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 - firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy Williams - email@example.com
Amy Williams & Zach Smith
District Leads for Universal Design for Learning
Sanger unified school district
Curriculum & Instruction department