Universal Design for Learning: 5 examples you need to know

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to teaching aimed at meeting the needs of every student in a classroom. It can be helpful for all kids, including kids with learning and attention issues. But UDL takes careful planning by teachers.

Here are just a few examples of how UDL can work in a classroom:

Posted lesson goals

Having goals helps students know what they’re working to achieve. That’s why goals are always made apparent in a UDL classroom. One example of this is posting goals for specific lessons in the classroom. Students might also write down or insert lesson goals in their notebooks. The teacher refers to lesson goals during the lesson itself.

Assignment options

In a traditional classroom, there may be only one way for a student to complete an assignment. This might be an essay or a worksheet. With UDL, there are multiple options. For instance, students may be able to create a podcast or a video to show what they know. They may even be allowed to draw a comic strip. There are tons of possibilities for completing assignments, as long as students meet the lesson goals.

Flexible work spaces

UDL promotes flexibility in the learning environment. That’s why in a UDL classroom, there are flexible work spaces for students. This includes spaces for quiet individual work, small and large group work, and group instruction. If students need to tune out noise, they can choose to wear earbuds or headphones during independent work.

Regular feedback

With UDL, students get feedback — often every day — on how they’re doing. At the end of a lesson, teachers may talk with individual students about lesson goals. Students are encouraged to reflect on the choices they made in class and whether they met the goals. If they didn’t meet the goals, they’re encouraged to think about what might have helped them do so.

Digital and audio text

UDL recognizes that if students can’t access information, they can’t learn it. So in a UDL classroom, materials are accessible for all types of learners. Students have many options for reading, including print, digital, text-to-speech and audiobooks. For digital text, there are also options for text enlargement, along with choices for screen color and contrast. Videos have captions, and there are transcripts for audio.

Montessori Education: Everything you need to know

All parents hope to find the best educational program for their children. And they recognize the lasting impact that early learning experiences have on a child’s development and future learning. What is it about the Montessori philosophy and practice that is so appealing to parents?

For more than a century, Montessori has been thriving around the globe, and contemporary research validates the effectiveness of the Montessori Method.  Several key elements of the approach meet the educational goals today’s parents have for their children, including growing into capable people who will be have a strong sense of self, the ability to connect with others, and the potential to be productive throughout their lives. With Montessori, that growth starts early. The early years (birth through age 6) are a critical time to set a strong foundation for who a child will become and the role she or he will play in the future.

A Montessori education develops students who are capable, accountable, knowledgeable people who have the strong sense of self they will need to thrive in the real world.

Capable

A Montessori classroom is thoughtfully designed to offer children opportunities to develop their own capabilities, whether it is learning how to dress themselves independently, multiply a multi-digit equation, communicate their needs effectively, or problem solve with others. Each classroom is filled with developmentally appropriate activities that encourage children to interact with specific learning materials, as well as to work cooperatively with others.

The classroom is intentionally prepared with only one of each activity. Students are free to choose the activity they wish to work with, so they learn to make choices based on what they are interested in and what is available. While some children will naturally choose to work with others, often the youngest students focus on solo activities. As children mature, the curriculum intentionally provides small group instruction and collaborative activities. The combination of independent, partner, small-group, and whole-group lessons and activities introduces children to different learning relationships and interpersonal dynamics—valuable skills for their interactions outside the classroom!

Allowing children to make their own choices based on internal motivation rather than adult direction sets a strong foundation for developing capable children.

Accountable

In a child-centered classroom where learning activities are presented individually to children, students progress at their own pace. They are given opportunities to practice, review, or move forward based on their own interests and capabilities. They take charge of their own learning and become accountable for their own knowledge.

In a Montessori classroom, teachers assess students on a daily basis, using their observations of each child’s interactions in the environment and with peers.  They use their knowledge of child development and academic outcomes to prepare an environment that is simultaneously stimulating and academically, physically, socially, and emotionally accessible. They develop an individualized learning plan for each child, based on his or her unique interests and abilities. The teachers provide environments where students have the freedom and the tools to pursue answers to their own questions and learn how to seek out new knowledge themselves.

Self-correction and self-assessment are an integral part of the Montessori classroom approach. As they mature, students learn to look critically at their work, and become adept at recognizing, correcting, and learning from their errors.

Knowledgeable

The Montessori Method nurtures order, coordination, concentration, and independence in children from the moment they enter the classroom. Classroom design, materials, and daily routines support the student’s emerging self-regulation—the ability to educate oneself, and to think about what one is learning—from toddlers through adolescents. The sequence of Montessori lessons aligns well, and in many cases exceeds, state learning standards, ensuring that children are introduced to complex learning concepts through hands-on experiences that leads to deep understanding.

The Montessori curriculum is intentionally grouped into 3-year cycles, rather than broken out into year-by-year expectations for student learning. This respects the fact that children develop and master academic topics at different speeds, and that in reality, children often work in particular content areas in spurts. The teacher supports the child’s growth through all areas of the curriculum to ensure that he or she is exposed to the full sequence of lessons in each area and to provide support and new challenge as needed.

Sense of Self

A Montessori class is composed of students whose ages typically span 3 years. Ideally, students stay with the class, and teacher, for the entire cycle, forging a stable community and meaningful bonds.

It is common to see students of different ages working together. Older students enjoy mentoring their younger classmates—sometimes the best teacher is someone who has recently mastered the task at hand. Younger students look up to their big “brothers” and “sisters,” and get a preview of the alluring work to come.

As children mature in the Montessori classroom over the 3-year period, they understand that they are a part of a community where everyone has their own individual needs, but also contributes to the community. Children exercise independence, but are also given opportunities to work with their peers and to support others when they are in need.

Developing independence and pursuing one’s own interests in the context of a caring community fosters a strong sense of self in each student, and encourages pride in one’s own a unique individuality.

Dr. Maria Montessori, the Italian pediatrician and visionary educator who founded the Method, believed that when children are given the freedom to choose their own learning activities a self-confident, inquisitive, creative child emerges. As it turns out, this approach, which is over 100 years old, is exactly what parents are looking for today.

Why teaching is more effective with visual imagery

Since the turn of the 21st century, significant progress has been made in our understanding of the human brain. Neuroscientists’ research helps us now recognize the role of the right and left hemisphere, how males develop more slowly than females in adolescence, the importance of the pre-frontal cortex, and what causes us to both remember and forget ideas. Some of the most profound discoveries inform us of the importance of imagery within our thoughts and actions. These insights we now possess should stimulate leaders and educators toward the use of images and metaphors in their communication. These are few explanations on why teaching with images is more effective:

1. The majority of people are visual learners.

According to Mind Tools, 65% of the human population love to learn with visual imagery. That’s two out of every three people you will communicate with today. An even greater percentage thinks using pictures. If I were to say the word “elephant” to a crowd of listeners, most would picture a big gray animal, not the letters “E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.” Approximately nine out of ten brains work this way. This is a simple reminder that people think using imagery. So, if our message is to penetrate, this is how we must communicate. Teaching this way is organic.

Aristotle said it best: “The soul does not think without a picture.”

2. Pictures stick.

3M reports that visual aids in the classroom improve learning by 400%. We like to see a picture, not just hear a word. We remember pictures long after words have left us. We retain the stories in speeches more than the words. We remember scenarios. Faces. Colors. Why? They paint a picture in a crowded world of content. Post-modern society is a world saturated with data. People process approximately 1,000 messages a day, digitally and personally. The only hope we have of our message sticking is to insure it contains pictures.

3. Metaphors can provide a language for people.

When an image represents a truth or a principle, it can furnish a taxonomy for understanding a topic or even how to approach a project, or a situation. The pictures make concepts memorable and employable. When someone views the image, they rapidly associate it with the principle. This enables imagery to play a primary role in creating culture in an organization because every culture speaks a language. A set of images can quite literally represent an entire value system or set of behaviors an organization desires team members to embrace.

4. Pictures can accelerate understanding.

As I’ve said, when an instructor uses an image to represent a timeless principle, comprehension deepens and accelerates. There is significant impact on the learner when a visual aid is connected to a verbal explanation. It actually speeds up the learning process.

According to the 3M corporation, the brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. People comprehend (in their head) faster when they form a picture in their heart. The entire brain is engaged. This means images can accelerate both learning important concepts and applying them to life.

How you can help children with autism learn better

While most educators agree that no recipe exists for teaching any individual student or group of students, there are certainly some guidelines that can be helpful for supporting students with certain labels. Students with autism may have unique needs with learning, social skills, and communication, therefore, teachers will need strategies to address each one of these areas.

These ten simple ideas will help teachers address some of the aforementioned needs and provide guidance for bringing out the best in learners with autism labels.

1: Learn about the learner from the learner

Oftentimes, educators needing information about a student will study the individual’s educational records. While these documents are certainly one source of information, they are seldom the most helpful source of information. Teachers wanting to know more about a student with autism should ask that student to provide information. Some students will be quite wiling and able to share information while others may need coaxing or support from family members. Teachers might ask for this information in a myriad of ways. For instance, they might ask the student to take a short survey or sit for an informal interview. One teacher asked his student with autism, to create a list of teaching tips that might help kids with learning differences. The teacher then published the guide and gave it out to all educators in the school.

If the student with autism is unable to communicate in a reliable way, teachers can go to families for help. Parents can share the teaching tips they have found most useful in the home or provide video of the learner engaged in different family and community activities. These types of materials tend to give educators ideas that are more useful and concrete than do traditional educational reports and assessments.

2: Teach to fascinations

Whenever possible, educators should use interests, strengths, skills, areas of expertise, and gifts as tools for teaching. Can a passion for GPS be used to inspire more reading (operations manuals), new math skills (be a “human GPS”-calculate shortest route between two places), or fun social studies questions (“How would the world be different today if Christopher Columbus had GPS?”) .

3: Get them talking

In some classrooms, a handful of students dominate small-group conversations and whole-class discussions. While it is important for these verbal and outgoing students to have a voice in the classroom, it is equally important for other students — including shy and quiet students, students using English as a second language, and students with disabilities — to have opportunities to share and challenge ideas, ask and answer questions, and exchange thoughts. To ensure that all students have opportunities to communicate, teachers need to put structures and activities in place that allow for interaction.

In one classroom, students were asked to “turn and talk” to each other at various points in the day. A high school history teacher used this strategy throughout the year to break up his lectures and to give students time to teach the material to each other. After giving mini-lectures of fifteen minutes, he asked students to turn to a partner and answer a specific question or re-explain a concept he had taught. For instance, after giving a short lecture on the Presidency, he asked students to discuss, “What qualities do Americans seem to want in a President?; and “How has this list of desired qualities changed over time?” A student with Asperger’s syndrome who needed practice with skills such as staying on topic and turn taking was able to practice them daily.

Teachers can also provide opportunities for communication by giving all students “airtime” during whole-class discussion. One way to do this is to ask for physical whole-class responses to certain prompts. For instance, instead of asking, “Who can tell me a fraction that equals one half?”, the teacher might say, “Stand up if you think you can name a fraction that equals one half”. This strategy not only gives all learners a chance to give an answer, but it allows for some teacher-sanctioned movement, something often welcomed by students with autism. Whole-class physical responses are also appropriate for students who are non-verbal, making it a perfect choice for the diverse, inclusive classroom.

4: Give choices

Choice may not only give students a feeling of control in their lives, but an opportunity to learn about themselves as workers and learners. Choice may be especially helpful for students with autism who have special needs when it comes to learning environment, lesson materials, and communication. Choice can be built into almost any part of the school day. Students can choose which assessments to complete, which role to take in a cooperative group, and how to receive personal assistance and supports. Examples of choices that can be offered in classrooms include:

  • Solve five of the ten problems assigned
  • Work alone or with a small group
  • Read quietly or with a friend
  • Use a pencil, pen, or the computer
  • Conduct your research in the library or in the resource room
  • Take notes using words or pictures

5: Consider handwriting alternatives

Writing can be a major source of tension and struggle for students with autism. Some students cannot write at all and others who can write, may have a difficult time doing so. In order to support a student struggling with writing, a teacher may try to give the child gentle encouragement as he or she attempts to do some writing- a word, a sentence, or a few lines. Teachers might also allow the student to use a computer, word processor, or even an old typewriter for some or for all lessons. For some learners, being able to use a word processor when writing helps them focus on the task at hand (content) instead of on their motor skills (process).

6: Help with organizing

While some students with autism are ultra-organized, others need support to find materials, keep their locker and desk areas neat, and remember to bring their assignments home at the end of the day. Consider implementing support strategies that all students might find useful. For instance, teachers can have all students copy down assignments, pack book bags, put materials away, and clean work spaces together. Structuring this time daily will give all learners the opportunity to be organized and thoughtful about how they prepare to transition from school to home. Specific skills can even be taught during this time (e.g., creating to-do lists, prioritizing tasks).

7: Support transitions

Some students with autism struggle with transitions. Some are uncomfortable changing from environment to environment, while others have problems moving from activity to activity. Individuals with autism report that changes can be extremely difficult causing stress and feelings of disorientation. Teachers can minimize the discomfort students may feel when transitioning by:

Use a visual timer so students can manage time on their own throughout an activity.

  • Giving reminders to the whole class before any transition.
  • Providing the student or entire class with a transitional activity such as writing in a homework notebook or for younger students, singing a short song about “cleaning up”.
  • Asking peers to help in supporting transition time. In elementary classrooms, teachers can ask all students to move from place to place with a partner. In middle and high school classrooms, students might choose a peer to walk with during passing time.
  • Provide a transition aid (a toy, object, or picture).

8: Create a comfortable classroom

Sometimes students are unsuccessful because they are uncomfortable or feel unsafe or even afraid in their educational environment. Providing an appropriate learning environment can be as central to a student’s success as any teaching strategy or educational tool. Students with autism will be the most prepared to learn in places where they can relax and feel secure. Ideas for making the classroom more comfortable include providing seating options (e.g., beanbag chairs, rocking chairs); reducing direct light when possible (e.g., using upward projecting light, providing a visor to a student who is especially sensitive); and minimizing distracting noises (e.g., providing earplugs or headphones during certain activities).

9: Take a break

Some students work best when they can pause between tasks and take a break of some kind (walk around, stretch, or simply stop working). Some learners will need walking breaks — these breaks can last anywhere from a few seconds to fifteen or twenty minutes. Some students will need to walk up and down a hallway once or twice, others will be fine if allowed to wander around in the classroom.

A teacher who realized the importance of these instructional pauses decided to offer them to all learners. He regularly gave students a prompt to discuss (e.g., What do you know about probability?) and then directed them to “talk and walk” with a partner.

10: Include

If students are to learn appropriate behaviors, they will need to be in the inclusive environment to see and hear how their peers talk and act. If students are to learn social skills, they will need to be in a space where they can listen to and learn from others who are socializing. If students will need specialized supports to succeed academically, then teachers need to see the learner functioning in the inclusive classroom to know what types of supports will be needed.

If it is true that we learn by doing, then the best way to learn about supporting students with autism in inclusive schools is to include them.

How to be the Best Teacher

 

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Teaching is unarguably one of the most important professions in human history; it plays crucial roles in shaping the human mind and helps people discover their inner selves. A good teacher is always organised, good-looking, humane, cheerful, time-conscious, and inspiring, among other numerous distinguishing attributes. Yet, discovering the charming sides of this lofty profession takes more than mere wishes.

Although it is hard to be perfect for everyone, these are some of the ways teachers can endear themselves to many of their students:

Teach them how to be independent: Students enjoy learning and often want to show their knowledge, growth, and capabilities. Giving students a chance to display their skills instils confidence in them and strengthens their trust in a teacher. In addition, teachers are most appreciated when they challenge students with independent-thinking problems, and in some situations, offer guides that encourage kids to improve their learning skills.

Learn from the students: A good teacher is not assertive. He or she should understand that students are humans who undergo the same stress, depressive moods, bad days, and temperaments like adults. These problems can be a result of academic challenges, family issues or psychological problems.

Good teachers employ close observation on all students. Where some of them showed signs of poor academic performance and are giving up on education, the teacher should desist from provocative arguments. Showing understanding for their laziness or slow learning abilities eventually inspire them to greatness.

Be like a parent to them. Show them support by inquiring about their personal problems and offer help. If they feel depressed for undisclosed reasons, try having a private conversation after classes to know what solutions might be helpful.

Know your limits: Students love cheerful, humorous, and outgoing teachers but professionalism demands that you know your limits as a friend and teacher. Listen to them, help them with academic works, share ideas with them, but always know who you are because good relationships often go awry when teachers start behaving like students.

In a situation where a teacher handles adults or teenagers who are nearly the same age bracket, he or she must avoid use of slang. Engaging in rude and unprofessional discussions leads to loss of reputation and eventually, students start taking you for granted.

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How do you deal with students’ misbehavior?

Teachers are more effective when they study students to know their life experiences, talents and needs, which are sometimes special. It would be nearly impossible to push a kid to greatness if you do not know his/her challenges. Therefore, charming teachers should exude purpose and passion. For example, giving useful directions to a lost person demands asking, “Where are you?”

You can never lead students to their destinations without first discovering their challenges. A good teacher must protect and properly manage the confidential information to achieve desired results.