Universal Design for Learning (UDL)Checkpoint 7.3: Minimize threats and distractions
The Checkpoint on the Universal Design Level
The CAST website lists the following general suggestions for Checkpoint 7.3:
- Create an accepting and supportive classroom climate where all students feel safe enough to engage/participate.
- Vary the level of novelty or risk
- Charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, cues, etc. that can increase the predictability of daily activities and transitions
- Creation of class routines
- Alerts and previews that can help learners anticipate and prepare for changes in activities, schedules, and novel events
- Options that can, in contrast to the above, maximize the unexpected, surprising, or novel in highly routinized activities
- Vary the level of sensory stimulation including variation in background noise, visual stimulation, number of features presented at one time
- Variation in pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks or time-outs, or timing or sequence of activities
- Vary the social demands required for learning or performance, the perceived level of support and protection and the requirements for public display and evaluation
Building Classroom Community: David A. Levine has the following quote in his book Building Classroom Communities: Strategies for Developing a Culture of Caring.
Without a community you cannot be yourself. The community is where we draw the strength needed to effect changes inside of us. What one acknowledges in the formation of the community is the possibility of doing together what is impossible to do alone. This means that individual problems quickly become community problems. The individual can finally discover within the community something to relate to, because deep down inside each of us is a craving to be honored and be seen for who we are... In community it is possible to restore a supportive presence for one another. The others in community are the reason that one feels the way one feels. The elder cannot be an elder if there is no community to make him an elder. The young boy cannot feel secure if there is no elder whose silent presence gives him hope in life. The adult cannot be who he is unless there is a strong sense of presence of the other people around. This interdependency is what I call support presence.We build community when we create safety. We do this by setting up classrooms with the things in the bulleted list about in mind. We also do this through the way we interact and the expectations we set up and facilitate in our classrooms. We do this through listening, showing empathy, knowing, managing and expressing feelings, making and keeping friends, asking for help, helping others, working cooperatively with others, solving disagreements, goal setting, feeling and showing empathy and responding to things that are unjust.
I have created a Pinterest Board on Community Building. It is just a compilation of a variety of ideas related to interactions, routines, team building, social skills, learning/classroom skills...etc. that may help to contribute to creating a safe community for students.
Teaching Math as a Social Activity: The question of when we find the time to cover "Social and Emotional Learning" when we have such heavy curriculum demands is a question I understand well from the 14 years that I spent teaching in grade 7-12 general education classrooms. The following video outlines how one teacher built learning these skills right in to his grade 5 math class. Students play an active role in creating working agreements related to speaking, listening, thinking, behaviour and then set goals and monitor goals tied to how well they live up to the agreements during learning experiences. It is not assumed that students will automatically know how to do things that fall under the social and emotional realm. Time is spent discussing what it looks like, practicing it and debriefing it. Students having these social-emotional skills, in turn, create conditions for learning.
There have been many points in my career that I wish for a "do-over" as I learn new things. In the beginning years of my career I had a rather large high school math class (39 students) and I was finding it difficult to get to all the students in the class. I felt the only resources that I had to overcome this barrier were the strongest students in the class. So I gave the a pre-test and ranked them in to three ability groups and then create working groups of three students back taking one student from each of the three ability groups and putting them together. I set them up in groups of three and taught lessons and then had them work with their group on the assignments and projects and preparation for quizzes and exams. I set up a "bonus mark" system for their unit tests in which they could gain extra marks for their whole group based on the difference between the unit test mark and the base mark that I got from the pre-test at the beginning of the year. In this way, the student with the lowest mark could contribute the most to the group when it came to marks. It provided an incentive for the students who understood the math better to work with the student who didn't. It effectively made it feel like I only needed to get to 13 students during work sessions instead of the 39 that I was trying to get to at the beginning. I say I want to go back and do-over because I have learned so much about teaching students how to work collaboratively since then. It did work well but it could have worked so much better if I would have put some energy in to building skills around working in a group.
The point being that community building does not have to occur separate from curriculum and that it can also be done beyond elementary school. The Daily 5 Literacy Framework example outlined on Checkpoint 7.1 is another example of how it can be embedded in to what is already going on in the classroom. All students benefit when time is taken to front-load routines and teach the social skills that are embedded in to functioning in a classroom.
Respecting Diversity Program: In the book Teaching to Diversity: The Three Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, Jennifer Katz introduces the Respecting Diversity Program. This program can be delivered to any age of students. It includes nine lessons that guide students through a process of exploring diversity through Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. There are lessons in the program that speak directly to the benefit that diversity can bring to group work. There are also lessons that have students examine their "weaker intelligences" and how they can use their strengths to compensate fore them. The ninth lesson explicitly addresses disability as one aspect of the diversity spectrum. The videos below give an explanation of each of the lessons. The last video is the most important one to watch to get an idea of what the program is about as it speaks to how this programs builds understanding around diversity that results in students feel safe to be individuals. It also speaks to how discussions can be extended to any other type of diversity that is present in the classroom. This program does require that a teacher set aside specific time. The book speaks to some possibilities to create that time at different grade levels.
Extending the Checkpoint to Students with Complex Needs
Note: The ideas listed in this section are ones that are often considered to be accommodations, interventions or supports for students with disabilities. Many of these ideas reflect needs that may also exist for students who do not have disabilities so it is wroth considering these ideas as sitting along a continuum and recognizing that some version of what is here could be applied to any student who displays a similar need.
Zones of Regulation: From the front of the Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control book: "The Zones of Regulation is a conceptual framework used to teach students self-regulation. Creating this type of system to categorize the complex feelings and states students experience improves their ability to recognize and communicate how they are feeling in a safe non-judgemental way. It also allows students to tap in to strategies or tools to help them move between zones. The Zones of Regulation categorize states of alertness and emotions in to four colored zones: Blue, Green, Yellow and Red." This is a curriculum that could be followed with a group of students who need more intensive support related to understanding and managing their bodily state, emotions and social interactions. The curriculum includes many activities and visual supports to scaffold the process of learning self-regulation and emotional control for those who need extra support with this.
The incorporates strategies from many other behavioural/social thinking approaches including Ross Greene's belief that "Kids do well if they can", The Alert Program, The Incredible 5 Point Scale, and Social Thinking (aka Social Behavioural Mapping). From my experience to this point, I would say that depending on the needs of specific students some of these other materials might be valuable for supplementing the Zones curriculum. For example, the Alert Program might provide the opportunity in to deeper investigation around individual sensory needs as well as a visual representation that is better understood for younger students (although the fact that the Zone colors match to signs also provides a solid visual representation within the program). One of the nice things to the 4 point scale that the Zones curriculum used is that the Zone that the student is trying to get back to is a Zone in the middle so it allows for being "under-regulated". The 5 point scale, on the other hand, has students aiming for being in the bottom zone and doesn't really account for the "under-regulated" part of a scale.
As an extra, this "The Sensory Break Center" blog post explains how the framework and visual supports that can be used to set up a structure for students to take breaks in a sensory break center.
Although the curriculum is fantastic, I believe it is important to involve an OT in creating a sensory diet for students who have significant sensory needs. For those who are supporting students to regulate, it is important to have a basic understanding of what deep pressure, proprioception and vestibular sensory activities are as well as what is the potential impact of these activities. With a student who has extensive sensory needs he/she may need a combination of a proactive sensory diet (pre-scheduled specific activities throughout the day created by the support team that includes an OT) and a way to respond to the way he/she is feeling throughout the day (this is the part that the Zones curriculum would cover).
Visual Supports: Many students with disabilities are strong visual learners and thrive on consistency, routine and clear expectations. Visual supports enable students to complete routines and work more independently. This Pinterest Board on Supporting Independence has links to many different ways to use visuals to support student independence.
Facilitating Friendships: In the book Seeing the Charade: What We Need to Do and Undo To Make Friendships Happen, Carol Tashie, Susan Shapiro-Barnard and Zach Rossetti begin their book with an examination of the many current practices and beliefs that potentially create barriers to authentic friendship for students with disabilities. Some of the themes of their extensive list include:
- How we structure supports and develop student programs: This includes the unintentional messages we send to other students by pulling a student out of class for services and interventions or by having them only join the class for the 'courses that they can handle' and then placing them in a program class the remainder of the time.
- The role of the learning assistant: One-on-one learning assistants can be barriers to friendships as outlined in the article "Be Careful What You Wish For: Five Reasons to be Concerned About the Assignment of Individual Paraprofessionals". It is important to recognize that this is not about not having the support of paraprofessionals but rather about what their job is. Again, the best explanation of this actually comes from an outside source and can be found here: The Exceptional Role of the One-on-One Learning Assistant. How a learning assistant facilitates the opportunities for a student to develop friendship is what needs to be considered.
- Beliefs about Disability, Special Education and Inclusion: What we believe and model about these things in the general sense gets interpreted by students in their current from of reference. Believing that special education and general education are separate entities sends the message that the students within those systems are not the same and creates relationships barriers.
- Focusing on Help Rather Than Support: "Nothing about me without me" is an important saying to keep in mind in this field. Sometime we put peer structures in place that we believe will help the student but they end up creating barriers to true friendships. The way we structure things like peer buddy systems, peer supports, friendship clubs needs to be carefully considered and these structures should not be mistaken for authentic relationships. Emma Van der Klift and Norman Kunc's article Hell Bent on Helping: Benevolence, Friendship and the Politics of Helping is a very important read on this topic.
Nurturing Narratives: Communities have stories and members of the community are able to share those stories. Safety is rooted in feelings of belonging. It is important to facilitate opportunities for students with complex needs to communicate not only their needs and wants but also their stories. Being able to tell stories involves both comprehension and conversation skills. Some students need supports to develop these skills. The book Coaching Comprehension, Creating Conversations: Nuturing Narratives outlines a story-based language intervention approach for students with language impairments such as autism spectrum disorder. This is a scaffolded process that allows student the opportunity to tell their stories and telling stories draws people in to community.
Communication Circles: One way to decrease social demands for a student with Complex Communication Needs (CCN) is to ensure that the student has a way to communicate that is understood by the peers that he/she needs to interact with to be a part of the classroom community. One way to do this, at the same time as increasing purpose and engagement for the AAC user is to create a communication circle where students play an active role in supporting the development of AAC skills.
Dr. Caroline Musselwhite defines the purpose of a communication circle as "to promote follow through in use of assistive technology. They are an extension of the peer tutor model, with peers working as a team with the AAC user and professionals to plan and carry out activities." In this blog post, she outlines some examples and following features of a successful communication circle:
- Responsible Adult Providing Support: It makes a huge difference if one person is 'in charge' with others providing back-up!
- Peers Highly Motivated: Selecting peers for the circle is important. we have had best success when the teacher provides a list of 'approved' students, then the students who uses AAC selects who he/she wants. That way, peers feel valued and the student using AAC feels empowered!
- Consistency and Clear Goals: It is crucial to give very clear goals to the peers. It is easy for meetings to degenerate into student having 'side' conversations and now staying on task. Clear goals and agenda help!
- Homework: The work of the Communication Circle MUST extend beyond a monthly meeting if it to be more than just a social support. Follow-up goals should be clear, such as modeling, scaffolding interviews, and simply engaging in conversations using clear turn-taking roles.