Universal Design for Learning and Collaborative Teaching Term Paper

Pages: 15 (4110 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Teaching

Universal Design for Learning and Collaborative Teaching

Introduction Universal design

Universal design for learning is the overall rubric which includes within its ambit the questions, concerns, problematic and potentials of collaborative and inclusive teaching methods and practices. Universal design refers to the inclusion of all students at various levels and abilities and it aims for the optimum maintenance of a heterogeneous classroom, with the collaborative teaching processes that this demands.

The essential starting point in the understanding of universal design centers on the inclusion and accommodation of heterogeneity in the teaching environment in non-traditional ways. "In today's schools, the mix of students is more diverse than ever. Educators are challenged to teach all kinds of learners to high standards, yet a single classroom may include students who struggle to learn for any number of reasons..." (What is Universal Design for Learning)

These reasons may include aspects such as Learning disabilities such as dyslexia

English language barriers

Emotional or behavioral problems

Lack of interest or engagement

Sensory and physical disabilities

The foundations of the universal design process as well as the concomitant issues of collaborative and inclusive teaching methods relates mainly to the issue of the responses to individual differences. Experts also emphasize the fact that the term "universal" does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it is meant to "...underscore the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners." (ibid) brief glance at the background to the concept of universal design helps to shed light on the issues surrounding inclusive teaching methods. The concept of universal design originally arose in relation to a built environment in which a "...universally designed home is one that young children and senior citizens alike find comfortable and convenient, yet adolescents and working-age adults also find appealing. As people aged, they would feel no need to move, because the house posed no barriers to them." (Bowe, 2000, p. 2) This concept translated to the teaching environment with obvious correspondences at collaborative teaching which is aimed at understanding and catering for the diverse needs of the students.

Universal design is therefore a concept that is pertinent to the reality of modern teaching problems and the contemporary educational environment where,

Teachers at all levels, from preschool to K-12 to university programs to adult and continuing education, now deal with a remarkably diverse student population. Growing numbers of students have such disabilities as attention deficits or learning disabilities. Many older students have impairments of heating and of vision. Large numbers of students come from cultural traditions other than the Euro-American, Judeo-Christian Western "white" culture and for this reason bring different expectations to the classroom. Chapter 1 explores the characteristics of these non-traditional students. (Bowe, 2000, p. 1)

In essence universal design in education requires that the teacher or educationist should reassess texts and schedules, as well as various other aspects of the education process. This concept involves the questioning of many traditional and accepted educational mentods and perceptions. For example, "Is it really necessary for teachers to present the great bulk of our instruction via speech? Isn't there a way, or aren't there several ways, for us to offer much of the same material visually (in print, on disk, etc. " (Bowe, 2000, p. 2)

The advantage of universal design and inclusive teaching methodology and philosophy is intended not only to provide an equable education potential for all students at various levels and of different abilities, but it can also be seen to maximize the usability of the educational environment. Of course there are also potential negative aspects associated with this concept, and these will also be discussed in this paper.

2. Definition: Inclusive classrooms and teaching.

In line with the theory of universal design process, the inclusive classroom, also called the integrated classroom, is a term used to describe classes whose students possess a wide range of ability and developmental levels. These classes may contain children with cognitive and physical ability levels considered normal for their ages, as well as those with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome or other developmental or learning disabilities."

Wikipedia: Inclusive classroom)

In an inclusive environment "...students with disabilities are provided specially designed instruction in their least restrictive environment (LRE)." (Inclusive Learning Environments for Students With Special Needs)

LRE does not only refer to student with disabilities but the LRE can vary, dependent on the individual needs and goals of reach respective student. To this end "...federal laws require that the individualized educational program (IEP) committee first develop the individual goals for the student, then determine how and where the student's goals can be met." (ibid)

3. Collaborative teaching defintion

Collaborative teaching is commonly understood as any academic environment when one of more teachers collaborates in designing and teaching courses in the establishment of group learning techniques. This interplay between collaborative teaching and inclusive methods are relatively easy to discern. (Robinson & Schaible, 1995, p. 57)

The area of collaborative teaching and the way in which it deviates from the more conventional modes of teaching praxis is clearly illustrated in the following quotation.

Collaborative teaching is a "keep-in" rather than "pullout" model of service delivery, and is a rather radical departure from the past. In collaborative teaching, special educators come to general education classrooms to co-teach with general educators, and the expertise of teachers is viewed as complementary. The general educator shares expertise in all aspects of curriculum, effective teaching, and large-group instruction, whereas the special educator contributes knowledge in such areas as learning styles and strategies, clinical teaching, and behavior management (Parrott, Driver, & Eaves, 1992). Over time, the expertise of the teachers becomes coincidental. A popular definition of collaborative teaching explains the process: (Bauwens, Hourcade, & Friend, 1989, p. 18)

Another view of the term collaborative teaching which is discussed in the literature is one which is closer to the tenets and praxis of inclusive teaching methods. In this understanding of collaborative teaching method, the teacher is seen to collaborate or interact with the students as a facilitator or mediator in the learning process. This will be the understanding of the term collaborative teaching that will be focused on in this paper.

4. Legal aspects.

The Federal determinants surrounding the issue of inclusive education are complex and related to other social dimensions and problems. The following is a very brief overview of some of the central issues. The debate about inclusive education has its origins in laws such as Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) passed by Congress in 1975. This law established for the first time the principle that all students with disabilities would receive a public education. This "...set the stage for inclusive schooling, ruling that every child is eligible to receive a free and appropriate public education and to learn in the least restrictive environment possible." (Paula Kluth, Richard A. Villa and Jacqueline S. Thousand. 2002) Subsequently in 1994 the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs issued policy guidelines which stated that "...school districts cannot use the lack of adequate personnel or resources as an excuse for failing to make a free and appropriate education available, in the least restrictive environment, to students with disabilities." (ibid)

At present the federal mandate for LRE remains that... "all children with disabilities have available to them... A free, appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their needs." (Price, Mayfield, McFadden, and Marsh.) Under the 1990 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), provisions for LRE were also increased so as to include "instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and instruction in physical education." (ibid)

There are numerous aspects to this debate and the implementation of legal aspects. A fact noted by many critics is that political views play a significant part on the legal process in regard to education policies in the United States - which can at times retard innovation.

The status of inclusive schooling in the Scandinavian countries is perhaps the most advanced of the western countries, more so even than in the United States where competing political ideologies tend to constrain the full implementation of inclusion reforms."(Vitello & Mithaug, 1998, p. xiii)

5. Collaborative and inclusive aspects of a Universal design environment

The collaborative educational environment where inclusive teaching methods are used has a number of common characteristics. These include the particular unconventional relationship established between the teacher and student; as well as the different approach that the teacher has towards instruction and the structure of a collaborative classroom.

The conventional information structure of a classroom - with the teacher as the focal point and dominant figure - usually functions as a one way process of information flow i.e. from teacher to student. In contrast to this the.".. The metaphor for collaborative classrooms is shared knowledge." (Tinzmann, M.B. et al. 1990)

This model of teaching opens up new and creative avenues for learning. While the teacher brings vital… [END OF PREVIEW]

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