Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

From the Other Side

As a teacher, even as a General Education teacher, my job has always included trying to support all of my students. I have gotten better at it as I’ve learned more Universal Design for Learning (UDL), as I’ve tried to stay focused on identifying and removing barriers rather than just blindly doing things the way they have always been done.

I’m on the other side now, though. Due to the combination of the brain cancer and the “treatments,” I am no longer functioning at my full capacity. This is giving me some fascinating insight into getting to the real issue with a barrier and thinking about what needs to be retained in the process of removing it.

I have lost the automaticity to work with numbers. I’ve been teaching math for over 20 years and now the numbers no longer automatically correspond with the symbols. At first, it might seem like a good solution would be for me to use a calculator when I’m teaching and, yes, that works. Sort of. When I move my eyes from the computer screen (my “page” in the virtual world) to the calculator screen and back, the numbers disappear in just the nanosecond that it takes to adjust my view.

Gone.

Just like that.

I am fortunate that my primary care physician trusts me and listens to me, so, when I told him I can’t consistently connect numbers to symbols anymore, he referred me for speech therapy. (If you have ever met me in person, you are allowed to laugh, since the idea of me needing therapy for talking is pretty funny.) And I’m equally fortunate that the speech therapist to whom I was referred took me seriously. Yes, I passed the screening test, but only because I was allowed two false starts on two tests. And, yes, this therapist was able to see beyond my clearly-fluent speech to really listen and hear my concern.

And so, my calculator is now covered in Washi tape to limit the visual field.

It helps so much! The reality is that my poor brain doesn’t completely understand that it is a little abused right now, so, as always, I read constantly. Text. Numbers. Whatever comes across my field of vision. With the Washi tape applied, my eyes skim over these keys. I can FEEL my brain relaxing as it focuses on fewer items to read.

How many of my students need something like this? What would it look like? What else do we, as functioning adults, take for granted that our students need? Have they asked and we have ignored them or not heard them? What can we do better as we start a new year?

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