Universal Design for Learning initiative

By Shelby Stewart-Soldan
Brandon Twp. — During the regular meeting March 18, district executive director of curriculum and instruction Coy Stewart and director of student support services Dr. Jessica Cohen gave the board of education an updated on the implementation of the Universal Design for Learning initiative.
“It’s defined as the why, what and how of how humans learn, how our brains work, and how can we best support our students,” said Stewart. “At the core of UDL is the belief that all students can learn, and as you know, that’s one of our core beliefs here at Brandon.”
Stewart then asked the members of the school board to participate in a talent show. All of the members discussed various talents they may possess, and Stewart told them all the talents they would present had to be musical in nature, and that their talents would be judged.
They were not forced to sing or perform, but Stewart related the feeling of being put on the spot and told to preform a certain way to UDL.
“The whole idea of this analogy is to give you a feel of what UDL is all about,” she said. “So if we have a classroom full of students, they don’t all come in with the same strengths, they don’t all come in with the same talents. And we’re designing our classrooms to participate and show their learning in one way. If it doesn’t align with their talents, it can make them feel kind of how you might be feeling just now in your seat.”
The UDL model offers teachers a way to plan lessons and teaching to allow for flexible means to a rigid goal. The rigid goal is that students learn, but UDL teaches that there are different paths to help students learn.
“It’s an intentional and flexible lesson planning and thoughtfulness that allows for students talents and learning styles to shine,” said Stewart. “It offers students choice in their learning activities, and showing and removing barriers so that all of them are able to learn.”
The members of the UDL cohort participated in their first full day of learning in January, followed by their first lab in March where members of the cohort went into a classroom and observed the participating teacher, who was exercising UDL practices.
“We see what’s working, how are the students engaging,” said Cohen. “Who is the student furthest from your target? Are we planning with that student in mind to engage across the curriculum? It was so supporting and well done. It really is meant to be a collaborative process. It’s been exciting and it’s really a way for us to learn. You can read articled, but to see something in action in that lab is really powerful for us.”
They plan to have another day of learning with the cohort in April, and another lab in May. For the next school year, they plan to recruit more teachers in the district to use these practices and participate.

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