Bottom-Up Approach to UDL (and an answer to my swears).

(Note: I won’t be offended if you don’t read this blog as long as you read that one that I link to: Lisa Parisi’s excellent post on setting up a universal design for learning environment in the classroom.)

Over the weekend I endeavored to write new blog post on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the framework developed by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) to reach all learners. My intended focus was how to persuade schools/districts to embrace more flexibility in the design of curricula and the delivery of learning materials, in accordance with UDL’s core principles of providing for:

  • Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
  • Multiple means of action and expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

Over the years, I have approached UDL from several different angles. I discovered UDL in my graduate studies in educational technology, and I have several years of experience in content management, thus there was an immediate professional appeal to me.

Second, I am also a tax payer.  While I recognize that budgets are tight, my feeling is that there is plenty of education money being egregiously spent by all levels of government. My personal opinion is that some funds could be reallocated toward resources that improve learning for all, while mitigating behavioral issues and other distractions.

My most important reason for having such a strong opinion on UDL, and educational reform in general: I am the parent of a highly-intelligent boy ( maybe a little “too smart” as the saying goes) who is already “checked out.” He is in kindergarten. Thus, student engagement is a deeply personal issue in my household.

I do find some comfort in the fact UDL’s tide is starting to rise in the education world. This is evidenced by the following:

  • UDL framework language is included in technology plans of several states (Michigan among them).
  • Inclusion of UDL courses and teaching certificates in the curriculum at major universities, (Grand Valley State in my neck of the woods)
  • Legislation in states such as Maryland has mandated incorporation of UDL into the general curriculum plans
  • David Rose, PhD, co-founder of the Center for Applied Special Technology (creator of UDL) was a lead author of the most recent US Educational Technology plan

Note: one thing that struck me about the Tech Plan was that there no mention of Microsoft or Apple (or IBM or specific educational publishers…) There were 65 mentions of student engagement.

So over the weekend (full of motivation and caffeine) I  bellied up to my laptop….and stared at the screen. As I thought about UDL in the classroom, I began to realize, that despite the research and the top-down activity by states/provinces and the national governments, change absolutely had to come from the bottom-up. That is, this had to be a teacher-led movement.

As a classroom “outsider” I struggled to find examples of teachers who had taken the initiative to implement UDL framework and could describe (better than I ) what a UDL classroom would look like. I was having some difficulty finding examples of such, my frustration was evident by my salty language.

As fate would have it, after a few minutes of uttering cuss words, Twitter seemed to sense my frustrations and made me aware of a brand-new blog posting by an elementary school teacher,  who so eloquently described what I couldn’t. Certainly this had to be an answer to my “swears.”

If you are a teacher, student, parent, administrator, taxpayer, I urge you to read this wonderful blog post on UDL in classroom. In addition to merely describing teaching practices and materials, it makes important points on change management (“Educators must give up that position of power…”).

I will be writing more about UDL from my view as an educational technologist (and a content manager, a parent…) in the near future.  In the meantime, I urge you (as parent, administrator, taxpayer, Secretary of Education)  to read Lisa’s blog on UDL from the classroom teacher’s perspective.

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