I agree with Edyburn who challenges the notion that teacher’s are using UDL but just don’t realize it. Whilst UDL removes barriers in instruction and provides flexibility, the initial phase of “good design for people with disabilities benefits everybody” just isn’t enough nowadays. For differentiation to be effective and allow for inclusion to happen in the classroom, the incorporation of UDL through technology AND pedagogical choices are very much planned and considered for every individual in the classroom ; they don’t just happen naturally.
UDL isn’t just about using technology; it is about how the technology and teacher’s pedagogy serves to offer a flexibility that allows teachers to personalize content and approaches to meet the growing diversity of needs in the classroom. From my own experience, the lack of training, availability and awareness of UDL and specific technology has meant a prolonged stay at ‘accommodation’ rather than moving towards ‘accessibility’. However with the rise in smart phones, cheaper notebooks and apps available, I hope that this is soon reversed.
In the UK, I was lucky enough (in mainstream education) to teach 2 students , Evie and Max, both of whom had Downs Syndrome. They were each both placed in a different top set English class however due to the wide range of learner’s needs, were not the only students with IEPs. Simply trying to differentiate on a ‘1 model fits all’ method would have had no impact whatsoever and would have resulted in severe lack of engagement in the classroom and difficulty accessing the challenging curriculum. With proper training from the Portsmouth Down Syndrome Association, meeting with their lead LSAs and the students themselves, I was able to utilize UDL by accessing the various tools available to me at that time as well as planning my pedagogy to meet the needs of the whole class. This preparation led to a very successful year for these 2 students whereby not only did they excel academically and socially but thrived in an environment where they felt included and safe.
One thing that really resonates with me is Edyburn’s comment of “why should technologies that enhance academic performance be restricted to students with disabilities?”. For me this is the biggest issue facing UDL- the lack of funding and available resources to offer the same access to all students. The reason I felt that Evie and Max had such a successful experience is that they were not isolated in the classroom and singled out by using technology in a way that made them “different’. I was able to secure a class set of iPads which allowed more choice and variety for all students. When I set Evie and Max differentiated tasks (such as match the image with the correct section of the prologue, or for Max to draw the images on an app ) and they were completing these on the iPads, the rest of the class had no idea. Likewise, Evie and Max were not aware that the rest of the class were analyzing the Prologue for imagery. Yet during the plenary, ALL students were able to engage and respond to their interpretation of the prologue and imagery presented. This reiterates the claim that there is a positive relationship between deep learning (personalized for each individual) and high levels of performance.
Here’s some feedback after an annual review from The Portsmouth Downs Syndrome Association that backs up this claim:
Quite simply UDL is made effective by careful consideration of technological choices and paired with explicit and conscious pedagogical choices.
King-Sears, M. (2009). Universal Design for Learning: Technology and Pedagogy. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32(4), 199-201.
Edyburn, D. (2010). Would You Recognize Universal Design for Learning if You Saw it? Ten Propositions for New Directions for the Second Decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33(1), 33-41.