"If our teaching is to be an art, we need to know we can draw from all we know and believe and see in order to create something beautiful." (Lucy Calkins, 2001, p. 6)
Universal design for learning is a teaching and learning approach that helps to ensure that high quality literacy and learning experiences are multi-dimensional, multi-sensory, satisfying, meaningful, and exciting for every child. Universal Design began as an architectural concept that involved planning the environment for optimal accessibility and productivity. Recently, it has become extended and infused into learner-centered classrooms, involving the carefully planned arrangements and applications of space, materials, curriculum, technology, and personnel. "Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (Mace, 1996).
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) encourages the "design of instructional materials and activities that allows learning goals to be attainable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember without having to adapt the curriculum repeatedly to meet special needs (Orkwis, 1999).
Universal Design for Learning involves the integration of initiatives. "The concept of UDL is the intersection where all of our initiatives--integrated units, multi-sensory teaching, multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, use of computers in schools, performance-based assessment, and others--come together" (Palley, 2001).
Therefore, UDL is a method of teaching and learning that encompasses a wide variety of content areas while it is also simultaneously customized to meet the needs of all individuals. Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Special Technology CAST developed Universal Design for Learning as a means of expanding learning opportunities for all students. CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning. Its staff includes specialists in education research and policy, neuropsychology, clinical/school psychology, technology, engineering, curriculum development, K-12 professional development, and more.
The four Core Principles of CAST (1) are:
* Multiple Means of Representation (enlisting the knowledge network)
* Multiple Means of Expression (enlisting the brain's affective network)
* Multiple Means of Engagement (enlisting the brain's strategic network)
* Multiple Means of Assessment (enlisting the brain's knowledge, affective, and strategic networks)
Using the four principles of UDL, above, teachers of reading and language arts can conveniently and effectively integrate sensory-rich learning opportunities into their daily literacy teaching that enable young learners to make text connections and thereby increase their vocabulary and text comprehension. Comprehension, the ultimate goal of all reading, is facilitated by the application of Cognitive Principles (Bransford et al, 2005) Multiple Intelligence Theory (Gardner, 1983), and Universal Design for Learning (Orkwis, 1998). According to cognitive learning theory, implicit learning plays an important role in language development and reading comprehension, beginning very early in life (Bransford et al, 2005).
Implicit learning involves indirect, automatic processes that frequently lie beyond the conscious awareness of those who process the information. Patterns and strategies learned early, such as text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world reading connections, are quite literally learned for life because, with practice and experience, they are processed automatically and with high efficiency. In addition, researchers attest that the neural efficiency for certain well-practiced signals can allow for increased attention and creativity in other areas of learning (Bransford et al, 2005).
Teachers of young children who support implicit and automatic learning using Universal Design for Learning provide rich environments that provide numerous opportunities for social interaction, direct physical contact with the environment, and a changing set of objects for play and exploration. Gardner maintains that all human beings are born with a multiplicity of intelligences that, when developed by schools and society, promote the achievement of great individual accomplishments (Gardner, 1983). Literacy learning experiences that extend beyond paper, pencil, and book tasks, and that enlist learners' multiple intelligence areas, promote learners' active engagement, self-efficacy, and motivation (Rosenzweig, Bennett & Diamond, 1972).
While enlisting UDL in their reading, children elaborate on the author's message, making text connections in creative and engaging ways that are personally relevant (Tompkins, 2008). Moreover, learners extend the author's message by enlisting their schemata to make compare and contrast connections between community and world events and the texts they read. Through UDL-infused dramatizations and sensory experiences, making predictions about text content, identifying with protagonists, and using classmates' feedback in their writing and artwork to provide enough detail to allow others to make connections, children establish solid foundations for learning and comprehension.
The four tenants of Universal Design for Learning are explored below, using the framework of a literacy curriculum that is designed to enhance all children's vocabulary and text comprehension. Specifically, Text-to-Text, Text-to-Self, and Text-to-World connections are exemplified and discussed using the foundation of Universal Design for Learning.
Literacy Instruction: Past and Present: Reading is an endeavor whose ultimate goal is meaning. It is meaning--the story, the information and the ideas--that make children want to read (Neuman & Roskos, 2005a). Developing meaning is closely related to children's prior knowledge, their interaction with related sensory experiences and materials, with their learning to read at their own pace, and in the way they learn best (Fields, Groth, and Spangler, 2008). "The goals of language and literacy are for children to expand their ability to communicate through speaking, listening, reading, and writing and to develop the ability and disposition to acquire knowledge through reading (BredeKamp & Copple, 1997). Social situations and meaningful contexts play a major role in children's acquisition of reading skills and in their making meaning from reading.
However, with the 2001 passing and implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, views on teaching and learning changed dramatically. Reading was viewed in a new light--one that involved the acquisition of discrete skills and sub-skills. Phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension were viewed as necessary and separate skills to acquire in order to become a skilled reader. In the Early Reading First program, which was implemented as a No Child Left Behind grant program for "at risk" preschool children, the alphabet, phonological awareness, print awareness, and oral language were taught using a set of prescribed and pre-packaged lessons and materials. Against their better judgment, many teachers now must teach reading primarily as a separate subject. Teachers have little time and support to integrate reading into social studies, science, math, or the expressive arts. With the increased emphasis on accountability, teachers are training students to master the material that will appear on their regularly administered standardized tests.
Inappropriate educational practices will persist as long as people remain ignorant of what is actually involved in becoming literate (Routman, …