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State Support Team, Region 16

Disabling Environments, Not Disabled Students

Lisa Arthur - 8/27/2018 3:33:37 PM

My husband, an expert fisherman,  is trying to teach me the art of fishing.  He finds it challenging I’m sure. He records fishing shows for me to watch on TV (visual).  He watches as I practice baiting my hook, casting, and reeling (kinesthetic) in the safety of our garage and backyard.  He instructs me on the “how to” basics (auditory) of casting. He demonstrates the art of “jigging” (modeling) and instructs me to watch his the motion of his hand as his lure dances (jigs) through the water of our neighbor’s pond.  He uses guided instruction and think-aloud strategies as he demonstrates mastery of the “jigging” technique. He gradually fades his support from hand-over-hand when I’m jigging, offering words of encouragement and support, “That’s it, you’ve got this!” as my lure flits through the clear pristine stagnant pond water.

I’m feeling pretty competent at this point.  I’m ready! We’re going fishing! It’s a beautiful evening and my anticipation builds thinking about the monstrous fish I’m going to catch as we make our way down the steps to the nearby dam on the Ohio River.  I do everything beautifully, as he has so patiently taught me. “Look at me,” I’m thinking, “I’m fishing, I’m jigging, and I’m gonna catch a trophy fish.” I’ve practiced yelling “Fish on!” just like the tuna fisherman do on Wicked Tuna.  “Come on fish, it’s dinner time!” I yell.   

Then suddenly, the water just 20 yards in front of me, transforms into a battleground!  The water’s surface seems to be under, what can only be described as an aerial assault, coming straight at us!  I scream and launch my pole into the air making a mad dash to higher ground. He’s yelling “It’s shad! They’re here!”  Panting, I stop. Turn. What’s he’s saying? He’s yelling, “Come back! Get your pole! This is what we’ve been waiting for!”  “Heck no!” I scream, “Those piranhas aren’t getting ME!”

My point?  The learning environment makes a world of difference.  My fishing ability (or non-ability) exists within the context of the learning environment.  Within the context of my backyard and my neighbor’s pond, I’m able to perform the skills I’ve learned.  UDL theory advocates that flexibly designed learning environments empower learners to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and abilities in numerous ways.  When teachers eliminate, or reduce, barriers within the environment by providing students options for demonstrating mastery (or showing what they know), then learning environments are no longer disabling.  UDL shifts the focus from disabled learners to disabled environments.

Come join us as we “Dive Into UDL” and begin to examine barriers that exist within our classrooms.  The following link will take you to our professional learning calendar where you can search for UDL workshops.