Last week, I wrote about thinking about first steps for educators looking to bring Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their practice. Since UDL can be very overwhelming at first, I have decided to do a series of blog posts on possible small steps that could help teachers as they move into UDL.
Baby Step #2: Changes to Test Format
One of the very first UDL changes I ever asked my 7th grade math colleagues to consider making was adding key vocabulary to the front page of assessments (tests).
I was taking a UDL course with Dr. Katie Novak and she challenged us to think about what we were actually testing and what barriers we were inadvertently raising due to format, vocabulary, etc. As a math teacher, I need to make sure my students are experiencing and using appropriate math vocabulary…but I also need to ensure that they understand the language of the questions enough to be able to give me information about their understanding of the mathematics.
With that in mind, my colleagues and I started creating a vocabulary sheet to put on the front of every major assessment we give. After we write the assessment, we read through it to look for language that could interfere with student comprehension and performance. These words do not provide “answers” for any questions in the assessment, but they are designed to help students stay focused on the content without interference from unknown language.
We have also worked on formatting the questions on the assessments differently, such as including visuals for problems (i.e., a picture of a pool for a question on percent change of water level) and incorporating organizational templates (graphic organizers) directly into the questions.
Another small, doable step comes in the form of Exam Wrappers. (Please see this blog post I wrote about our use of Exam Wrappers for more details.) While our current practice with them is constantly being revisited, they are an easy way to start gathering student feedback and engaging students in self-reflection, two key aspects of the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning.