On being unique… and designing learning environments with uniqueness in mind

elizabethdalton2011This post was written by Dr. Elizabeth Dalton. Dr. Dalton is Director of Development and Research for TechACCESS of RI and an independent consultant in curriculum, assessment, diversity & technology. She earned a PhD in Education from University of Rhode Island, was post-doctoral fellow in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) & Leadership at Boston College and CAST, and consultants in areas of curriculum & program development, assessment, diversity, and technology implementation. She presents on UDL and technology nationally, and internationally, and is current President of the SETSIG of ISTE. Dr. Dalton presented a webinar on edWeb in September 2013 on Universal Design for Learning and Technology: Making Connections.

2014HeaderImage2 (1)Every student, and every teacher for that matter, is a unique individual with characteristics, beliefs, abilities, needs, and preferences. Variation, rather than standardization, is the reality in our classrooms, our lives, and for our students. Students who are on the spectrum experience and demonstrate great variation of strengths and needs. These students, along with ALL other students, can benefit from Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL is a curriculum design framework that was first introduced in the field of education in the 1998 by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST, Inc.). It was inspired by the idea of universal design for physical environments, and grew from CAST’s extensive analysis of neuroscience research on how the brain learns, merged with their practical experience in serving students with widely ranging learning needs. David Rose, founder and chief education officer of CAST, discusses the challenge… “In many classrooms, the focus is on an illusory average student. Many curricula are designed for that student. Cognitive neuroscience has shown us that there really isn’t an average student anywhere, and that’s why it’s an illusory student.”

Universal Design for Learning is organized around 3 Core Principles:

Multiple means of representation: Provide different ways and options for learners to acquire information and knowledge.

Multiple means of action and expression: Provide different methods and options for learners to demonstrate what they know and have learned.

Multiple means of engagement: Identify, develop and offer appropriate challenges and choices that tap into learners’ interests and increase motivation.

There is great power in the simplicity of these three principles – when embraced fully and implemented effectively when designing instruction and learning environments, the natural variation of learners and their learning needs is recognized and addressed from the start – rather than needing ongoing adaptation or “retrofitting”. Universal Design for Learning supports more nimble and effective learning environments for ALL students, including our students on the spectrum.

To learn more about UDL and its many educational resources, visit the National Center on Universal Design for Learning at www.udlcenter.org or visit CAST at www.cast.org.

Also, CAST has a wonderful new online (and interactive) book that has just come out:
Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2013) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST. Retrieved January 13, 2014 at http://udltheorypractice.cast.org/

Take some time to explore and learn about UDL. You’ll be happy you did!

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