take risks and extend their teaching practice.
  • provide time and opportunity for setting professional development goals, learning new strategies and incorporating new technologies.
  • encourage and facilitate team collaboration.
  • share information about UDL in newsletters, the school websites and parent-teacher nights.
  • ensure that teachers receive inservice on BC’s New Curriculum.
  • support the purchase of flexible instructional materials such as multi-level reading materials, e-text, or online subscriptions.
  • encourage their educators to access the online repository of alternate formats for students with perceptual disabilities – ARC-BC
  • establish and ensure support for the necessary school technology infrastructure.
  • work with district support staff to ensure all teachers and students receive the services needed in the classroom.

Redefining Special Educator

In classrooms where UDL is being implemented successfully, the Student Services Teachers (e.g. Learning Assistance Teacher, Learning Resource Teacher, Behaviour Intervention Specialist, Speech Language Pathologists, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, ESL Teacher, etc.) endeavor to spend more time in the classroom and supporting a variety of students as needed. While pulling students out for extra support still happens from time to time, removing students from the classroom environment is considered carefully and used only to target students who need specific help related to the topic being covered in class.

Supporting students in the classroom environment no matter what their needs sends a clear message that the classroom is where everyone belongs. Sending students out on a regular basis for pull-out support blocks labels students unnecessarily. For example, having 8 students leave the classroom every morning at 9:15 am for ESL resource support time labels the students as ‘ESL students’.  Having the ESL Resource Teacher supporting students in the classroom by co-teaching with the classroom teacher, modeling strategies that work for students learning English as a Second Language, and providing adapted material can have a powerful impact on the whole class. Students who may not have been identified as ESL learners may also benefit from the strategies used by the ESL resource teacher.  This approach creates a learning community that clearly includes everyone and minimizes instances of ‘othering’.

In a UDL-based school and classroom environment, special educators work to find their place in the general education classroom and support not only those students who require individual support, but the classroom teacher supporting all students in the primary learning environment. The collaboration required to achieve this is obvious, the rewards compelling. Educators supporting each other on a daily basis, sharing information, co-teaching all students, and working together to create the classroom learning community.

Nancy Snowden is a Resource Support Teacher at Birchland Elementary School in Coquitlam, BC. She supports students in the classroom and, in this video, describes how UDL has changed how she uses pull-out times with students who need extra support. She and other teachers share their views on redefining the role of the Special Educator and rethinking the current pull-out support model.

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Collaborative Curriculum Planning

“It’s so much more friendly with two.” Winnie the Pooh

We are social beings – we need interaction in order to thrive. We learn from each other when we learn with each other.  What is true for our students, is true for us as educators when planning and implementing curriculum.  Teachers are full of fantastic ideas and coming together to share is a great way to learn from each other to advance our own practice.

Many teachers feel most comfortable in their own classrooms, with or without a closed door, interacting alone with their students.  Unfortunately, this can result in stagnation of teaching practice.  When we don’t stretch beyond our comfort zones, beyond what we have ‘always done’ there is no forward movement for us as educators and for our students as learners.  We run the risk of becoming ineffective.  Evolving brain research on learning, ready access to a variety of technologies, and the diverse nature of our classrooms necessitates, now more than ever, teachers coming together, collaboratively, to plan, create, and deliver relevant curriculum.

The perception is that planning with others takes a great deal of time. This is often seen as a barrier to teachers collaborating – there never seems to be enough time in the week (or month) to schedule planning meetings with others.  But, the reality is that collaborating with somebody can actually cut your planning time in half or more. And collaboration does not have to happen at formal meetings – to implement UDL effectively, teachers need to open their doors and invite students services staff or other teachers in during lessons.  Once the lesson is complete, brief discussions can take place and lead to more effective practices for individual students and the class overall.

In other areas of this course, teacher collaboration is highlighted.  With many schools who have been successfully implementing UDL, teachers began collaborating out of necessity, sometimes with just one or two teachers who wanted to talk about what they were trying.  In all cases, teachers report that the activity of collaborating with colleagues is one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of their UDL implementation.

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