The first step in preparing an inclusive lesson is to be clear on what you want every student to get out of the lesson (the “goals”). This can be effectively achieved by thinking about the following questions:
- What do I want EVERY student to know?
- What do I want MOST students to know (extensions for most students)?
- What do I want SOME students to know (challenges for students working at the most advanced levels)?
(Credit to Dr. Patrick Schwarz for this approach; for more, click here)
Once you have identified the answers to these questions, you are well on your way to implementing a best practice approach to inclusive education, known as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL principles are applied throughout all stages of teaching, from developing goals, to designing lesson content, activities, resources and assessments.
UDL is an educational framework for developing flexible learning environments to accommodate individual learning differences. It involves providing:
- Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge;
- Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and
- Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.
While UDL and differentiation are both strategies to reach all students, there are some key differences.
Differentiation is a way for teachers to make a lesson more accessible to a group of students that isn’t already being reached by adding options in for learners. Differentiation is included in a lesson plan in the final stages of planning.
UDL principles are included from the very beginning of lesson planning, back at the level of identifying a learning goal. UDL principles are designed to reach all individual learners, whereas differentiation includes learners on the fringe at the end of the process. In a way, you could say that differentiation is more ‘reactive’ and UDL is ‘proactive’ in providing a flexible learning environment.
Here is an overview of how UDL can be applied to developing goals, designing resources and designing assessments:
Group or whole-class goals should allow for student variability. A good way to identify appropriate goals for each student is to ask the “every/most/some” questions mentioned above.
Remember that the means of achieving the goal should not be confused with the goal itself. For example, if the goal is for students to give a presentation (such as show and tell), the means of doing the task might include giving an oral presentation for some, but it should not necessarily be part of the goal. In this example, students with little or no speech may prefer to deliver a written presentation such as on powerpoint slides as opposed to an oral presentation – this would still be adequately achieving the goal of delivering a presentation.
When designing resources, think about questions such as “can my student read this”, “can my student provide their responses using this”, “is the page too busy”.
Digital resources can be more accessible for some students with a disability. For example, worksheets and workbooks can present difficulties for students who require reading support, have low vision or are blind, or those with other physical disabilities. Digital content, however, can be personalised by students – eg content can be read aloud using text-to-speech devices, enlarged for students who have low vision, or converted to Braille.
‘One size fits all’ assessment formats may not provide a good indication of every student’s skill level. Different assessment tools may need to be used for students with varying disabilities and challenges. Generally, flexible assessments options can be achieved by considering the barriers for a particular student, and providing tools to overcome these (such as text-to-speech and other reader/writer options) as well as using a range of assessment methods (eg typed, oral, multimedia).
As with goals, remember that the method for assessing a student’s knowledge of a particular topic or concept should not be confused with the knowledge being assessed. For example, if we ask a student who has difficulty speaking to do an oral presentation to show their learning and comprehension, we may learn very little about their learning and a lot about their speaking ability — something we already knew. If the student was asked to do a written presentation or to tick a multiple choice box to select their answer, this would better demonstrate their comprehension and abilities.