Finding the Right Tools for Learning
Sometimes the key to learning means finding the right tool.
For teachers in the Sheboygan Falls School District, that is the focus as they begin their third year of implementing Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, an educational framework dedicated to making the entire curriculum accessible to all students.
“We’re really looking critically at all the resources in our classrooms and making them accessible to all students,” explains Stacy Dippel, an elementary teacher and part-time UDL coach who helps train her fellow teachers to use the framework.
UDL is rooted in the architectural theory of universal design. It was developed as an educational framework based on scientific research into how people learn. It calls for curriculum to be designed from the start in a flexible format that accommodates individual learning styles and limitations.
Sheboygan Falls has been using the framework to rework the way lessons are delivered to students at every level. This year, teachers are particularly focused at looking for ways to use technology to increase accessibility.
A primary tool is Canvas Learning Management System, a digital resource management and organizational tool that allows teachers to post assignments, notes, and resources online. This expands student access to educational material because they are able to access it at any time.
Canvas connects all the digital tools teachers use and can be personalized to meet each teacher’s needs. Since they are able to deliver materials digitally, teachers are better able to meet individual student needs.
Another tool is Google Read and Write, a package of apps developed by Google that was previously used as a resource for special education students. Now the apps are being used across the board. Among the functions available are text to speech, predictive text, a picture dictionary, a translator and a quick definition tool.
Mark Thompson, a high school teacher who also serves as a part-time UDL coach, says some of his students struggle with reading so going over a text in the classroom can be difficult for them. Being able to access the same text online and hear it read aloud makes a huge difference. They are even able to click on a word they don’t understand and immediately hear a definition.
Students can also use screencasting, a tool that captures not just a single digital image on a computer screen but all the changes on the screen over time enhanced with audio narration.
Digital tools like these help students become more engaged in their own learning, says Dippel.
“The ultimate goal is to get students who are self-directed and self-motivated,” she explains. “The teachers become more like facilitators. They don’t hold the knowledge.”
And because sharing knowledge is powerful, another UDL focus this year is to have teachers share their experiences in using the framework with other teachers. Thompson said teachers at every building have been leading professional development sessions for their colleagues on UDL.
“What we’re really doing is trying to tap into the burgeoning expertise we have here,” he explains.
Because there are so many ways to learn.