How UDL has changed my job

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.

18 thoughts on “How UDL has changed my job

  1. Well done, Anita and team. And Anita, you have expressed it perfectly here. It is indeed the curriculum that needs fixing, not the students. Technology absolutely increases your ability to meet the students’ needs. Your team is obviously using technology with udl as a guiding philosophy and not just for the sake of using technology. Thank you so much for this very moving post. (I suspect you do not yet realize that you are quickly gaining a global audience!)

  2. Anita,
    This is a terrific application of UDL to educational practice. Your focus on the curriculum is clearly the right focus to ensure that all students have access. Also, providing tools and materials appropriate to achieve the lesson goals while identifying potential barriers is a direct reflection of the UDL guidelines.

    Thank you for sharing and please keep sharing your successes and challenges,

  3. Thanks very much for this post, Anita! I wish every support teacher would read what you have written here. I believe the model of collaborative support that you have adopted needs to be employed everywhere. Like Mallory, I appreciate the fact that you do not encourage the use of technology just for the sake of using technology. That said, technology does offer tools that facilitate successful learning across the entire spectrum of ability, aptitude, learning needs, and learning styles.

    I’m glad that you are recommending tools, as needed. I think there is much to be said for introducing many of the tools to ALL learners, so that each learner can decide for himself/herself if the tool will be helpful. That way it is the learner who takes on ownership of the tool. The learner uses the tool because it is effective, not just to please the teacher by using something that the teacher wants used.


  4. Great job. You are an inspiration to others who are trying to accomplish the same thing! I will keep reading and learning.

  5. I commend you. I seem to share your belief in UDL. Making it happen, however, is a daunting task. I am trying similar efforts at my school and I see all the scrambling I do as I read each of your statements above. I pray for the same success at my school.

  6. I agree with you on how much UDL can change the dynamic of your classroom. I teach 4th and 5th Bilingual students, and since I started to bring more and more tech resources, I find out my students are more engage and eager to come every day to my classroom just to find out what new “cool thing” we are doing today. UDL is meaningful, fun and definitely the way to go. Congratulations, Anita!

  7. Thank you Anita. Your approach and success allows me to believe I will be able to cross the technology bridge with a little fortitude.
    The challenge facing many is the application of the online resources available and sorting through what works for your students.
    Keep up the inspirational work!

  8. I completely agree with your thoughts. It is the curriculum that needs to be modified and/or fixed, not the students. Technology can really help us differentiate instruction while using appropriate goals and materials.

  9. Anita, I think your information was helpful. If I was a resource teacher I would be able to do more outside of the curriculum, but I still try to fit any type of UDL into my lesson.
    I am anxious to learn how everything turns out for you.

  10. I think UDL will make a difference when our school district allows a full buy-in the UDL framework. I am not aware of the high school levels but in the elementary and middle school levels we do havae a lot of updated technology. I only have two computers in my class room currently.

  11. Anita, as you stated, “Technology has made differentiation more accessible for teachers.” To my mind, this is the primary focus and benefit of the UDL approach. Once teachers realize this, enthusiasm follows. Hard on the heels of enthusiasm is meaningful change. It’s difficult, even impossible, to not incorporate these tools and strategies into your daily practice once you see the positive effect on your students.

  12. I am very pleased to read a response such as Anita’s. As A Resource Teacher K-5, I was finding the same challenges as Anita until I started working with UDL and collaborating with other teachers. I have an articulation period built into my schedule,where I meet with teachers’ every week to plan and excute instruction for our common students’.
    I am now exploring more ways to use Technology to assisit my students’ expecially in Math and Science.
    Any Suggestions Are Welcome!
    Thank-You Anita for your Insight and comments!

  13. Anita, I am really glad to hear about your dilemma. As a Resource teacher I have encounter many of the same problems. I really do think that the problem is within the way we utilize the curriculum, and not the students. Adjusting the curriculum to accomodate the students needs and strengths is what needs to happen. I try to do this with the use of UDL. It has made my job much easier.

  14. Reading this article made me feel as though I’m not alone. As a resource teacher I have been having the same difficulties for years. I have become more and more frustrated over the years. Using the gen ed resources & trying to stay in line with their programs does not work for me or my students; hence the reason they are receiving services in the first place. My goal is to continue incorporating UDL into my daily lessons and continue turn-keying what I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn, through UDL to the gen ed teachers in my school. With the few things I have tried at this time with my students, I have found my students becoming more interested in learning. They are feeling more success than they have in the past.

  15. UDL is something I feel I am constantly learning as ongoing. I am extremely happy with waht I’ve learned and want to continue to explore the site so I become more comfortable and experienced.

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