My draft can also be seen here on Google Docs.
Is the Universal Design for Learning optimal as a differentiation strategy for smaller classrooms with limited resources?
Universal Design for Learning is a methodology for differentiating in the classroom. Based on scientific insights, Universal Design for Learning (referred to as “UDL” hereafter) creates a classroom that is accessible to all styles of learners. Differentiated instruction, the broad category that UDL falls under, is essential for any classroom. In every class, there are many types of learners. The pitfall of differentiation is that it can lead to tracking or creating several curriculums for one class. Universal Design for Learning creates an equitable classroom, where the same information is accessible by all of the students, and instead of focusing on the student’s “level”, the teacher would focus on creating multiple entry points to same content.
“ “Differentiated instruction, according to Carol Ann Tomlinson (as cited by Ellis, Gable, Greg, & Rock, 2008, p. 32), is the process of “ensuring that what a student learns, how he or she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he or she has learned is a match for that student’s readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning.” “
Differentiation could potentially leave students behind. “UDL minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students.” UDL creates a flexible curriculum that can be accessed by many different students, at many different levels. Each student is accessing information that achieves the same goal for the entire classroom.
UDL has three basic design principles:
Statement of the Problem
Differentiated instruction is a very vague concept. In a classroom with limited resources, it can lead to the following scenario:
Mrs. Smith teaches a 5th grade English class of 15 students. In her class, she has three students at an advanced reading level, seven students at grade level, two students who are approaching grade level, and three students who are struggling in the class. The class is currently divided into three reading groups, reading three different novels, at three different grade levels, with three different reading packets. This means that Mrs. Smith is preparing three sets of lesson plans for each unit. She spends a majority of her time addressing the needs of the struggling students, as they are the most vocal and needy group, a small amount of time addressing the needs of the grade level group, and the advanced reading group is often left to read on their own or help their classmates with their packets. Each group is keeping pace, but they don’t seem to be heading towards a meeting place anytime soon.
In UDL, the goal would be to have the whole class able to participate with one another. While the “struggling” students may not be very strong readers, they may be able to identify themes or symbols that the grade level readers would benefit from hearing. If all sets of students are reading the same book, in UDL, Mrs. Smith’s job would be to provide multiple access points to the book (audioreader, whispersync, kurzweil, etc.) and then different ways to engage with the same book (presentations, visual model projects, writing projects, podcasts, etc).
Classroom teachers need to know how to create content that can be accessed by all the students. This will not only help the teacher create more focused lesson plans, but it will create an equitable classroom environment. Such a classroom will not be as dependant on special education resources as the traditional classroom models. This will greatly help classrooms in which a variety of special education resources (aides, tutors, resource rooms, etc) are just not readily available.
Background and Need
Beginning in the 1970s, America began to focus on the challenge of education students with differences in the public school system. Prior to 1975, many students were actually barred from attending public schools. Each decade, the American school system has made leaps and bounds to try to accommodate students with many kinds of learning differences in the general classroom. The challenge is that the school system is trying to shoehorn many different types of learners into a “traditional” classroom model, which is only accessible to a minority of learner, who are generally considered “advanced” or “gifted”. While the “advanced” learners excel in a traditional classroom model, which caters to only one type of learning style, many different kinds of learners are left behind.