Saturday, January 5, 2013

Low Floors & High Ceilings: A Universal Design for Learning

In the final days before the winter break, I visited a Psychology 11 class and had the opportunity to view a collection of student projects on the topic of drugs. It was clear that students had invested considerable effort into their projects but even more impressive was their depth of understanding and the level of confidence with which they shared their learning with me.

While this is a topic that Psychology 11 students have studied in the past, this year Ms. Morrison had her students approach their learning in a different way.




She began by asking her students to describe what they knew about drugs and their perceptions about drugs in the local community. This immediately made the topic relevant and proved to be an excellent way of activating students' prior knowledge and gaining their interest in the project. It also served as a great way to generate student questions and uncover some of their misconceptions.

Next, she laid out the learning goals for the project and asked students to address these goals as they researched their respective topics. Rather than delivering the content, she allowed her students to uncover the information as they gathered background about a specific drug. While Ms. Morrison provided a list of suggested resources to get her students started, she allowed them the freedom to access information in different ways from a variety of sources. Students accessed books, magazines, websites, videos, etc.  


Finally, students had the opportunity to choose how they would demonstrate their learning. Many students chose to create posters in which they included a variety of images, drawings and text to represent their knowledge. Others produced videos. 




One student elected to create a painting and include a QR code linking to a documentary she had watched. Listen to her describe her project.















Another student created a box covered in digital images he had designed himself. Listen to him describe his project and reflect on his learning experience.







And read another student's feedback on the learning process she engaged in during the project.



What I observed and heard from these students confirmed what I had heard days earlier at a workshop on Differentiation and Universal Deisgn for Learning (UDL) facilitated by Leyton Schnellert. It was great to hear Leyton share much of what he modelled 17 years ago when we co-taught Science and Technology 11. Leyton stressed that our plan for student learning should have 'LOW FLOORS and HIGH CEILINGS'. He pointed out that teaching to diversity is nothing more than 'good teaching'...it should include approaches that invite all learners in by providing different access points.

What was particularly fitting about the Psychology project is that it exemplified the three main principles that Leyton suggested we should focus on in our learning designs.

Multiple Means of Engagement: It captured the interest of learners and motivated them to explore their topic.

Mutliple Means of Representation: Learners were provided flexibility as to how and from where they acquired knowledge and information.

Multiple Means of Expression: Learners were encouraged to choose a means of demonstrating their learning that best suited them.

Below is a diagram from the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) that provides a visual representation of the main UDL principles Leyton shared.


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