If we’re thinking about curriculum design in the classroom, we know that there's always huge variability in the learners that we're with, and that's a consistent thing. Something that's quite useful as a tool in thinking about how we plan learning opportunities is this thing called universal design for learning. It's a framework for looking at how we plan our goals, our teaching methods, the resources and materials that we use, and also kind of the way we design assessments and evaluations.
And it's based around three principles. We know quite a lot more now about how the brain works. So we know we need to provide lots of options for the way we present material to students. We can't just present a singular text document - which we often see in homework situations. Kids get a homework sheet and we wonder why the kids are not engaged. We need to present text, and video, and images, and audio, and movement because if we acknowledge that there is that variability, the way that learners perceive that information is going to be different.
A second area is around, again if we acknowledge the variability, they way we express what we know is going to be different. So we need to provide options for how we support learners and how they can plan and organise what they know.
Then the third area is around engagement. So each of us is motivated by really different things. The kind of ‘what’s in it for me?’ is always a big thing. So we need to really think about how what we’re putting in place to engage learners. Because what motivates one student is not going to motivate another. And particularly in that area in terms of being culturally responsive and thinking about where kids come from, their background, culture, strengths, interests that we work really closely with community so that, especially with engagement, that learners can see themselves and make connections in a learning opportunity that we’re making.
And so a universal design for learning is kind of based on those three principles and there’s a fantastic set of really simple guidelines. It’s not a big checklist. It’s just kind of like, it’s literally a one page of A4 kind of prompt as you’re going into a learning opportunity.
What is it that I need to think of that considers all these learners from the outset? There’s always a need for differentiation. But rather than planning curriculum for like this illusory average learner, that traditional one size fits all, and then massive effort in differentiating all these different things for all the different needs (which is impossible really) and so kids get missed, constantly. That if we can actually kind of raise the bar and kind of universally design learning opportunities that are going to work for more people from the outset then there’s less time doing the retrofit.