A stack of books on a table.

Re-designing and Aligning an Intro to Special Education Class to the Framework through Technology Integration: Meaningful Representation

Author: Samantha Goldman; info@ciddl.org

This blog series focuses on my experiences as a first-time instructor of an introduction to special education course. You can read more about this series in the opening blog post. At the beginning of the semester, I redesigned the course readings to provide options for recruiting interest (engagement), perception (representation), and comprehension (representation). You can learn more about that process in this blog post. 

Redesigning for More Meaningful Representation

Within my original plan, I attempted to provide students with multiple options “readings” for each unit. I use the word “readings” in quotations because, while some of them were traditional readings (articles, blog posts, etc.), others were recordings, videos, podcasts, and other media. And, while my students appreciated the choices and flexibility in how they received the information prior to coming to class, I could not anticipate all of their needs, knowledge, interests, backgrounds, etc. when originally creating the readings and subsequent understanding checks. For the second half of the semester, I decided to try something new and the feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive. 

Figuring Out What Really Matters

My class of pre-service personnel is diverse. I have students who want to teach elementary school, middle school, high school, college, English, math, history, physical education, music, special education, and even a future speech therapist. And, each student has their own jagged profile and preferences, some preferring to read, others preferring to listen, or some combination or other means of input. There is no way I could feasibly design a “reading” plan that would support all of their unique interests and needs. 

Rather than try, and exhaust myself, or force them to choose a “reading” that most likely will not be applicable to them, I pivoted. We had already discussed Universal Design for Learning and the importance of (1) choice and relevance and (2) multiple means of engagement and representation. As an instructor of pre-service personnel, it is my job to model applying the UDL framework within my course. I presented my new plan for their “reading” assignments, and they were excited to dig in. 

I gave them the title of the unit (data-driven instruction, engagement with peers, behavior management, etc) and told them their job was to locate at least one resource to learn more about the topic. Then, they had to send me the link to the resource (or the title if it wasn’t digital), and summarize what they learned (I provided guiding questions for this such as what is it, why is it needed, what does it look like), how they see themselves using it in their future classrooms, and what questions they still have after their research. 

Putting It Into Canvas

There are many different ways you could hold students accountable for their “readings”. Our campus uses Canvas as our Learning Management System (LMS). Within the LMS, I have (at least) two options for how I can have my students share their answers. The first is through a discussion board. Have students share their resources and answers in a post and encourage them to respond to others. As discussed in a previous blog, it is important to model this and provide expectations and guidelines. For instance, you could ask students to compare the information they learned to what their peers shared and make connections. 

The second method is through a Canvas quiz. Canvas has two types of quizzes: new quizzes and classic quizzes. For some assessments, the choice matters. For this assessment, you can choose either one. Create a new “essay” question for each question listed in the previous section of the blog. You can learn more about Canvas quizzes here. 

Student Outcomes

As an instructor, I loved being able to see the different resources they used and see how they connected to the topic. The questions they asked also helped drive my instruction. The best part of this activity is that students are coming to class with an added investment and interest in the topic. They picked how they learned about it. They picked where they learned about it. And, at the end of the day, they all had the same basic understanding I needed them to have in order to continue the conversation on the topic.

Join the Conversation

How do you bring choice into your course readings? What strategies have you tried that support student learning? How do you engage learners within your classroom? How are you modeling UDL for your pre-service personnel? Join the conversation in our community and share your thoughts!