I am a student services teacher who programs for students with a variety of special learning needs including learning disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, etc. UDL has turned how we plan for our students upside down.
In the past I tried to keep up with what the teachers were doing and plan a program for the students I worked with that was somewhat related to what they were doing. Keeping up with such a variety of programs was exhausting and sometime around December (okay November) I lost track of the classroom programs and the students’ programs became less and less related until they stood alone with some token inclusion.
The difference is that in a UDL framework rather than teachers planning lessons aimed at their most average students and then trying to add on bits to make the others fit in, the teachers are planning lessons from the beginning with those students in mind. While this may sound like a subtle difference it is not. The focus has shifted from looking at what the student or the student services teacher needs to do to make the student fit or to fix the student, to looking at the lesson itself – the curriculum – to determine where the barriers are and to find ways to remove them. It is the curriculum that is seen as potentially problematic, not the students.
The classroom teachers have been provided with a variety of technology tools (teacher laptops, Smartboards, projectors, and access to a shared set of student laptops), and they have been involved in ongoing professional development helping them learn about useful software and websites for making their lessons more accessible for their students. While we have amazing teachers at our school who are eager to reach all of their students, prior to having these tools the prospect of differentiation was daunting. Technology has made differentiation more accessible for teachers.
My job is becoming one of continuous collaboration. I support teachers in understanding UDL, pass on web and other resources, ensure access to technology when needed, meet to discuss individual needs etc. I support students when they need assistance with skills that are not naturally provided within the classroom (I have short-term pull out programs for grade 4 and 5 students who are reading well below grade level, and who need to develop phonemic awareness skills). I help students learn the technology they need to help them access the curriculum.
The moment the shift was most obvious for me was during our IEP meetings earlier in the year. In the past I was the one who spoke the most, it was about what I was planning to do to fix the student. This time I set up, chaired the meetings, and took notes but the teachers did most of the talking. They were talking about how they could make their classroom program accessible for their students.