irstAs an inclusion teacher, I have developed a sort of elevator pitch/soapbox story for why I do what I do. It goes like this: students who struggle with basic skills are often left struggling and denied access to grade-level curriculum and higher-level thinking. Unfortunately, these are the academic arenas in which they can not only survive but would probably thrive if given the proper supports. I think this is especially true for those with learning and attention issues, but I’ve seen this happen for many students across many settings.
One reason I believe this happens is a confusion between Differentiated Instruction vs. Universal Design for Learning (UdL). Both are important, but they are not synonymous. As I develop my practice, I tend to lean on UdL principles when designing lesson plans. I would rather devise access points for all of my students to reach a common understanding, big idea, or experience, rather than pinpoint three or so levels of achievement for any given topic. In my classroom, more often than not, differentiation happens when we are working on specific skills, but UdL happens when it comes to “what we are learning about” in my classroom.
For instance, we are currently studying fairy tales. We spent all week reading different versions of Jack and the Beanstalk, and will do the same for another week. I do not think it is my place to determine how much any child can “understand” this story. However, I do know the interests, behaviors, and skill level of my students, so I developed several access points for understanding. All week, we listened to, acted out, and watched the story. We used puppets and props. We had art materials available and we planted beans. We made parachutes out of recycled materials for Jack to use when jumping down from the beanstalk. We estimated, counted, sorted, and patterned beans. We build castles out of blocks.Of course, I knew which child could continue an ABC or AAB vs an AB pattern, or who could 1:1 count to 40 vs. 20, and I provided opportunities for children to work on their own level (differentiation). However, I provided these opportunities as access points within a limitless context for understanding (UdL).
Technology is another way teachers can provide multiple means of access. Below, I’ve shared an example of a short “podcast” I recorded of myself retelling The Three Billy Goats Gruff. By recording myself rather than providing a text, I have made this material accessible to most of the students in my class. I recorded this podcast directly in to Soundcloud and it was easy! I did this in an evening. Of course, my intention is to provide another material for my students to listen to with their families. Podcasts are even better than audio books because as you’ll hear, I was able to interject questions that mirror the scaffolded questions I’ve been asking in our circle times. This easily involves families and helps empower them to be partners in this learning. Not every question is intended for every student (differentiation), but every student in my class can access the story (UdL).
(I do not have children with hearing impairments in my classroom- so I think it’s important to own the limitation of this format. Next week, I will try out a screencast and see if that can be even more accessible).
I truly believe inclusion benefits all students, and this is a prime example. All students benefit from creative lessons and individualized instruction. Inclusion is not about access to the general education classroom (that’s a common misunderstanding- inclusion is not a place!) Inclusion is about believing that all children have the right to learn alongside their peers and to have their individual needs considered in order to access the grade-level curriculum. When creating your inclusion toolbox, be sure to fill it with plenty of UdL strategies.