UDL And Differentiation
Our 3rd Pathway
(I guess names can change—this one is different from what we used in the spring introducing it. Then it wasn’t individualization, it was differentiation.)
So here’s the county definition:
Universal Design for Learning/Individualization of Learning: Uses alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies to provide access for all learners to acquire lifelong learning competencies and knowledge and skills specified in curricular standards; creates a classroom culture that fully embraces differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs; applies contemporary learning science to create accessibility entry points for all students in the learning environment; supports students to learn how to make technology choices to overcome disabilities and inabilities.
It’s interesting to me that this definition is worded to discuss teacher behaviors, for the most part. For me, it’s about the kids becoming competent at making their own informed choices, knowing what to do when they don’t know what to do, and not only having a variety of tools and strategies to use to help themselves learn, but knowing enough about themselves and those tools to know what works for them.
That means that we have to help students understand and know that “contemporary learning science” mentioned in the definition. It’s about, as Becky Fisher (aka @beckyfisher73 on Twitter) says, connecting kids to content and skills in ways that matter—to them and to the world.
It means when a child asks a question, we don’t presume to know where that question is coming from without probing for deep understanding of the child’s thinking.
It means that providing IOS devices, Android devices or Chromebooks, or any of the other myriad devices and/or platforms is not enough. People who use them should understand the choices involved and be knowledgeable enough to know which tool is best for the situation.
It means we ourselves have to understand, use, and explicitly teach “alternative representations of information, multiple tools, and a variety of instructional strategies.” Eighteen to twenty years ago, I worked with a SPED teacher, Ann Welch, who was a MASTER of differentiation. She took some 3rd graders from my homeroom and had them doing all kinds of alternative work with word study words so that they REALLY knew those words and spelling patterns so they could pass a test each week that included sentences, sorting, and definitions. That work began with her, then I started doing it with other kids, then her kids started writing their own sentences and making their own sorts on the tests They were figuring out how to show in their own ways what they knew. That student ownership was carefully scaffolded through increasing success and teaching the science of learning to the kids.
This pathway means that when we “fully embrace differentiation of instruction, student work, and assessment based upon individual learners’ needs” every kid does NOT take the same test or do the same work for a learning activity, or answer the same questions posed by the teacher. Ann also took every single written test we 4th grade teachers gave in the content area and rewrote and reorganized them to eliminate the “noise” and zone in on what was really being assessed—and then she worked to help the kids learn those facts and/or skills to be successful. That might have meant reading aloud some of it—or allowing research—or doing projects to enhance understanding, but she did whatever it took for each kid on her caseload, and then some. I was blessed to work with her for many years over several grade levels, and I can never be appreciative enough of all I learned with her.
The bottom line is that through my lifelong commitment to listening to kids, and through my opportunities to work with highly skilled educators such as Ann, this is a pathway that resonates with me. Hopefully the kids owning and understanding their own learning is apparent to anyone, kid or adult, who joins my classroom, even if only for a visit.