Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Supports & Services or Eliminating Barriers?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is not a new concept to me.  I've read about it, I've talked about it, I've tried to use the concept.  Still I've sometimes had a hard time around taking the physical idea of curb cuts and ramps and apply it to the active process of learning.  Recently I've begun digging in to the concept in a bit more depth in order to prepare for the class I will be taking this fall that includes UDL as one of the major topics.  I'm coming to a deeper understanding and wanted to share a couple of things I've been thinking about related to UDL>

Today I was reading the book "A Policy Reader in Universal Design for Learning" (David T. Gordon, Jenna W. Gravel, and Laura A. Schifter, Editors) and it suddenly struck me where I might be getting stuck in trying to understand the concept and how it applies to education.  I think the difference is as simple as thinking in terms of "eliminating barriers" rather than thinking in terms of "providing supports and services".  Certainly we eliminate barriers through supports and services but the starting point of eliminating barriers somehow makes it all line up better for me.  In thinking in terms of eliminating barriers we get to the heart of addressing the issue at the curriculum level rather than trying to work around the side of it at a more peripheral level.  Framing it this way helps to see how this is embedded in to the planning level and it's not just a matter of finding activities that will allow for the supports that one knows will work.  Thinking of it this way really speaks to the idea that the disability lies in the curriculum rather than the child (i.e. the curriculum needs to be modified to eliminate barriers rather than the student needs to be given supports and services so that he/she can do the curriculum).

Another thought that I came across goes back to the curb cuts and ramps and wheelchairs and how this fits in with curriculum planning and assistive technology.  The idea was simply that if someone has a power wheelchair and there are no curb cuts or ramps then it makes no difference when that person wants to get in a building with stairs at the entrance or around town.  Putting supports and services in place with changing the way we design curriculum is really no different.  The supports and services equate to the wheelchair, the design planning that included curb cuts and ramps equate to curriculum planning.  Bottom line - supports and services are not enough because they do not ensure access to learning.

Some other "take-aways" that I'm noting as I go through reading include...
  • curriculum should be designed to maximize learning - not optimize performance
  • it's not really about looking to improve immediate performance but more to build future capacity
  • looking to develop skills and strategies instead of knowledge
  • UDL means anticipating diversity when designing curriculum
  • aim is to access learning itself - not to access the learning environment
  • one size fits all curricula limit educational opportunities for most and erect barriers that disable many
I'm sure there is more to come.

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