Thursday, 11 August 2016

Universal Design for Learning: Changing the Context, not the Child

Rather than focusing on "fixing" students, DES (Disability Studies in Education) places an emphasis upon things that are actually within teachers' spheres of influence by placing the focus on changing classroom structures and practices to supporting a full range of student learning needs within diverse and inclusive classrooms.
-Kathleen Collins & Beth Ferri "Literacy Education and Disability Studies: Reenvisioning Struggling Students

What if we looked around our classrooms and  asked the question "What constraints are standing in the way of ALL my students mastering the curriculum I teach?" and then went about mindfully removing those barriers? What would I have to change for equitable learning to take place? 

This post is a provocation.
It's a provocation asking educators to do better in ensuring that the classroom environment they design with their students is universally accessible to all of their students regardless of their prefered learning mode.

This provocation came from two places. Kathleen Collins' and Beth Ferri's excellent article in this month's Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy (Collins Kathleen & Ferri Beth. (2016). Literacy Education and Disability Studies: Reenvisioning Struggling Students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 60(1), 7–12. doi: 10.1002/jaal.552) which you can read in its entirety here, and Elise Roy's splendid TEDxMidAtlantic Talk "When we design for disability, we all benefit" which I've included below.

In response to the provocation to design better, more equitable learning environments for my students, I wrote a TED-Ed lesson based upon Elise Roy's TED Talk that explores how design thinking plus universal design for learning could solve much of the difficulty that marginalized and/or struggling students often encounter in school.  You can access that lesson here. By no means exhaustive, the lesson does provide video definitions of both design thinking and universal design for learning and a few resources that should enable any educator to begin to design a more inclusive learning experiences for all students. Feel free to use it, share it or customize it.  

Finally, I've included  two more useful resources. The first one is a TED playlist about designing for disabilities that is sure to provoke you, inspire you, and make you want to rush out and embrace universal design.   The second one is a superb resource available to educators from 

IDEO a design organization that pioneered design thinking. You can download their free toolkit for educators here.     

One last note. I opened this post with a quote from Collins & Ferri's article.  I'd like to close with one more as it speaks to the heart of what LearnAbilities is all about: 

Intentional inclusive classrooms foster a sense of belonging by providing a challenging and supportive curriculum and creating a positive classroom and school culture where every student is valued, respected (Shogren et al., 2015), and represented. 
-Kathleen Collins & Beth Ferri "Literacy Education and Disability Studies: Reenvisioning Struggling Students.
Everyone has LearnAbilities and inclusive education is, at its heart, democracy and equity of opportunity. Let's continue to work together and make learning possible for every student.