Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Planning for Student Variability: Universal Design for Learning in the Music Theory Classroom and Curriculum

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Planning for Student Variability: Universal Design for Learning in the Music Theory Classroom and Curriculum

Article excerpt

I. Introduction: Learner Variability

[1.1] College-level instructors have likely noticed a trend in recent years towards an increased variability among the students whom they teach (Van Geert and Van Dijk 2012, 182-225). This variability is especially discernible in music theory and aural skills, in courses that develop fluency with musical notation, knowledge of classical-music repertoire and performance practices, and literacy with music theory fundamentals. Variability occurs along a number of parameters such as learning preference, physical and cognitive ability, cultural and linguistic background, and psychoemotional disposition. Further, the primary musical interests of today's music students, which have motivated their basic engagement with music and led them to want to study it at the collegiate level, are now more diverse than ever before. The notion of the "average student" has become a highly suspect construct at this point in the evolution of higher education. In fact, thinking about our teaching practices in terms of the average student will likely impede our efforts to teach all of our students effectively. While all learners have unique sets of strengths and weaknesses that define their individual approaches to learning, the increasing presence of students with disabilities in our classrooms makes learner variability a timely and challenging issue.(1) We are obliged as teachers to address and respond to this variability among our students, but our traditional teaching habits may not provide us with an adequate means for thinking comprehensively about these issues. Further, the standard method of providing mandated individual accommodations for students with disabilities often proves to be ineffective: the accommodations themselves often take little stock of individual variability and tend towards a one-size-fits-all approach. Universal Design for Learning provides an alternate approach to teaching students with disabilities that may render such accommodations unnecessary in some cases, and more effective in others.

[1.2] Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a robust and flexible framework for addressing learner variability that may be readily adapted to the needs of today's college music theory and aural skills instructors. UDL does not supply a set of new pedagogical techniques, but instead it organizes, synthesizes, and extends many existing practices that experienced instructors probably already use regularly in their classrooms. In this way it is distinct from other emerging pedagogical trends that typically propose correctives to earlier techniques, or else simply identify a necessary shift in curricular content. UDL emphasizes a plurality of approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment, but makes no assumptions about the validity of any single approach as long as it is but one among several others that together address the predictable patterns of learner variability including cognitive and sensory disabilities. In this article, curricular content is translated by UDL into specific learning objectives for particular music theory and musicianship classes and lessons. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 defines UDL as "a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient" (HEOA, P.L. 110-315, §103(a)(24)).

II. Overview: The History of UDL and an Introduction to the UDL Guidelines

[2.1] UDL is a mode of educational theory that interacts with foundational work in architecture. Ron Mace and colleagues at North Carolina State University pioneered the Universal Design (UD) movement in architecture and planning in the 1980s. …

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