4.1 Universal Design for Learning: Multiple Means of Access, Expression, Engagement & Assessment

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) traces its origin to the Universal Design (UD) movement of the 1990’s. The term “universal design” was coined by architect and designer Ron Mace at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Mace and his colleagues defined UD as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”

If the goal of UD is the removal of barriers from the physical environment, the goal of UDL is the elimination barriers from the learning environment. As David Rose, one of UDL’s founders, has stated, “UDL puts the tag ‘disabled’ where it belongs—on the curriculum, not the learner. The curriculum is disabled when it does not meet the needs of diverse learners”

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that addresses the primary barrier to fostering expert learners within instructional environments: inflexible, “one-size-fitsall” curricula. It is inflexible curricula that raise unintentional barriers to learning. Learners who are “in the margins”, such as learners who are gifted and talented or have disabilities, are particularly vulnerable. However, even learners who are identified as “average” may not have their learning needs met due to poor curricular design.

In learning environments, such as schools and universities, individual variability is the norm, not the exception. When curricula are designed to meet the needs of an imaginary “average”, they do not address the reality learner variability. They fail to provide all individuals with fair and equal opportunities to learn by excluding learners with different abilities, backgrounds, and motivations who do not meet the illusive criteria for “average”.

UDL helps address learner variability by suggesting flexible goals, methods, materials, and assessments that empower educators to meet these varied needs. Curricula that is created using UDL is designed from the outset to meet the needs of all learners, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes unnecessary. The UDL framework encourages creating flexible designs from the start that have customizable options, which allow all learners to progress from where they are and not where we would have imagined them to be. The options for accomplishing this are varied and robust enough to provide effective instruction to all learners.

The Three Principles

Three primary principles, which are based on neuroscience research, guide UDL and provide the underlying framework for the Guidelines:

Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning). Learners differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. Others may simply grasp information quicker or more efficiently through visual or auditory means rather than printed text. Also learning, and transfer of learning, occurs when multiple representations are used, because it allows students to make connections within, as well as between, concepts. In short, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for representation is essential. 

Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning). Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another are in which learners can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential. 

Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning). Affect represents a crucial element to learning, and learners differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. There are a variety of sources that can influence individual variation in affect including neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors presented in these guidelines. Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. In reality, there is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

Assessment is described as the process of gathering information about a learner’s performance using a variety of methods and materials in order to determine learners’ knowledge, skills, and motivation for the purpose of making informed educational decisions. Within the UDL framework, the goal is to improve the accuracy and timeliness of assessments, and to ensure that they are comprehensive and articulate enough to guide instruction – for all learners. This is achieved in part by keen focus on the goal, as distinct from the means, enabling the provision of supports and scaffolds for construct irrelevant items. By broadening means to accommodate learner variability, UDL assessments reduce or remove barriers to accurate measurement of learner knowledge, skills, and engagement.

4.2 Co-Teaching Methods: One Teach One Assist, Station-Teaching, Parallel Teaching, Alternate Teaching & Team Teaching

Co‐teaching is an increasingly popular strategy and one of the fastest growing inclusive school practices.  However, the quality of what occurs in co‐taught classes and the benefits for students—both those with and those without disabilities—vary considerably due to confusion about what co‐teaching is and how it differs from other instructional practices.

Definition:  Co‐teaching is a unique blend of direct and indirect services in which a general educator and a special educator jointly instruct pupils in a single classroom.  Co‐teaching occurs when two or more professionals jointly deliver substantive instruction to a diverse, or blended, group of students in a single physical space.

Characteristics of Co‐teaching: Involves two or more appropriately credentialed professionals—usually two teachers or a teacher and a related services professional.

Co‐teaching Approaches

One teaching, one supporting– one of the most simplest of the approaches to adopt.  Using this approach, one teacher has primary responsibility for designing and delivering specific instruction to the entire group.  The second teacher supports the lead teacher either by observing designated students or by “drifting” through the classroom, providing assistance to students as needed.  This approach requires little joint planning and if scheduled well, provides an opportunity for special services professionals to learn the general education curriculum design, classroom routines and methods for large‐group instruction. This one teaching, one supporting approach has serious drawbacks, however.  If it is used indiscriminately or exclusively, it can result in one teacher, most typically the special educator, being relegated to the role of assistant.

Station Teaching:  This involves a clear division of labor.  The co‐teachers divide the instructional content, and each takes responsibility for planning and teaching part of it.  Although this approach requires that the teachers share responsibility for planning sufficiently to divide the instructional content, each has separate responsibilities for delivering instruction.  Students benefit from the lower teacher‐pupil ratio and students with disabilities may be integrated into each group rather than singled out. The drawbacks to this approach include the noise and activity levels, which may be excessive for some teachers.  Also the division of instruction.

Parallel Teaching:  The primary purpose of this approach is to lower student ratio.  The teachers jointly plan the instruction, but each delivers it to a heterogeneous group comprised of half of the students in the class.  This approach requires both that the teachers coordinate their efforts so that all students receive essentially the same instruction and that grouping decisions are based on maintaining diversity within each group.  This approach cannot be used for initial instruction unless both professionals are proficient in their ability to teach the material.

Alternative Teaching:  In this approach one teacher preteaches or reteaches material to a small group of students while the other instructs the large group in some content or activity that the small group can afford to miss.  This alternative teaching approach can also be used to ensure that all students in a class receive opportunities to interact with a teacher in a small group.  The greatest risk in this approach is that students with disabilities may be stigmatized by being grouped repeatedly for this purpose, even if other students are rotated through the small instructional group.  This can be avoided by changing group composition, including groups for enrichment, and ensuring that all students periodically are included in a group.

Team Teaching:  Both teachers are responsible for planning and they share the instruction of all students.  Teachers may role‐ play, debate, simulate and model.  Team teaching requires that the co‐teachers are able to mesh their teaching styles.  It is an approach that few co‐teachers may ever be able to implement.  Yet many experienced co‐teachers report that this is the most rewarding type of co‐teaching.

Instruction is the cornerstone of the co‐teaching approach.  In both elementary and secondary settings, the reduced teacher‐ student ratio can make possible increased attention for all the students and thus create a ore positive classroom climate.   Teachers can also use co‐teaching as a vehicle for creating opportunities for positive social interactions between students with different learning styles.  Co‐teachers often report that this service approach provides them with a sense of collegial support from someone with whom they share both classroom success and challenges.  This model of cooperation among the co‐ teachers is an EXCELLENT learning tool for the students to see.

4.3 Differentiated Instructions: Content, Process & Product

Differentiated instruction is an organizing structure or framework in teaching and learning which calls for a major restructuring in the classroom and curriculum, if done well, its benefits far out way the costs. “Differentiated instruction can be defined as a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the difference in readiness levels, interests and learning profiles . “Differentiated instruction is a process to teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process”. Differentiated instruction seeks to move away from teaching to the whole class in the same manner and addresses the needs of all learners, including those who are at risk and the gifted, through various forms of well planned, well-organized, flexible curriculum and instructional strategies.

Differentiated instruction can enable students with a wide range of abilities—from gifted students to those with mild or even severe disabilities—to receive an appropriate education in inclusive classrooms. In order to understand differentiated instruction, the principles for practicing must be articulated viz.

·        Every child can learn.

·        All children have the right to high quality education.

·        Progress for all will be expected, recognized and rewarded.

·        Learners in a classroom have common needs, distinct needs, and individual needs.

For implementing differentiated instruction in their classrooms, teachers need to modify curriculum and instruction by selecting and organizing content on the basis of learning objectives, choosing instructional approaches for its effective transaction, designing learning activities and assessments according to students’ interests, learning styles and readiness levels.

Content: Content is what we teach (the curriculum). Content consists of facts, concepts, generalizations or principles, attitudes, and skills related to the subject, as well as materials that represent those elements. It can be differentiated in two ways. First in differentiating content, we can adapt what we teach i.e. by varying learning outcomes on the basis of what students already know.

The teacher may differentiate the content by selecting and organizing learning experiences at various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. For example, students who are unfamiliar with the concepts may be required to complete tasks on the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, and application. Students with partial mastery may be asked to complete tasks in the application, analysis and synthesis areas, and students who have high levels of mastery may be asked to complete tasks in synthesis and evaluation.

The second way to differentiate is to choose resources how we give students access to the learning material but keeping learning outcomes same for all students. For example the teacher may use varied resource material like concrete objects or print material, interactive software for teaching physical and chemical change or students may be assigned to groups to explore the internet resources related to the topic physical and chemical change. In this way the students could have a choice to work appropriately in groups, or individually, but all are working towards the same instructional objectives irrespective of their varying abilities.

Process: Process refers to how we engage students to learn the content so that all students are able to understand or make sense of the content and skills, as well as to incorporate the content and make connections to what is already known, understood or able to do. Based on the pre-assessment results, the teacher should decide about the different ways to deliver the instruction. If using cooperative learning methods, then the process component includes using flexible grouping; this means that groups of students should be different for the different activities and if some students who are more comfortable in working individually then they should be allowed to do so. Another part of the process piece is classroom management. To effectively operate a classroom using differentiated instruction, teachers must carefully select organization and instructional delivery strategies.

Product: The product is essentially what the student produces at the end of the lesson to demonstrate the mastery of the content. The product is an integral component of the differentiated instruction, as the preparation of the assessments will primarily determine both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ instruction will be delivered. Assessments, both formal and informal, determine what level of understanding the students have of the subject matter. This component allows students to display their knowledge in several ways for e.g in English a student may be asked to compose a poem or to create a different end of the story, or to prepare a 3-dimensional model or to prepare a sketch that explains mastery of concepts in the social studies lesson, to write a book report, to perform a play, debate or investigate an issue, to design a game, and compare or contrast.

Although educators are continually challenged by the ever-changing classroom profile of students, resources, and reforms, practices continue to evolve and the relevant research base should grow. Differentiation demands the commitment on the part of teachers, administrators, and students. For teachers and students, the challenge is to move comfortably into a new instructional paradigm. For administrators, the challenge is to support teachers’ professional development, provide teachers access to a variety of instructional materials, and encourage them to use new methodologies and teacher support networks or peer coaching.

4.4 Peer Mediated Instructions: Class Wide Peer Tutoring, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies

Peer-mediated support strategies involve one or more peers providing assistance to their classmates. For students with disabilities, this intervention can be an effective alternative to the use of one-to-one paraprofessionals in classrooms, clubs, and other school activities. Peer-mediated support strategies involve teaching peers to promote academic, social, and/or communication outcomes for students with disabilities by supporting skill acquisition or increasing school participation. Peers participate in orientation sessions where they learn social and academic support strategies for use within both teacher-directed and student-initiated activities. As students with and without disabilities gain familiarity with working together, school staff fade back their direct support gradually to promote student independence.

Classroom-Wide Tutoring: Classroom-wide tutoring involves dividing the classroom into small, heterogeneous learning groups. Teams should consist of at least one high-performing student, one average-performing student, and one low-performing student or student with a disability. Thus, while there is heterogeneity within groups, groups are similar across the class, allowing the educator to capitalize on the groups’ complementary knowledge and achieve higher-level, collaborative objectives.7 The educator explains to students that each team as a whole is responsible for helping all teammates learn the content from previous instruction. Team members should be given opportunities to work together to solve problems or understand material, with each having the chance to be the designated “tutor” of the group. While classroomwide tutoring primarily provides increased academic engagement and academic skill acquisition, students also have the opportunity to interact socially and develop team-building skills with peers.

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies: Peer support arrangements involve equipping one or more general education students in an inclusive classroom to provide both academic and social support to students with disabilities.8 General descriptions of individualized academic goals (e.g., collaborating, reviewing course content), participation goals (e.g., contributing to discussion, self-management), and social interaction goals (e.g., talking about shared interest, making introductions to classmates) for the student with a disability are shared with the peers. Special education educators or paraprofessionals provide the peers with the guidance to support their classmate with disabilities as that student moves toward those goals. Unlike some other peer-mediated support strategies, peer support arrangements are individually tailored to reflect the strengths and needs of the student with disabilities and his or her peers, and are not implemented class wide. Primarily, this approach is used for students with severe disabilities, such as an intellectual disability or autism.

Peer-mediated support strategies can be helpful in equipping students with disabilities with social and academic skills to be successful in an inclusive classroom setting. Additionally, this strategy can positively impact students without disabilities, both academically and socially, in terms of appreciation of diversity and personal growth. When considering this type of intervention, it is important to remember that the intervention should be specifically tailored to the needs and goals of the student with disabilities.

4.5 ICT for Instructions

Information and communications technologies (ICT) are a diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information. Communication and information are at the very heart of the educational process, consequently ICT-use in education has a long history. ICT has played an educational role in formal and non-formal settings, in programs provided by governmental agencies, public and private educational institutions, for-profit corporations and non-profit groups, and secular and religious communities.

The new digital ICTs are not single technologies but combinations of hardware, software, media, and delivery systems. Today, ICT in education encompasses a great range of rapidly evolving technologies such as desktop, notebook, and handheld computers; digital cameras; local area networking; the Internet and the World Wide Web; CD-ROMs and DVDs; and applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, tutorials, simulations, electronic mail (email), digital libraries, computer-mediated conferencing, videoconferencing, and virtual reality.

Earlier technologies used for instruction were passive in nature. That is, the delivery of instruction required no action on the part of students beyond listening, watching, and perhaps taking notes. Such ICTs were one-way channels of instructional delivery. New ICTs give the student and teacher the ability to control, manipulation, and contribute to the information environment. On the lowest and least valuable level, this may simply mean the student controls the pace and order of a presentation. But much more is possible. Using ICT students may not only make choices about the pace and order of a presentation, but may choose topics; take notes; answer questions; explore virtual landscapes; enter, draw or chart data; run simulated experiments; create and manipulate images; make their own multimedia presentations, communicate with others, and more.

ICT-Mediated Instruction

The first question to be considered about the effectiveness of ICT in education is what, if any, impact ICT-mediated instruction has on student performance. ICT-mediated instruction refers to instruction delivered via a technological channel such as television, radio, or a computer and network. ICT-mediated instruction can be synchronous, with both the instructor and the student participating simultaneously. For example, instruction may be delivered via desktop videoconferencing by a teacher located at a university to employees at widely separated companies.

ICT-mediated instruction may also be delivered asynchronously, with the instructor and student participating at different times. Instruction based on teaching materials placed on a website does not requiring simultaneous participation. Or synchronicity may not matter, as when self-contained instructional materials are packaged on a CD-ROM. In this case, the instructional designer may have developed the materials months or even years before the student uses them and communication between the two is impossible.

Early studies of ICT-mediated instruction’s effect on student learning have been characterized as the “no significant difference” phenomena. That is to say, whatever medium of instructional delivery – film, radio, television, telephone, or computer – was used, no significant difference on performance measures was found between students receiving ICT-mediated instruction and those receiving traditional face-to-face instruction in a classroom. Both groups perform equally well.

In conclusion, evidence has consistently shown ICT-mediated instruction using conventional teaching methods is as good as traditional face-to-face instruction and, in the case of computer-based instruction, may in select instances improve student learning and attitudes towards learning. However, the picture is less clear – but promising – for more sophisticated uses of ICT in the classroom, especially for the host of applications and methods that support “constructivist” learning, in which students are encouraged to work in rich environments of information and experience to build their own understandings about them. Worldwide, research into the effectiveness of ICT-mediated instruction is continuing and should provide a clearer picture of the effectiveness of ICT in supporting constructivist pedagogy.