Sunday, May 5, 2013

Respecting Diversity Program

"The RD program is designed to build an inclusive learning community. The activities in the program help students develop a positive self-concept and respect for others, reduce challenging behavior, and create learning teams that support diverse learners." (Source:

In her book "Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning", Jennifer Katz lays out three blocks that she feels are important in creating inclusive classrooms and schools.  The blocks are (1) Systems and Structures, (2) Instructional Practices and (3) Social and Emotional Learning: Developing Compassionate Classroom Communities.  The following graphic summarizes her approach:
The first component of the program is the "Respecting Diversity Program".  This program consists of 8-9 lessons (depending on if you choose to the 8th) and focuses on students understanding themselveas a learners using Gardner's Multiple Intelligences.  I'm struck again and again each time these come up by the fact that there is actually no conclusive research that using Gardner's Intelligences enhances "learning".  I wonder if it is because of the way that we try to measure "learning" and if we have gotten that definition correct.
The program is wonderful as it has students look at their learning strengths and challenges and think through how they can use their strengths to maximize their learning and then it expands in to the benefit of working with others who have different learning strengths from you.  Students can start to see the true power of collaborating with others when it is framed this way.  The whole truly can become more then the sum of the parts when we stop to think about how the diversity of the group can add to the final product. 
The last lesson in the program is the lesson that speaks to my heart as it addresses the diversity of "disability" and speaks to the fact that for those with disabilities, some of their "intelligences" may create more significant barriers.  For example, a person who is blind would not be a strong visual learner.  But then it flips it around... that person who is blind often has a learning strength (often auditory learning) that he/she can use to maximize his/her learning.  In the end, we all have our learning strengths and challenges and it is just a matter of degree. 
I think one of the things that struck me with the whole program was how it ties directly in to the Psycho-educational Assessments that we often do in "special education" as these assessments often give us glimpse in to processing challenges that a student may or may not have.  Particularly for students with Learning Disabilities, we will see a processing challenge that creates a barrier to "intelligence".  It speaks to the importance of Universally Designed Learning so we can help students to understand both these challenges and their strengths and then find tools and methods for them to use their strength so that they can demonstrate their knowledge.  When we restrict that student to paper and pencil methods, the only choice we have is to "dumb down" or remediate the work they are doing.  When we put that student in a self-contained setting we often are looking to keep using the process that we have traditionally defined as the "right process" and remediate the work.  When we place this student in an inclusive environement we are challenged with the task of helping them to find the tools, modifications, adaptions that will help them use their processing strengths rather than focus on their processing weaknesses.  This is where we get to the concept of "high expectations for all" that comes with inclusive approaches to education. 
The idea behind this curriculum though is that we shouldn't just be restricting these supports to those with special education codes.  We should be teaching all students about their learning strengths and challenges, exposing them to a variety of tools and methods that link to those strengths and challenges and then give them choice and freedom to use these as they need to so they can maximize their own learning.  We often feel overwhelmed with the idea of having to differentiate for students but perhaps we should consider the possibility that if we provide them with the right background and the right tools, students will actually be able to differentiate for themselves.

Maybe this is one of those situations where we should work smarter instead of harder. 

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