Creating a More Just and Merciful World
Three Ways For Teachers To Design More Inclusive Curricula
Every teacher knows that no two students are alike, making it hard to imagine an individual curriculum that perfectly addresses every student’s learning needs. Even so, teachers are called upon to understand the needs of many and implement curricula that fulfill those needs. Is this possible? Maybe not fully, but there is pedagogical research surrounding what works best to get to that goal, and what doesn’t.
It’s important to understand many types of learning differences and fight the urge to implement the same exact curriculum every year – because students change from year to year.
Some experts say keeping a curriculum stagnant leads to rigidity that students must adapt to rather than adapting a curriculum to each year’s students’ needs. Special Education Teacher and Tutor Nina Parrish and Edutopia contributor explains how she seeks to address the needs of as many students as she can by:
- Teaching content in many ways;
- Providing choices to sustain student engagement; and
- Providing accommodations for all students.
Building engagement, growing representation, and emphasizing action and expression through universally designed curriculum
Parrish implements these through what is known as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model intended to make classroom instruction more inclusive and accessible. The model provides a number of guidelines for teachers, administrators, parents, and other educators to follow that “offer a set of concrete suggestions that can be applied to any discipline or domain to ensure that all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.”
The Guidelines are created to fight against that same rigidity, which Parrish warns against, and adapt to growing understanding in education, such as its most recent update as researchers and education experts deepen their understanding of systemic barriers that result in inequitable learning opportunities and outcomes. The guidelines implement ideas and principles that fall into three overarching areas to address in learning, including: building Engagement, or the “why” of learning; growing representation, or the “What” of learning; and Action & Expression, or the “How” of learning.
Universal Design for Learning Classrooms
In action, UDL classrooms are flexible in how material is accessed and how engagement is incorporated. For example, teachers will provide the material in more than one format and in a variety of ways. Instead of whole group instruction, a UDL teacher may pose a question with multiple entry points to access and find that answer whether that is breaking into small groups with the teacher or more autonomous learning. Classrooms are organized into various areas for different kinds of learning, combining hands-on activities with more “minds-on” stations, with multiple ways to interact with content and show what the students have learned. The environment is intentional in its intersections with culturally and linguistically responsive teaching to ensure an equitable environment for all students. This video from the non-profit organization Understood provides a great example of a UDL classroom in action.
The Master’s in Education program at Carlow University provides a specialization in Curriculum & Instruction to build educational programs and assessments that understand changing and diverse needs. The program provides deeper concentrations into Autism teaching, dyslexia teaching, early childhood leadership, English as a second language (ESL), online teaching, and STEM teaching. In addition to a number of courses that touch on specific important populations, students also learn strategies for building differentiated instruction in their classrooms (like in Carlow’s graduate course ED 639 Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom).