EC&I 833 · UDL

UDL or bust

Tyson and Benita alluded to growing up with little awareness of assistive technology in their classrooms.  As I think back, I can’t remember any assistive tech in my super small town classroom experience.  Was it there?  Did we have access?  Was there a need?  Who knows?

Flickr: Creative Commons

Now that I am a teacher, what I do know is that there probably was a need – perhaps not a recognizable, “diagnosable” need, but a need nonetheless.   All of my students need different tools to assist their learning based on differing physical, mental, intellectual needs and based upon what it is that they’re learning.  I have yet to be in a classroom where my students all learn the same way and need the same thing (wouldn’t that be easy… and boring).

As far as diagnosed needs, I’ve had students with hearing impairments, learning disabilities and mental health issues.  Students have received assistive tools in the form of an amplified FM system, laptops, programs (Kurzweil, etc.), scanners to implement transfer to computers as well as talk to text features.  In addition, if we look beyond electronic technology, I’ve used fidgets as well as seating and standing options that assist in learning.

The difficulties I have with assistive technology are twofold:

  1. Availability and access – In the article Rethinking Assistive Technology, Edyburn discusses that the current delivery system of assistive tech is based upon a deficit model.  In other words, something must be “wrong” in order to warrant a need for assistive tech.  Not only do I disagree with the entire philosophy of the deficit model (which I will discuss later) but the time, money and resources it takes to identify, diagnose and implement the technology is wasteful.  To request assistive tech in our system, a SETT (Student Environments Tasks and Tools) assessment is completed.  A request must be made for the assessment including paperwork to verify the need, the assessment must take place (which takes a while to book) and then need is determined.  The process can be months in the making.  Meanwhile …. we still teach and the student(s) still tries to learn.
  2. Professional Development –  Once my student receives said tech, I am given a package and told who it’s for.  That’s it.  Now I must figure out how to use it, how to best implement it with the rest of my curriculum and find time to teach the student one on one.  There are times when that is easier (setting up a chrome book) and times when that is much harder (Kurzweil !! – okay I did receive some training on this, but still so overwhelming).  Teachers are lacking time and training to implement assistive technology well.

This week, Alec (like he needs a link!) mentioned the Universal Design for Learning and Nancy  posted a link to a journal article on Google + about it.  In addition to the article Nancy posted, I read a journal article entitled  Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology: Leadership Considerations for Promoting Inclusive Education in Today’s Secondary Schools.  Both of these readings discussed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is a holistic view of the curriculum that provides access points for all students.

FLickr:Creative Commons

Hitchcock and Stahl (2003) state that “Universal Design for Learning looks not to the student but to the curriculum itself. The underlying assumption is that by using flexible media, options can be embedded within the curriculum so that adjustments may be made to meet the needs and preferences of each learner.” They compare UDL to defensive driving and indicate that it’s a way of thinking and acting.

Messinger-Willman and Marino (2010) discuss the differences between AT and UDL; AT focuses on the individual whereas UDL focuses on the curriculum. In their article, they give the following example which helps convey the differences:

“Consider an example where a language arts teacher has a struggling ninth-grade student in her class. When she views the student’s learning difficulties from the AT perspective, she considers how word prediction software can help that specific student answer a writing prompt. When looking through the UDL lens, she acknowledges that learning barriers reside within a curriculum that forces students to manually write responses. She then alters the assessment so that the barrier no longer exists for any student by allowing all students to use technology during their responses.”

I love the philosophy of UDL.  I believe it is contrary to the deficit model that Edyburn discusses.  It allows teachers to be proactive and plan for the learning of all students.  It looks at the problems inherent in curriculum and finds tools to use to support the learning and implementation to all students.  As I’ve mentioned in other venues, I believe the need for assistive tech goes far beyond what our resources allow as many of my undiagnosed students really have a need for assistive tech.  In theory, a UDL approach is a better viewpoint as it looks beyond a deficit, beyond an individual and examines the problems in the curriculum while acknowledging that all students need assistance in some way or another.

Now as always, UDL is a philosophy.  I haven’t done a lot of research on it.  How does this work itself out in the real world?  How do we still meet the vast needs of our students with UDL?  Can we really manage to develop a curriculum that is this inclusive and still implements the assistive technology required?   I don’t really know… Do you have any ideas?


6 thoughts on “UDL or bust

  1. Great blog Natalie!

    UDL is something that I think has the potential to be most effective for all of our learners- the question remains: how do we remove barriers from a system that innately promotes some while devaluing others? It’s systemic, so how do you disrupt and redirect the dominant discourse in a way that levels the playing field for all?

    This has me wondering if teachers (allies) can push for these types of changes, in order to enact real change in the current systems we function in.

    You’ve really got me contemplating this tonight, thanks for sharing your thoughts!


    1. When I start thinking of all of the systemic discourse that pervades our curriculum and the hegemonic ways that permeate the way the education system works, I feel smothered; so I think it has to be just a little bit at a time – one conversation at a time, one child at a time. Sometimes that is so overwhelming, but I guess it’s a start.

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the interesting post Natalie. I also love the idea of UDL but can’t wrap my head around the practical implementation of it. I think you are right that we can do our part in little bits at a time but that systemic change is needed in order for UDL to be truly realized. I am trying to picture what it would look like at the University level and I get even more overwhelmed.


  3. Great blog post! I couldn’t agree with you more when you describe the difficulties you have with assistive technology. I find it so difficult to implement all these things and programs in my classroom when I am not comfortable using them yet. I know that may sound like an ‘awful teacher moment’ – putting myself before the students – but it really is so I can know how to help them with the tech when it goes wrong (because doesn’t it always?). It is so hard to learn about these tools without the proper training, but even then, how can we get training on every piece of assistive tech we may run into during our careers? I would like to learn more about Kurzweil, Google Read and Write, or any other piece of assistive tech that I could use in my classroom – then maybe I could implement more successfully. Maybe it doesn’t even need to be teachers teaching each other – getting the students involved and having them teach us and each other would be a possibility to get the training out there for all these tools and resources.

    In any case, thanks for the great blog post this week!


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