I listened to Lynne Silcock* last week talking about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). There are a few misconceptions around UDL with probably the most common one being that it is only for students with "special needs". The U in UDL however stands for universal, meaning it is for everyone. Lynne talked about two important aspects of this, firstly knowing your learners and secondly designing for the edges.
Knowing your learner includes not only their academic abilities but also their cultural and home background, their interests, how they best access the curriculum etc. If we design for the middle, as most commonly happens, those at the lower levels will struggle and the higher levels will be bored. Designing for the edges means most, if not all learners will be able to complete the task.
When designing tasks there are two questions to keep in mind, and readers of my blog will find no surprises here. We need to ask "What is the purpose of this activity?" and "Why is it important for these learners?".
Hopefully your school will have a well-designed school curriculum (more on this in later post) which will mean they have consulted all stakeholders and established what is important for their learners. If this has been done then question of importance for the learners has already been answered. If not, before giving a task to students, ask yourself why it is important for them to know/do this. If you don't know the answer to this question either change the task, or if it is in your school curriculum, raise the question with your senior management. On a side note, if the answer is "because it is in the test", the next questions are "Why is it in the test?" and "Should it be in the test?".
As for the purpose of the activity, this is something I have blogged about before and is something I feel very strongly about. In relation to UDL the purpose should guide the task design. Lynne gave an example of a task that hasn't been devised with UDL in mind, "Read this book about the Treaty of Waitangi and write an essay which outlines the main points." To make this more accessible this could be reworded as "Read this book and/or watch this video on the Treaty of Waitangi and create a presentation in your preferred format (eg. oral, dramatic, musical, Google Slide presentation, video etc.) that demonstrates your understanding of the main points'.
Both achieve the same purpose but the second task allows a much wider range of students to access and complete the task and fulfill the purpose. Of course you could go further and develop this into a rich inquiry, but that is another story.
For more resources on UDL check out my LWDT Support site and Pinterest board.
*Lynne Silcock is a Learning With Digital Technologies (UDL focus) facilitator and an adviser at the Connected Learning Advisory Service
I have been unable to find the original source of the cartoon which has been around for quite a while, if you know please tell me so I can attribute it, get permission or remove it.