UDL Harvard/Canada 2012 reflections – implications for the teaching and learning in NZ

So here is the last of my posts from this UDL adventure to the US and Canada. There are so many stories to tell, but here are some thoughts from my final evening.

Huge thanks to all those who have so generously given of their time, their expertise and their vision. I look forward to continuing to work together.

And finally enormous gratitude to CORE Education for the financial and professional support to enable me to pursue an area of learning I am passionate about.

Video viewing option: If you prefer to you can also view this UDL reflections video with it’s interactive transcript on YouTube.

Transcript

Kia ora koutou, talofa lava.

So this is my last day of my UDL trip to the US and Canada.

I am here in Calgary at the moment. I have been visiting Dr Sharon Friesen, who is Vice Dean of Education at the university here. She is pretty immersed in Universal Design for Learning. Not only does she teach it and her courses are designed using the framework, but she has also been really instrumental in getting it into policy here in the province, which is kind of about the population of New Zealand, about 4 and a half million. So pretty comparable to us really.

It’s been really great to spend some time talking with Sharon. The big thing we come round to again and again, is just this thing around the neuroscience and the impact of that knowledge we now have the recognition networks, the strategic networks and the affective networks and the variability in each of those parts.

And so with the recognition network, that is about how you first come to something and recognize symbols, shapes, colours, sound and that there’s huge variability  in each of us in how we respond/recognise and also different at different times.

And strategic networks are really about how we organize information and our motor skills, our motor abilities and our skills, like those really refined skills like, technical skills, like playing an instrument or a craft, or like athletic abilities. But also our executive functions of how we organize information and plan what we’re doing.

And then the affective networks, kind of the easiest way to describe it, is kind of inside. And that’s really this whole thing around engagement. And it’s like what motivates us to do something, to respond in a certain way, to engage with an activity or some kind of stimulus.

And really the neuroscience just kind of shouts at us at how our lived experience shapes how we learn.

So if we think about education and we think about disengagement, it’s like for kids whose experience of school hasn’t been great, to expect learning to happen in the same context over and over again, it’s not surprising that it’s hard.

But the UDL guidelines based on the neuroscience and what we currently know in the learning sciences are really there as guidelines to help us plan for variability. To provide a framework with which to design lessons and to look really closely at the goals that we make, our methodology in our instruction, our assessment and also the resources that we provide.

It’s definitely not a checklist, but I think of it as a bit like an onion. So with layers of an onion as you come to grips with the principles, right from the outset you make a difference in how you engage learners.

And threaded all the way through this framework is the premiss that we have to begin from culture. This thing of what learners bring, where they come from, their histories, their strengths, the framework is built around this premiss that we begin there.

So, yeah, it’s been an amazing trip. I’ve met some incredible people and some great examples of UDL in practice.

Huge thanks to CORE Education for the chance to explore this area of learning and particularly to investigate how look more closely at inclusion in schools. How we can use technology to provide flexible options for learners, particularly in the way we can digitize text, for example.

And I think that it’s great that in New Zealand we are not going to have to start from scratch and that we can actually build on the experience of other people and just take it from there.

Lots more stories to come.

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