Universal Design for Learning (UDL)Checkpoint 7.1: Optimize individual choice and autonomy
The Checkpoint on the Universal Design Level
The CAST website lists the following general suggestions for Checkpoint 7.1:
- Embed choices related to perceived challenge, types of rewards/recognition, context, content, tools, materials, final product, sequence, space, resources...etc. in to curriculum.
- Work with students to create personalized activities and/or tasks that will meet the curriculum objective.
- Work with students to set, evaluate and respond to personal goals and/or project timelines.
When it comes to student choice, it is worth giving some thought to both quality and quantity of the choices that students are given. Barry Schwartz gave a great Ted Talk entitled "The Paradox of Choice" where he examines living in a world that may be too full of choices. He speaks to the possibility of being paralyzed by choice.
At the end of the talk, Schwartz states that "everybody needs a fishbowl" and then leaves viewers with the question of the what the size of the fishbowl should be in order to balance the positive effects of choice with the positive effects of boundaries, direction and support. This is reflective of the concept of "Zone of Proximal Development" (Vygotsky). When we give students assistance with planning, organizing, doing and/or reflecting on specific tasks, they are able to extend their learning beyond what they could have done without that assistance. The key is to ensure that the task that we are asking a student to do is within the range of what they are capable of doing with assistance but beyond what they are capable of doing without. Scaffolding techniques might include task definition, direct or indirect instruction, specification and/or sequencing of activities, provision for materials, equipment, facilities, and other environmental considerations. It is about providing the right supports, at the right time, in the right place.
Technology has huge potential in extending the "green circle" in the above diagram a lot further out for some students. The article Welder with Dyslexia manages to earn his ticket appeared in The Province a few days ago and speaks to the a deeper understanding of what "access to learning" means. It speaks to the importance of thinking "compensatory strategies" to access content areas when working with a student with print-based learning disability. This student neither had choice or autonomy in a school program that appears to have focused mainly on remediation of skill. Once he had support in the form of another person reading the material to him, he was able to extend himself as a learner and then once he had support in the form of computer assisted reading, he was able to extend himself as an independent learner. When we think about scaffolding learning, it is important to step back and consider if we are scaffolding the skill or the learning. I believe there is a need to do both but to do them in the appropriate context.
The Daily 5 Literacy Framework is an excellent example of a proactive approach that allows for a balance of choice and autonomy but also creates a structured "fishbowl" that students can learn within. The framework is based on the six foundational elements of trust, choice, community, sense of urgency, stamina, and staying out of the way. Teachers begin the year by working with students to define and develop the daily habits of reading, writing and working with peers. The class then practices these habits and builds their stamina and sense of urgency. Students are allowed choice in the literacy work they are doing and this is supplemented by mini-lessons and small group or individual conferencing that will continue to extend their literacy skills. The framework includes an extensive tracking system for the teacher so that each student is able to work at their level on their own goals. The ultimate goal is a "lifetime of independent literacy".
The structured approach to learning "literacy behaviours" ensures that the processes and social structures are soundly in place before moving on to actual literacy skills. There is a lot of upfront work, but in the end it means that each student is developing the skills they need to be developing at that specific time. Although it is a literacy framework, the scaffolding approach and focus on learning the routines and social interactions could be applied to a number of different areas. Structures like this provide the "fishbowl" that ensures that student choice is not paralyzing.
Extending the Checkpoint to Students with Complex Needs
Note: The ideas listed in this section are ones that are often considered to be accommodations, interventions or supports for students with disabilities. Many of these ideas reflect needs that may also exist for students who do not have disabilities so it is wroth considering these ideas as sitting along a continuum and recognizing that some version of what is here could be applied to any student who displays a similar need.
This is an important checkpoint for students with complex needs, particularly those with complex communication needs. This is a population of students who often do not have a lot of choice or autonomy in their lives. To prepare them for their futures, it is important to pay explicit attention to allowing choice, and developing communication and self-advocacy skills.
Self-advocacy in IPP/IEP: A student's IPP/IEP provides the perfect forum for developing self-advocacy skills. The website I'm Determined has a lot of great resources related to developing self-advocacy skills and facilitating participation in the IPP/IEP meetings for students of all "levels of disability." The video below outlines some of the focus of the project:
Self-directed Subject Area Projects: The post Differentiated Instruction: University Style on the blog Beyond the Crayon outlines an approach used to personalize and present content tied to a university level course. I think the most important part of the post is the statement about how this could be used as a universal strategy by opening up the option for an individualized project to all students. To support individualized projects with the students that I have on my caseload, I am in the process of making Pinterest boards related to specific chapters in the curriculum that students are taking. This provides a starting point for creating personalized projects or activities that are related to the curriculum objectives that are being covered. The visual component of Pinterest also helps with choice making processes for students who use visually-based communication systems.
Behaviour as Communication and Advocacy: Communication is critical to the development of choice-making and autonomy and many students who have communication challenges will initially use "behaviour" as a way to communicate their choices or advocate for themselves. I will not go in to this one in a lot of detail here but I think it is important to explicitly state that when we try to extinguish behaviours rather than support and teach the student to find a more appropriate way to communicate, we are taking away the very small voice the student has in the situation. We need to treat behaviour is an opportunity to figure out what will motivate a student to continue to develop their communication system.
Communication Passports: The video below outlines some important information about person centered planning, self-advocacy and communication for students with complex needs. At 3:25, the "Communication Passports" is introduced as an integral part of the person-centered plan. This is a written guide of how to interact with someone who has complex communication needs that does not yet use a more universal communication system. A Communication Passport is an important document for facilitating choice making and autonomy but it is also important to continue to focus on developing a more robust and autonomous communication (as outlined below).
Access to Core Vocabulary: The type of vocabulary that we give students and the way we interact with them with their communication systems/devises impacts the level of potential autonomy that they will have in any given situation. Below is an example of a "Core Vocabulary" and a "Fringe Vocabulary" board. Core vocabulary is composed of high frequency words that are very versatile. These words make up a large portion of the words we use in every day language. Core words provide the basic architecture of our messages, and fringe words provide the customized detail.
With students with complex communication needs, we often create a variety of fringe vocabulary boards that will go with different activities rather than use a core vocabulary board. This video speaks to the concerns around this...
This post - How Many Sentences Can You Make? - also does an excellent job of explaining how powerful having access to the right 20-25 core words can be for a student. Rather than giving students access to only requesting or naming a handful of things, we are able to give them access to real learning if we use core vocabulary. Some would argue that this is "above a student's head" but with proper scaffolding like that outlined in a resource like the Pixon Project Kit we can expose and interact with students using a system that has the potential to build communication and autonomy long term.
Opportunities to Learn Social Language Use (Pragmatics): Pragmatics involves three major communication skills: (1) using language, (2) changing language, and (3) following social communication rules. Mastering social language skills is important in developing self-advocacy skills. P.O.D.D. (Pragmatic Organizational Dynamic Display) is both a communication system and a learning tool as the system relies on a "smart partner" who will model and guide the acquisition of pragmatic communication skills. For students who have access challenges, this system also eliminates that barrier to communication as the only skill necessary to use the book is to have some indicator of yes and no or to be able to point. The system does require that you live the mantra "input before output" for a very long time in some situations... but this really is no different from the fact that we talk for hours and hours and hours using verbal language to our babies before we expect to get the output.
The use of a P.O.D.D. books allows for extensive opportunities to overlap the development of communication and social skills in to curriculum areas. When defining new words in content areas there are extensive options to create a rich, descriptive definition at the same time as being exposed to both the process of using the communication system and the processes of communication. When doing a writing assignment, the book can be used to generate sentences either autonomously or through a sequence of questions. When participating in classes that include a lot of procedural work (art, cooking, science experiments), the book can be used to direct or respond to various steps in a process. The extensive vocabulary included in the P.O.D.D. book opens up many choice, autonomy and communication goals for students and at times these will be a student's primary curriculum while the content of the subject that is being taken is secondary.
Finally, although this resolution is written in a way that it singles out Down syndrome, it is a good reminder of where we should be aiming when we are cultivating self-advocacy skills in all students with "disabilities".