This blog is in response to my podcast with Jessie Sherman
Some schools choose specific teaching methods like project-based learning or defined practices of teaching like arts integration as a way to teach their learner population. Both are excellent mechanisms to support exploration and learning. What Jessie and her colleagues discovered though, was that while their school adhered to both project-based learning and arts integration, there were learners who were not fully engaged and participating. Enter Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
Note: If you have not listened to my interview with Jessie yet, I suggest you listen to UDL in 15 Minutes and then return to this blog.
Project-based learning is grounded in authentic learning, providing learners the space and time needed to fully explore and respond to complex challenges. Arts integration focuses on drawing learners into learning via fine and performing arts. Both are highly valued and researched, showing quality outcomes for learners (see American Institutes for Research and DefinedSTEM for reports). As noted though, the strong and positive outcomes reported were highly reliant on the design and implementation. What happens when that design and implementation doesn’t reach all learners?
That’s exactly what concerned Jessie. While Jessie was concerned about the participation and outcomes of her students with disabilities (they do not have a substantial number of English learners in their school), Jessie recognized that she always had some learners who weren’t inherently connecting with the projects, or couldn’t or wouldn’t participate in the fine or performing arts. She also noticed that these weren’t a certain type or demographic of learner. Fortunately, Jessie was introduced to a framework that helped her think even more expansively about the barriers learners might face. Welcome to UDL.
My biggest takeaway from my conversation with Jessie was how she and her team of supporters identified structures and supports that opened up opportunities for all of her learners while staying true to the mission of their school. Jessie did not see UDL as a competing framework or “one more thing.” Instead, the UDL framework spurred her to broaden the choice of reptiles within the designed project. The UDL framework guided her to take a closer look at the painting option in relation to the arts integration. She realized there were additional mediums and processes that allowed access. The heart of the lesson was still driven by project-based learning and arts integration. UDL enhanced learners’ access and the flexibility of the learning environment (e.g., more choice).
Those of us who are whole-hearted supporters of the UDL framework know that UDL is not a panacea. UDL is a framework that has to be purposefully implemented. That purpose is driven by the desire to create fully accessible, flexible, choice-filled, goal-driven, rigorous learning environments. These are the design outcomes inclusive educators want and the UDL framework offers the pathway to that design.