The other day, I overheard someone say, “Here is another new thing they want us to try.” This is not something new, I have heard this comment made many a time during staff meetings and PD days. It made me think is Universal Design for Learning (UDL) just another new thing that we are making people do? Will our practice really change?
Last week my grandfather passed away. While my aunt and mother were going through to clean out his room, they came across a book on my grandfather’s bookshelf titled, “Learning to Speak and Write”. It was published in 1924. When I opened it and read the foreword to teachers, I was shocked and disgusted.
“The above-average mind is the most valuable single asset of the race”
This statement made me realize that, although it seems that we go back and forth or seemingly in cycles in education, we are making progress. In 1924, it was acceptable to value the above-average mind as our single most valuable asset and I have no doubt that this above-average mind was judged based on their reading, writing and math skills.
Currently, we are focused on building community and respecting diversity in our division. We are teaching our students that people learn differently and that we all have different smarts or intelligence. No longer do we believe that those, who are strong readers, writers, and are good with numbers are the smartest people in the room. People are smart in many different ways. We talk about word smart and how it can be applied in various ways: number smart, picture smart, body smart, nature smart, music smart, people smart and myself smart, all equally valuable.
This is a relief to me, as growing up, I never felt like I was “smart”. I was the kid that was pulled from class to go to the reading resource room. I have never been a strong writer, in fact this is my first blog post. I have been building up the courage to write for the past 5 months. Number smart would also not describe me. Strange that I wanted to be a teacher, even though I was never a strong student.
Through UDL, we are headed towards true inclusion. Jennifer Katz explained it well at a session she did at the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium. She discussed how that in many schools we are still in the parallel play phase. We have many students, who in the past were excluded by being taught in separate schools or classrooms are now in our classrooms being taught parallel to most students. However, they are being taken out of their class into small groups or working on other things even in the same room with their Educational Assistant. That is not inclusion! Inclusion means every student at the table. It means all students get the same task but could have different goals. While, we are not there yet, we are moving in that direction.
Education has come a long way since 1924. It is important to think about our practice and consider why and how we are doing things. Focusing on UDL has made me question the way I have done things in my class. Do my students feel safe, cared about, and loved? Are ALL my students at the table? What barriers are there for my students? How can they best show what they know?
Does this take time? Yes it does, but it is important work that we are doing. UDL is not a fad, it is just a part of our journey to true inclusion!