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Case Study: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Autistic Students

This is the second in a two-part series of posts based on my experience of working with professors, students, and my disabilities services colleagues, as well as my own teaching practice, to support students on the spectrum. I’ll be writing from the perspective of a professor, and “Joshua,” the student, is a persona representing a composite of common autistic characteristics that can be both strengths and weaknesses, but which may tend to create challenges for the student and the instructor as they both work to achieve their goals. Part one explores the effective teaching strategies and approaches that can occur through collaboration. This blog focuses on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and teaching strategies for diverse learners.

Hello, Luisa here. Instructor of Computer Science at a Community College. Part one of this two-part series is really all about how to set up and navigate the classroom milieu in ways that support students such as Joshua and enhance the learning environment for everyone. Here I’d like to explore how my professional development workshops helped me gain valuable insight and strategies for creative instruction through the application of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) techniques.

My professional development goal was to deepen and expand on effective strategies and modifications in my course design, delivery, and approach, as well as to improve my instruction to diverse learners. (That’s a lot, I know!) But as a result of UDL training and coaching, I was able to modify my course teaching methods and pedagogy to provide an inclusive and valued experience in the classroom. Some of the modifications that I made to the course are:

I developed a clear syllabus that employs some of the best practices identified in a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach. I post online versions of both the syllabus and all class materials.

For example, my syllabus:

has substantial “white” space,” with clear, BOLD headings and bullet points with concrete examples

includes visual representations (eg: a photograph of text book, a pie graph grading rubric)

includes explicit explanation of course expectations and a calendar of critical milestones, projects and due dates

I now use instructional best practices, which clearly convey goals and objectives for the class session, such as:

I employ scaffolding techniques: I review content before moving forward, I link concepts to previously learned material, I cue to allow for adequate processing, I model good note-taking, I present info in an organized fashion, and I provide guided notes which I post online.

I reinforce written material verbally and reinforce verbal information in writing.

I bring closure to each session by summing up important points and concepts.

I now utilize multiple measures of assessment and opportunities for the demonstration of competency in course content. These include:

Rubrics to set clear standards for evaluation

E-Portfolios

Student presentations (group or individual)

Video or web-based reports or presentations

Multiple-format tests (allow for student choice)

Research or reflective papers

Ultimately, I found that by initiating intentional conversations, considering UDL approaches and employing creative and inclusive strategies to respond to the diversity of students in my class, I was better able to make the academic experience positive and valued for Joshua and all my students.

“Everyone teaches and everyone learns.”

Louisa

Questions, comments, or ideas? Please let me know in the comments.

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Susan Woods

Susan Woods, M. Ed, recently retired as Associate Dean of Student Support Services at Middlesex Community College after 27 years. Susan managed the college’s Disability Support Services, supporting 1000 students with documented disabilities, as well as alternative and grant funded support programs. Susan has regularly provided training and workshops to faculty and staff on creating welcoming and inclusive environments and universal design for instruction. Her work now focuses on professional development and training to high school personnel and families to help support the successful transition to college for students with disabilities. Her professional development website is www.susanbwoods.com.

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