This Way to Learning

By Jade Burris
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

In education, it has long been expected that teachers will make changes to the environment, curriculum, instruction, or assessments based on a student’s identified needs. For many students, these needs are formally documented on the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and it is federally mandated that these adaptations are carried out in order to enhance the student’s learning success and increase active participation in class activities.

What about students that aren’t officially identified or aren’t receiving services as a result of having an IEP? In my experience as a teacher in higher education over the last 7 years, I’ve found that all learners can benefit from some level of individualization, and while it might be intimidating to think about providing these accommodations for everyone, you can start small and keep it simple.

In this post, I want to offer you three straightforward guidelines that will help you accommodate all students while also targeting best practices of teaching based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). These principles are appropriate for teaching online, hybrid, web-enhanced, and face-to-face course.

1. Provide content in multiple formats to connect with the learner.

This can be accomplished through providing information in multiple modalities (visual, auditory, hands-on) and providing content in a way that can be manipulated by the learner (text can be enlarged, sounds can be amplified). An example might include posting a pre-assignment that outlines an introductory topic in a linear way using slides or an outline format. To reinforce the content, a video found on TED Talks or You Tube might be posted as well as a graphic organizer or concept map reiterating how the introductory topics relate to each other or to content already covered. In this example, the slides and graphic organizer could be customized in size or color and the audio for the video can be adjusted by each learner. Finally, the materials all have the ability to be watched and reviewed as many times as the student may need. These pre-assigned materials could then be reinforced in class or applied in an activity.

2. Provide multiple options for learners to demonstrate what they are learning.

This can be accomplished by varying the types of assignments students are expected to complete as a way of demonstrating their skill development and understanding. Offering a variety of assignments (tests, collaborative projects, presentations, writing assignments, in-class assignments, problem-based activities, case studies, etc.) as well as assignments that allow for customization and choice will enable learners to use multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know. Smaller (formative) assignments that build to more substantial summative assignments will also give students the scaffolding of lower level skills they need to build their confidence.

3. Provide a variety of opportunities for learners to engage with content, peers, and the instructor.

This can be accomplished by allowing learners to build on their interests, and it has the added benefit of gaining their attention. Content is more likely to be retained when it is relevant to the learner. Creating opportunities for students to discuss concepts with their peers and interact to build knowledge is important to creating a community of learners. Learning activities that foster student-to-instructor interactions and collaborations are also important and can be accomplished through information feedback sessions or by scheduling formal check-ins with students on their progress.

Although not every student will have official learning accommodations, taking these three simple steps will help you to ensure that your class is as accommodating to everyone as possible without the need for a federal mandate. All you need to do is start small and keep it simple.

How do you try to meet the needs of all learners? Do you have any strategies to share? Leave a comment and let us know.

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