01 February 2011

Looking for Universal Design (The View from Here, Part 2)

"If you buy the same thing for everyone," I told a group of educators yesterday, "pretty much anything... chairs, tables, computers, phones... you're probably leaving two-thirds of kids uncomfortable."

One book, Any style...
I believe that to be true. I know that almost any restaurant I enter has a variety of seating options. I know that homes usually look and function quite differently, at least inside. I know that if I walk through almost any office space I will see people working very hard to change the pre-created environment into their own. I know that people carry hundreds of different mobile phones, and almost as many different computer models - and those choices are only secondarily about costs. I know that even when you buy a book - outside of school - you get choices in terms of how that content is delivered to you. And I know that there are millions of different types of pens, and thst if I look around a meeting - any meeting - I'll see people working on paper, in notebooks, on mobiles, on laptops (PC and Mac), on tablets, on iPads...

So, as I continue to observe schools (see previous post), I look for the kinds of choices which will make the greatest percentage of students "OK," and I look for that in every classroom, in the library, in any dedicated computer space, wherever and whenever kids are "working on learning."

I look to see different seating choices, different light levels, different senses of enclosure (why restaurants have booths), different height work surfaces (sit, stand, etc), different options for noise control, and different tools for gaining access to communication and for communication.

I look to see if students who need to be standing are standing, if those who need to be sprawled on the floor are sprawled on the floor, if those who need space around them have space around them, if those who need close contact have close contact. I look to see, if it is not large group time, if those who need quiet, have quiet - via a place to hide or just an iPod or mp3 player keeping stray sounds at bay.
Where to work?
a few options at one
coffee shop. (also,
booths, tables, high tables)

I look to see if multiple representations are always available. Are there different math manipulatives, and are some kids using their fingers while others process in their heads and others use pencils and others keep track of their steps through (free) calculators which record their actions. Are kids reading ink-on-paper and via computer reader/web based reader and via audiobook? Are kids writing via pencils and pens (differently shaped), via keyboard (and what kind of keyboard), on phone keypad, or with their voice.

I look to see if YouTube is in use, if videos are available to explain, if audio files are available to help connect kids (what did a Babylonian sound like?). I like to see kids online looking up words, finding images, hearing pronunciations of unfamiliar words, using whatever technologies they need to scaffold their own learning.

And I look to see that in every grade, at every level. It is just as important for a high school physics student to be able to find alternatives to the teacher's explanation and delivery system as it is for a first grader.

Are there fidget tools available to every kid at every age? (the need for hat does not go away with age) Are kids encouraged to take breaks every 20 minutes? Are food and drink available in some form and with an "increasing" (with age) acceptance of personal control? (think of it as college prep if you can't imagine it any other way)

Do students have collaborative notetaking options (Google Docs)? Are assignments handed in digitally so paper and the handling of it is not an issue? Is homework limited to projects which do not demonstrate parental/home resources more than anything else? Is homework always flexible enough in description to not be ability-centric?

I look, from the very entry to the building, to see if the school is technology platform and brand agnostic. No matter how much I might love Apple or Google or Mozilla or Microsoft, I do not ever want to see "branded" schools or publicly "branded" teachers. No student should ever be made to feel 'outside' because of personal or family brand preferences or limited options.

And I need to see universal access tools on every school computer, at least all that is free or that which comes with the device's platform. We should not divide access into "ours" and "theirs."

Of course I look for complete inclusion of all of these things everywhere. The availability of universal design must be, yes, universal, or it is just another word for "Special Education."

There's more... testing, evaluation flexibility - time flexibility - teacher/student matching, things not immediately visible when you walk a school's corridors. But if you see universal design everywhere you look, there's a good chance you'll see it even where you can't quite see.

- Ira Socol

1 comment:

Brandin Brosh said...

I agree that universality is very important. All students learn differently and therefore you should compensate for each student. You may not be able to compensate each lesson for each students but it is possible to have a diverse curriculum to support each child's different learning style. Technology is changing and our classrooms should change with it. However, technology is not the only way to learn and some students will still learn will pen and paper or the traditional note cards. No two students are exactly alike and it is important as educators to know that.