UDL principals and guidelines have influenced my instructional practices as a full time special education and ESL teacher at Gardner Pilot Academy.
Our school implements Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS); these policies support a UDL framework and learner variability (Hehir, 2009). “RTI seeks to identify students who need additional learning support, scaffolds appropriate interventions, and monitors student progress” (Hehir, 2009). I use weekly data on oral reading fluency, math computation fluency, and reading comprehension check-ins in order to assess my students’ growth and inform instruction for the following week. This helps direct my students’ weekly goals and IEP goals; informed goal setting aligns with UDL guideline 6: provide options for executive functions.
After learning more about UDL guideline 6, I plan to be more explicit with my students on their personal goals. While my students realize we track and collect data they do not seem to have a personal motivation or connection to the assessments. Dr. Todd Rose spoke on this topic when he emphasized that good UDL means being clear about your goal, realizing that UDL is iterative, and that as a teacher you cannot accomplish all the guidelines at once.
In the coming weeks I plan to have each student create a bar graph or other visual showing their growth over the course of the year in order for them to be able to create their own end-of-year learning goal. Implementing student friendly visuals of their data should make their goals more relevant and hopefully motivate them to excel even further.
PBIS also creates a learning atmosphere that aligns with learner variability and connects to the engagement guidelines of UDL (Hehir, 2009). My classroom uses a clearly defined token reward system for students who show their ‘core values’: respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, and academic excellence. Students can earn individual stickers or tokens for showing an exemplary level of one of their core values. When they reach ten stickers they earn a small incentive from a prize box. In addition, each time they earn an individual token they also earn a whole class token, which supports a whole class behavior goal and incentive. Expectations for behavior or achievement vary from learner to learner, which allows all students to feel successful. For example, one student might earn a token for making an obvious effort to control aggressive behavior while a different child might be expected to go beyond self-control and volunteer to help a peer calm down. PBIS is personalized and can adapt to a wide range of learners. Pictured below are some students adding stickers to their charts and the whole class incentive chart. Also pictured is our classroom consequences chart (far right). I recently added the visuals to make the chart less print-oriented. Students who do not show their core values can have their star (pictured at the top of the chart) fall to a tiered level of consequences.
PBIS increases student engagement primarily due to the use of incentives, however, behaviors gradually become internalized and the incentives are given for increasingly more challenging goals. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann started her presentation by stating that the UDL guidelines only work if students are first engaged. I could not agree more. There are times when I have tried to teach without making their learning relevant and the lesson typically fails. Gabrielle’s discussion of making sure that the learning is centered on each child’s unique skills and interests directly aligns with the engagement tier of UDL guidelines. Furthermore, programs like PBIS and RTI are founded upon the belief that there is no “average student-that is the nature of variability” (Rappolt-Schlichtmann).
Finally, I have recently been reflecting on how to make language more accessible for my current group of students. The UDL guideline 2.2: clarify syntax and structure, has been especially helpful in helping me improve how I expose my students to information. For example, I seem to constantly be asking my students to “listen” and have regularly engaged them in listening activities and skills. Listening, however, is a challenging task, and I realize I have taken for granted their understanding of what it means to listen. They told me that listening means to “sit still and be quiet.” Of course there is a huge metacognitve element to listening in which the listener internalizes what a presenter is saying and then synthesizes the information for memory. I have now explicitly discussed other qualities of good listening and we refer to the classroom chart we made on a regular basis (see below). It was my attempt to make listening more universally designed and to incorporate more representation into my instruction.
Hehir, T.(2009). Policy foundations of universal design for learning. In D.T. Gordon, J.W. Gravel & L.A. Schifter (Eds.), A policy reader in universal design for learning (pp. 35-‐45) Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.