My colleague and I have had the honor of a series of visits from colleagues at a school in Cambridge, MA. On the most recent visit, the conversation after the observation was about how overwhelmed the teachers were feeling about implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL). That got me thinking about how I might provide some guidance for first steps in bringing UDL to a class like mine, a 7th grade math class, which led to this series of blog posts.
The fact that I teach 7th grade math makes a difference in what I might recommend for first steps. For classes in Science and Social Studies, teachers often have more options for their courses right off the bat, since those are content classes. Math (and ELA) are heavily “method” classes, ones where there is often a right way or method that needs to be taught and assessed. (See this blog post about Types of Standards for more information.) In the more restrictive world of a method course, suggestions for baby steps in UDL tend to be less about the content, which is pretty fixed, and more about delivery and resources.
Baby Step #1: Videos/Recordings
About five years ago, I started recording the instruction I give at the start of class. I use an iPad and EduCreations and I record my voice, not student responses. I usually record my first class of the day so that I have three more chances, in the event the first round is bad. I post links to the videos daily so students can use them in various ways: at home while they are absent (to be less behind when they return); at home or in school to review material (if they spaced out or went to the nurse or whatever else interrupts learning); and for tutors, paraprofessionals, and other teachers to increase fidelity across instruction.
For me, making these recordings is now second-nature. This year, I started attaching copies of last year’s recordings to our homework sheet and students can use them in class in lieu of listening to my live “lecture.” They are also available to all 7th grade students, not just the half that I teach, since we post the same homework sheet across both teachers. That’s a HUGE step….a baby step might just be making the recordings for students to use at home (which I did for five years before I ever thought I could make them available to replace myself!) or making just a few recordings of key lessons or explanations that you find yourself repeating over and over. In addition to the videos I create, I include links on the homework sheet to the EMBARC video for the lesson in question, so students have another option if they want it.
Again, with a more content-driven class, there are ways to provide options for presenting the material through videos, text, and live instruction. For math, where the method often has to be presented in a given way so it can be assessed in that way, I had to do a bit more front-loading on my end to develop the options. Recording my lessons as I teach, so I’m just recording what I would be doing anyway, has been a great way to generate a teacher-approved option. I have a handful of students who use it on a regular basis and the feedback from students has been 100% positive!