Students with Down syndrome face many barriers in education. My son, Troy, is only in preschool and he already deals with teachers’ preconceived notions of Ds, improper assessments of what he knows, and difficulty communicating his needs and wants.
Supported by research and federal law, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) turns the traditional one-size-fits-all model of teaching on it’s head. UDL breaks down barriers to education, and creates a path to inclusion.
At its core, UDL encompasses three principles—”that instructors should provide students with multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement. In lay terms, this means that, to the extent possible, instructors should (a) provide content or materials in multiple formats, (b) give learners multiple ways to show what they know, and (c) use multiple methods of motivating learners,” according to the Academy of American Colleges and Universities.
Many good teachers do UDL without realizing the terminology for what they’re doing. When I taught in Utah I used to have my history students do a year-long project. Every student got to choose if they wanted to work alone or with a group. They also got to choose their own topic, as long as it fit the year’s theme, as well as the medium (performance, mini-documentary, website, paper, or science fair-type display board). If you would have asked me then how I came up with this UDL curriculum, I would have said “what’s UDL?”
So, how can teachers implement UDL in their classroom to create a path of inclusion for students with Down syndrome and other disabilities? Start here:
First your child’s strengths should be evaluated, along with how they learn. Teachers should focus on the “big picture” of what they want students to know, and the different was to assess what students have learned.
The 3 Principles of UDL include:
- Giving learners different ways to acquire information
- Giving learners different ways to demonstrate what they’ve learned
- Tapping into learners different interest, challenging them appropriately, and motivating them to learn
I recently took a fabulous workshop on UDL at the National Down Syndrome Congress Conference in Sacramento. Some of the ideas for our students with Down syndrome included technologies like text to speech, apps that change the reading level of books, Google classroom, word prediction for writing, graphic organizers like Kidspiration, and personalized videos to show what your child knows.
Check out this link for specific apps and ideas to share with your child’s school.
Federal policy under Every Student Succeeds Act and the Higher Education Act, encourages the use of UDL to reach all students. These updated federal laws state that UDL helps all students significant opportunities to access the curriculum. This is not just a nice way to teach, but a way to follow the law. Ask your child’s teacher and IEP team today about how they plan to implement UDL to ensure your child is included in a meaningful way.