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Connect Beliefs: Universal Design for Learning and Inclusive Early Childhood Education

Author: Tahnee Wilder

Preparing qualified future early childhood educators includes planning for variability in the support needs of young children and their families. The framework of Universal Design for Learning provides a framework for designing responsive environments and meaningful learning opportunities for all young children across home, community, and classroom settings. How can UDL be applied in early childhood contexts to support young children and their families? Catch up on our discussion facilitated by Dr. Kathleen Zimmerman and contributed by panelists including Drs. Eva Horn, Ariane Gauvreau, and Marla Lohmann. Below are some highlights from the webinars. Watch the recording for more “gems.”

Foundational Beliefs

The conversation started off with multiple position statements by the National Association for the Education of Young Children  (NAEYC) and the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) of the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC). As pointed out by the panel, these statements provide a foundation to frame motivation and energy in preparing preservice teachers in early childhood.

  1. All children can learn and achieve when they are provided with a high-quality general education curriculum, services, and supports to match their needs. - DEC
  2. Our goal is to prepare educators to “promote each child’s optimal development and learning through a strengths-based, play-based approach to joyful, engaged learning.” - NAEYC
  3. All children have the right to equitable learning opportunities that enable them to achieve their full potential as engaged learners and valued members of society. - NAEYC

Connecting Our Beliefs

How can we instill joyful, engaged learning experiences in teacher preparation programs? Connecting foundational position statements and professional practice standards to UDL can be a good start. Moreover, the panel discussed the connection between equity and UDL implementation in early childhood contexts. Dr. Lohmann explained that “when UDL is implemented with intention, it removes the barriers so that everyone has the opportunity to learn.” Dr. Horn encouraged those preparing preservice teachers to connect courses to students’ prior experiences and “build their students’ confidence in their competence.”

  • Instructors can use technology to create more personalized learning experiences by creating opportunities for collaborative learning and by collecting real-time feedback to adjust their instruction to meet their students’ needs.
  • Policy makers should consider flexible learning pathways that recognize learning that takes place outside of traditional institutions, such as through workplace partners, community centers, and other nontraditional providers.

Beliefs in Action

How can we design fieldwork experiences guided by UDL? Our panelists shared some free resources that support UDL-aligned practices within the classroom. Dr. Gauvreau shared she uses Animoto, a free online platform that educators can use to create engaging videos and use them in the classroom. Below are some other resources and examples shared by the panel when you think about incorporating UDL in teacher preparation.

  1. Transforming Inclusive Education by Shelley Moore: The video provides unique insights into how bowling relates to inclusive education and how UDL helps reach all students.
  2. Modeling UDL implementation: Not only was modeling UDL highlighted in the panel discussion, the CIDDL Community also opened up a conversation around explicitly modeling UDL in teacher preparation.
  3. Thinking of engagement outside of the classroom walls: Encourage students to go out into the community and leverage different opportunities to engage in the community.

The conversation is not over yet! What are your experiences supporting pre-service teachers in using UDL to create joyful, engaged learning for all young learners? Join us in the CIDDL Community to share your ideas and communicate with fellow teacher educators.