By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.
The goal for every student is to learn, but not every child learns in the same way. Kids with disabilities may have an especially difficult time with traditional classroom materials. Today, your child's teachers compensate for variation among their students by adapting how they present information, structure assignments, and test for understanding. In the future, the adaptations may be built into the curriculum materials, thanks to Universal Design for Learning* (UDL). UDL uses computer technology to create an educational environment that allows all students, including those with learning disabilities, to succeed in general education classrooms with minimal use of assistive technology (AT).
Universal Design has its roots in architecture and urban planning. Ramps, automatic doors, and curb cuts were created to provide access to people with physical disabilities but actually ease access for everyone. Think of the last time you pushed a stroller or luggage cart and the broader value of ramps is instantly apparent.
UDL embraces the concept of improved access for everyone and applies it to curriculum materials and teaching methods. Rather than rely on AT to bridge the gap between the material and the student's learning needs, materials designed using UDL concepts have built-in accommodations. Add-on technology is less often needed to translate the material into a mode that enables learning.
UDL stretches beyond accessibility for the disabled, however. A teacher's goal is for students to learn skills and understand the subject. Traditional curriculum materials tend to offer only limited flexibility for meeting that goal - often requiring students to adapt to the curriculum. Universally designed curriculum overcomes limitations by incorporating three principles of flexibility into the design:
This built-in flexibility provides into a wider range of options for students to choose from - meaning the curriculum adapts to the student, rather than the other way around.
Let's consider each of these principles and the impact they could have in your child's classroom.
Flexibility in presentation allows the same concepts to be taught using a variety of methods, media, or materials. How would this look in a classroom?
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