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Offer a Choice of Learning Context

Page history last edited by Mallory Burton 10 years ago

Offering A Choice of Learning Context is a UDL strategy presented in Chapter 6 of Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. 


Key Concepts:

1.  Teachers may offer a type of "home-court advantage" to students who learn in a particular kind of way by providing only one type of learning context.

2.  Factors such as noise, activity, and grouping are part of the learning context.

3.  A context that works for one student may not work for another.


I'm going to hijack the learning contexts topic in order to talk about the entire UDL-engineered classroom. 



Would you recognize UDL if you saw it?

  --Dave Edyburn



Dave Edyburn and colleagues have proposed an A3 model for the implementation of Universal Design. (see the .pdf at the bottom of his page.)


At the Advocacy stage, we develop an awareness of inequity in access to the curriculum that propels us to make changes to our practice. 

At the Accommodation stage, we supply "one-off" solutions by request.  However, the student may have to "qualify" for the resource or go to a special place to use the accommodation.  Accommodations (and funding) are supplied for students in certain designated categories. 

At the stage of true Accessibility, supports are part of the original design.  These embedded "anyplace/anytime" supports are available to everyone who chooses to use them.


Strategies/Examples of UDL-Designed Learning Environments


This year, in the UDL project, we have concentrated on the 12 UDL Teaching Methods presented in TES.  Though it may have seemed that we were spending an inordinate amount of time on "just good teaching" the sum total is much more than that.  As we read through this together, let's identify the UDL teaching methods that are being used:

(We talked about the methods during the online meeting and I pasted in the links later.)

In March 2010 I visited the classroom of a teacher who participated as team leader in year 2 of the BC UDL project.  Her intermediate class was learning about special initiatives that occurred on the homefront during WWII to support the war effort such as Land Girls, Dad's Army, and Rosy the Riveter. 





Provide Multiple Examples

Supporting Background Knowledge

Using Multiple Media I arrived just after the teacher had presented about several of these initiatives using the SMARTBoard, visuals, and videos.
During her presentation, the teacher and class had also created a review web on the SMARTBoard summarizing the main initiatives and important information about each. highlighting critical features 

 Provide Opportunities to Practice with Supports



Multiple means of expression, esp.

Offer Choices of Content and Tools

Offer Flexible Opportunities for Demonstrating Skill  

Using Multiple Media


Offer a Choice of Learning Context

A copy of the web had already been printed for each pod of desks along with a copy of the assignment which gave students a choice of 3 different ways to show their understanding of the initiative of their choice:  create a paper or electronic poster, create a recruitment brochure, or write a letter home describing involvement in one of the initiatives.  Some students were working at their desks on paper posters or brochures and some were working at computers researching for more information or designing their project.
Others were looking at a collection of exemplary student work from the previous year.  Occasionally small groups of students would form around something of interest, such as when one student discovered several images of posters from WWII on the internet.  Students working at their desks would also occasionally ask students at the computers to research a particular piece of information or to print something in an army-like font that they could attach to their paper poster.  The teacher and I circulated, offering help in choosing a topic, feedback on work in progress, and minor tech troubleshooting.

Multiple means of representation

Provide Flexible Models of Skilled Performance




Offer Choices of Content and Tools  

Offer a Choice of Learning Context




Provide Opportunities to Practice with Supports

Multiple means of engagement


Offer Choices of Content and Tools  


Provide Opportunities to Practice with Supports

Provide Ongoing Relevant Feedback

Offer a Choice of Learning Context

After lunch, I attended a Passion Cafe.  Students in several intermediate classrooms had been researching topics of great personal interest.  Teachers had established checkpoints throughout the research process such as choosing a topic and gathering facts and students worked on these projects at home or whenever they had spare classroom time.
The students had already presented oral reports on their subject in their own classrooms.  At the Passion Cafe, students received cups of tea (real China cups!) and cookies and proceeded to "mix" as if they were at a tea party sharing information about their topic conversationally.  Students also made notes on graphic organizers they had been given to record information about the topics and rate the informal presentations according to a rubric.  One student's passion for Leonardo da Vinci was the turning point in my decision to visit an exhibition of his drawings that happened to be touring at the Vancouver Art Gallery and I emailed later to let the student know how his presentation had influenced me.

Offer Flexible Opportunities for Demonstrating Skill  





Provide Opportunities to Practice with Supports

Provide Ongoing Relevant Feedback

Multiple means of engagement

Offer Choices of Content and Tools  

Using Multiple Media

Provide Flexible Models of Skilled Performance 




Provide Ongoing Relevant Feedback












Offer Flexible Opportunities for Demonstrating Skill  

In the 20 minutes remaining before dismissal, the class continued with art.  One student showed a YouTube video on the SMARTBoard that demonstrated drawing in the anime style (a topic that had been suggested by the students) by a skilled professional.  The student paused the video at various points while the others (including the teacher) replicated the drawing and commented on each others' work.  One of the students, who was already a skilled anime artist followed along but brought out another drawing she had been working on and occasionally glanced at the screen and then at her drawing, presumably comparing her technique with the professional artist's. 

At the end of the lesson, the students filed their drawings in their art portfolios.  

During a break the teacher mentioned that she is allowing one of her students to complete tests by recording his answers using the Flip video camera.  She also mentioned that she had taught a science unit at the beginning of the year but had only been able to find videos to support 3 of the 6 key areas.  Students did about the same on the 6 key areas on the test.  However, several months later she gave the same test again and discovered that long-term retention was much better in the 3 areas for which she had found videos.

Multiple of expression

Offer Flexible Opportunities for Demonstrating Skill  




Multiple means of representation, engagement

Using Multiple Media






Offer a Choice of Learning Context

During my visit I saw no downtime or off-task behaviour except some caused by me when I asked to see one student's learning scrapbook.  The students moved with practiced ease from individual work to pairs to groups within and across classes.  They rearranged the furniture about 3 times that day quickly and without incident.  (Interesting that the SMARTBoard was located on the long wall at the side of the room so everyone was close to it.)

There was a SET-BC student in the class with a computer from SET-BC but I realized later that I was not able to determine which student was the designated special needs student in that class.

The UDL project cannot take all the credit for this amazing classroom.  This school has had SMARTBoards in every class for 7 years and its dedicated teachers collaborate extensively and have been working hard to differentiate instruction for a very diverse group of inner-city school students.  



Looks like Lisa's post is a hit with the UDL teams!

Lisa Parisi, who has been teaching grade 5 for 20 years, recently made an interesting blog post response to a question posted on Twitter:  Why won't more teachers set up a UDL classroom?

In this post she describes some of the different learning contexts she provides for students and identifies 3 prerequisites for a udl classroom:

1.  Teachers accept responsibility for all their students.

2.  Students have access to a variety of tools and know how to use them.

3.  Teachers are willing to give up some of their control. 

The classroom above certainly meets all 3 criteria.

And speaking of guide-on-the-side...remember the video from the two high school chemistry teacher?  Provide Opportunities to Practice with Supports


SET-BC provides technical training at summer camps for students with visual impairments and communication difficulties.  I worked at the CNIB summer Teen Tech Rec Camp for many years, and it was probably the closest to a UDL-engineered environment that I have seen.  The building and grounds at this camp are designed for the visually-impaired.  Staff is trained to work with students who have visual impairments.  Every computer in the lab we set up contained all of the supports that might be needed.  We offered students a choice of multimedia activities and they posted their work to a blog for friends and family to view and hear.  While our contribution at the camp was focused on use of technology, the learning environment at the camp was about the whole student...developing social skills, enjoying recreation, and developing independence. 

Is our focus on "the curriculum" perhaps too narrow...how about living and learning?

  Here's what Alfie Kohn looks for in a classroom.
  What physical features do you see in a UDL classroom?  The Kentucky rubric contains a checklist that looks at features of the physical UDL environment.

Making technology available to anyone who needs it is part of a truly accessible environment.  The trend toward purchasing network or even web-based versions of software that make the tool available to more students anywhere in a school and even at home is extremely promising.  ERAC assists BC school districts in purchasing software such as Inspiration, hardware such as SMARTBoards, and subscriptions to streaming video sites.  The PSAP program at SET-BC makes it possible for BC schools and parents to buy copies of software for special needs at extremely reasonable prices.

Some school districts are beginning to include a suite of free access tools on the district computer image.  Since these tools are free, students can use the same tools on their home computers.

SET-BC consultant Paul Hamilton, who presented to us about Why Firefox is a Better Browser for UDL has long been an advocate of using free tools and has advised several tech departments of districts in the BC UDL Project about the selection of free tools.  (We're working on another list now and will post it here when it's ready.)


One of the most important advantages of the SMARTBoard Notebook software is SMARTBoard's policy that allows this software to be installed on student computers.  This forward-thinking policy ensures that the Notebook software is available to all in the home and school environments.

While the SMARTBoard contains many features which provide accommodations for special needs, it is truly a universally-designed whole-class tool.


Kurzweil is a universally designed tool that is moving from the "accommodation" to "accessibility" stage in many BC UDL project classrooms.  Kurzweil is available to more students, especially in schools and districts that have moved to networked versions.  Many SET-BC consultants are conducting Kurzweil Kamps for groups of students.

The availability of etext materials in Kurzweil format from ARC-BC is also helping to make Kurzweil a widely used and available tool.  

Several teachers in the BC UDL Project are also using Kurzweil as a teaching tool, which increases everyone's knowledge of the tool and models its effective use.  Adding Kurzweil to the mainstream classroom toolset removes any stigma about text-to-speech being a "special needs" tool.  Using Kurzweil to teach the lesson also makes the transition from the lesson to the follow-up activity easier for students who choose to use Kurzweil.  

This video shows how Kurzweil has moved from being a special needs tool to a mainstream tool at Blake Middle School.


Here's a paper I wrote recently that may help you determine where your team/school/district is with regard to Kurzweil implementation.  Are you at the Accommodation or Accessibility stage?


The availability of flexible etext is crucial to UDL implementation.  ARC-BC is helping to make etext widely available for students who are print-disabled.  What we really need are etext versions of curriculum materials that are accessible to all students who prefer to use them.  In the Concord New Hampshire School District which began implementing UDL in 1994 some teachers will refuse to teach a unit unless the materials are available in digital form. 

Publishers such as BC Science 8 are providing access to an online etext version for districts that have purchased their texts.  If your district has this textbook, request the password.

BC Science teachers are collaborating on a wiki to write a Chem 11/12 worktext.


Having easy access to differentiated learning materials will also make it easier to implement UDL. 


Publishers are starting to create these resources which will make it easier to provide adjustable levels of challenge.  Teams in the project have used Science A-Z and National Geographic Theme Sets with success.  (check out the free current news at 3 different reading levels on the Science A-Z site.)

Websites such as the Naturescapes site offer multi-level readings on the same research topic. 


SET-BC consultants are using a new multi-choice and multi-level template to design Clicker5 activities.  Haida Life (K-7) and Canadians During the Depression (Grade 12) are available for free download in curriculumSET.


















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