What is a Problem of Practice?
We've all got problems. Some big and some little. Some appropriate for our UDL News blog and some probably not appropriate.
Universal Design for Learning is a helpful way to design solutions to problems. This year our pilot teams will be using the design lens of UDL to solve everyday problems team members experience when teaching concepts and when students are in educational environments. We need to reshape our thinking when we experience educational problems. Rather then avoiding difficulty (hard concepts, new ideas, failed prototypes, challenging students, and challenging situations), we need to see those experiences as opportunities to learn and grow. Educators are some of the greatest problem solvers of all, working to solve the problems of ignorance, misinformation, and lost opportunities for students to achieve. UDL pilot teams this year will select one academic problem and one environmental problem to use Universal Design for Learning to solve. These problems are meant to be real lift situations and experiences. We really want these to be problems that team members were going to have to find solutions for whether they were in the UDL pilot or not.
One reason for UDL"s propelling instructional designer's to success in solving challenging problems is UDL starts with a user focus. Because we have to start with the belief that all humans have an affective filter that assigns meaning to events and situations they experience, Universal Designers have to start with thinking of solutions that are relevant to their end users. We start with lessons that put our selves in the shoes of our students. We think about their experiences, cares, interests, and fears. And when brainstorming instructional ideas as possible avenues to student success, we then are continually going back to our student perspective to design whether that idea will work and to what degree it will work.
Universal Design for Learning also makes for a safe place to come up with new ideas and solution. We do not have to be weighed down by the fear of having the very best representation or the best assessment because we are assuming there are no perfect "one size fits all" solutions to our students learning, environmental, and/or behavioral needs. We are starting with the belief that there will be multiple pathways to a solution.
This year in Sanger we will be solving so many problems. Our students will be supported in so many fantastic ways. Universal Design for Learning will help us shape our conversations and get us focused on the real "stories" our students are living, but it isn't where the solutions will come from, those come from us, our teams, and our kiddos. I can't wait!
As Educators, we always run into problems within our practices, we may have a subject that is challenging for students to understand, we may have a class layout that just doesn't work, or we may have a specific student who continually needs support. In Sanger we have been playing with Universal Design for Learning as a design lens for solving those unique problems each and every one of us experience in education.
So hopefully you now have discovered a little bit about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) whether in a Teachers Leading Teachers session, from a UDL pilot team, from your principal or through some other means. The purpose of today's blog will be to fly over the UDL guidelines and give you a bit of the "how" for those early adopters out there who want to experiment with UDL.
The guidelines (pictured below) fall into 3 core principles for delivering content to kiddos.
Each of these principles align with a network within our brains mirroring how people actually think about, plan, and process information. Under Universal Design for Learning a core foundation is we ALL process information in different ways and instructors need to deliver content through varied of formats in order to provide connections that different students can access and learn content through. So lets look at three little paragraphs, each covering a different core principal.
The first and most important brain network is our affective network focused on engagement. It is in this network that we are constantly asking the question "why". We all are continually funneling in received information and deciding if it is relevant or not. Our students are doing the exact same thing! And our students' definition of relevance may be vastly different then our own. This principle has 3 core guidelines for how to increase and sustain engagement. There should be options that activate interest and curiosity, options that show students how to develop grit, perseverance, and sustained effort, and options that teach learners how to self regulate and care deeply about concepts enough to endure through difficulty. So with this holistic view of engagement we can create some really dynamic space for students' learning to take flight.
The second brain network is our network focused on recognition. It is in this network that we are constantly asking "what". It is where we receive information and categorize it based on our experience. Our affective network works in harmony with this network allowing us to determine whether things we experience are meaningful, dangerous, safe, and/or relevant to us. People thrive when they are able to experience concepts in various ways. It creates more and more strength in understanding and increases the likelihood of their being able to generalize concepts across subject areas. Our kiddos should be given options for how concepts are perceived or experienced, options for how to understand important vocabulary or symbols, and options that support the different types of understandings needed for learning a new idea. Experienced teachers know that repacking a learning concept into several meaningful experiences increase student success. That is why when a kiddo doesn't understand we keep going back to the table and try to find a different avenue or means of representation.
The final network is focused on action and expression. We aren't passive with our learning and with concepts that we experience, we use them to make decisions. We use them for action! Human beings take what they learn (whether in school or not) and use it to evolve and grow toward the life experiences and goals that are relevant for us. When we do this we are using our strategic network within our brains. As teachers we can best support expression by providing options for action and movement, providing different means for communicating understanding, and through giving students opportunities to set goals and create strategies for success. Imagine a classroom where students are all working toward the completion of a shared goal but through a diverse set of strategies and methods! Talk about depth of knowledge and conceptual understanding!
So I know this was a long one! If you are interested in experimenting with UDL and you not in our Sanger UDL pilot, shoot an email out and either myself or Amy Williams will get in touch with you! We are in the experimentation phase of all this, and want to give all educators access to the concept of Universal Design for Learning, removing the mystery to it and creating a safe place for educators to hear more. The exciting news though, is we are finding is that kids are having fun and that pilot teachers are excited about the learning that is happening as we have been playing with UDL together. Thanks for reading!
Zach Smith - email@example.com
Amy Williams - firstname.lastname@example.org
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Why is Sanger Unified stepping into Universally Designed instruction? That is a great question. Across the state, educational leaders are acknowledging that there is a growing achievement gap for students in historically marginalized cultures, ethnicities, support need groups, and social backgrounds (ELD Framework, page 881). In Sanger Unified, our students have experienced first hand the effects of having to overcome a myriad of challenges and obstacles. While the majority of educators will be the first to acknowledge that our students' backgrounds, culture, and overall story is one of their greatest strengths and what we admire so deeply about having them in our classroom, our instructional design hasn't always been as quick to match that value. Across the state leaders are finding that designing instruction toward a hypothetical average learner type isn't designing toward any student at all (see The End of Average). That is way we in Sanger Unified are taking active steps toward putting our belief in the value of our students' diversity into action as we adjust our instructional design to mirror that same belief system. Our students' diverse strengths, backgrounds, and obstacles are our greatest strength as a district not our greatest liability.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a lens educators look through when designing lessons, educational environments, and learning opportunities that presents concepts through several modes of representation, keeps users engaged through several historical avenues of engagement, and allows students to make their own decisions for showing their understanding (www.cast.org). UDL loves analogies, so here it goes! Imagine you live in a large city and you don't have a mode of transportation other then city transit. Now imagine you have to get to the city hall, and in this large city there is only one bus route to your destination, but you live far off that bus route and would have to walk a great deal just to get to the line. How would that feel? How long would it take for you to write a strongly worded letter to the city planners requesting that your tax dollars be used to invest in several routes that start at different areas of the city but would still connect you to city hall, downtown. If we aren't careful that situation is the very same one our students face but they have to travel a very long way to get on the route that takes them to instructional understanding and for some the walk is just too far or they don't have the tools, skills, or ability to know which way to go. We are the city planners of instruction and it is within our power to design routes for our students that value who they are and still get them to access the standards that they need to be college and career ready. We are just so excited to start this journey in Sanger Unified, and don't worry we'll find a route for you to jump on board that factors in your needs along the way.
More to come!!
Sanger unified school district
Curriculum & Instruction department