Teaching Every Student with Universal Design for Learning

Echolocation is a fascinating topic because it explores so much about how we think about ourselves, our senses, and the world around us. This is a wonderful topic to build a lesson around in the Universal Design for Learning framework , since it readily involves ideas of multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

In this lesson I sought to employ several Universal Design for Learning approaches and strategies explicitly. In explaining the concept of echolocation I produced a video that visually represented echolocation, which also carried a voiceover that explained the process without images. In creating the classroom activity, I was deliberate in giving multiple pathways for engagement, from having the students recall personal anecdotes of objects that bounce back to them to having them choose their own sounds to use against the wall. And in the individual activity I made sure to give students the opportunity to express their understanding in a variety of ways, from writing and drawing to speaking and acting. The rationale below describes in more detail how each part of this lesson fits into the UDL framework:

Provide Multiple Means of Representation:

1. Options for perception:
  • Students are given the option to choose their preferred means of displaying how echolocation is explained. They can choose the animated video of the bat and tree, the text in the introduction section, or the discussion led by the instructor. (1.1)
  • The animated video of the bat and tree is complimented by an audio explanation of echolocation. (1.2)
  • Students are also given access to the concept using the rubber ball demonstration, which provided another option for visual information. (1.3)
2. Options for language and symbols:
  • 'Echolocation' is a vocabulary word that is defined throughout the lesson by words, pictures, video, and physical demonstrations. (2.1)
  • Non-linguistic representations of the concept are distributed throughout the lesson, from the animated video to the rubber ball demonstration to the classroom wall activity. (2.5)
3. Options for comprehension:
  • At the beginning of the classroom activity, students are asked to think about when they have thrown objects that come back to them, accessing the background knowledge of the physical mechanism behind echolocation. (3.1)
  • The individual activity is an opportunity for students to consolidate the big ideas behind echolocation. (3.2)
  • In the student's individual assignment, they are asked to write down their goal at the top of the page (e.g. "This is a picture of how echolocation works in the forest"). Having the goal written down guides information processing during the activity. (3.3)

Provide Multiple Means for Action and Expression:

4. Options for physical actions:
  • The classroom activity is primarily physical, with students experiencing echolocation by standing near a wall and moving closer. In the lesson plan I incorporate "UDL Tips," which provide options for students with physical disabilities to still participate in this exercise. Students who are unable to move closer to the wall, for example, have a partner that will move a piece of stiff paper or cardboard closer to his or her face. Students who cannot hear the sounds they make have the option to use a stick to "feel" their environment through a different modality. (4.1, 4.2)
5. Options for expressive skills and fluency:
  • Students, during the individual activity, are given four options to express their understanding of the concept: writing, drawing, speaking, and acting. (5.1)
  • At the beginning of the lesson students are given examples of where echolocation occurs in nature and human technologies. This scaffolds a later activity where they come up with their own instances of where echolocation is useful. (5.3)
6. Options for executive functions:
  • The individual activity asks students to first plan what they are going to describe in their response and keep that plan in front of them throughout. This is a simple way to get students to set goals and guide their own strategies for carrying out their responses. (6.1, 6.2)
  • I structured the second activity to be simple and straightforward, focusing only on the instructional goal. Students are not weighed down by the cognitive tasks of describing all instances of echolocation, only the most salient features of its mechanism. (6.3)

Provide Multiple Means for Engagement:

7. Options for recruiting interest:
  • Students have a multitude of choices in this lesson in how they receive and respond to its contents. They are, for example, asked to choose personal examples of objects that bounce back to them in the first part of the classroom activity. They are also given the choice of what sound to make as they approach the wall and what situation to represent in their individual assignments. (7.1, 7.2)
8. Options for sustaining effort and persistence:
  • By writing down their goal for the individual exercise, students are reminded of the purpose of their assignment. (8.1)
  • Students collaborate with their peers in the classroom wall activity by helping them get into position and seeing how they understand how sound allows us to navigate our environments. Working with partners gives students an automatic agent for engagement with the activity. (8.3)
9. Options for self-regulation:
  • Students set explicit personal goals for their responses in the individual activity. (8.1)
  • Students have the option to re-do the individual activity if they want to respond using a different method (writing, drawing, speaking, acting, etc.). (8.3)

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