Building Engagement with Distance Learning

DL #30: An Example of UDL and Online Collaboration

The leadership and teachers at North Carroll Middle School in Carroll County, Maryland are working to include students with significant cognitive disabilities in general education classes. In 2019-20, Carroll County Public Schools (CCPS) and TIES worked together to train teachers on how to implement the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework as a part of their co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessing. Their work helped inform the 5-15-45 tool that you and your teams can use too!

Let’s follow one team in their UDL and collaborative planning: 

Meet The Team

Meet the team: Jesse Harrington, general educator | Jackie Baughman, paraprofessional | Mary Beth Calvin, special education teacher | Michaela Holcomb, speech language therapist | Mark Turek, inclusion coach

Jesse Harrington, general educator | Jackie Baughman, paraprofessional | Mary Beth Calvin, special education teacher | Michaela Holcomb, speech language therapist | Mark Turek, inclusion coach

The Classroom

In his general education class of 24 students, Mr. Harrington, the 6th-grade social studies teacher has three students who have significant cognitive disabilities, as well as a few students who have more high incidence disabilities such as learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Collaborative Process

Mr. Turek, the CCPS Inclusion Coach, and TIES Center personnel trained district content specialists and the middle school faculty and staff on how to make the general education curriculum accessible and meaningful for all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities. General and special education teams, including paraprofessionals, met regularly with Mr. Turek on this process: 

  1. Begin with the grade-level standards and UDL framework: Where are the barriers to learning?
  2. Review content and materials for individual needs: What individual barriers and needs exist?
  3. Adapt materials and content only as much as necessary: Are there adaptations or modifications needed for individual students? 
  4. Repeat as needed for additional students: Are there changes needed for other students?
  5. Review materials and instructional strategies: Do they maintain the essential parts of the standard?

While the regular meetings stopped when COVID began, the process continued.

Example of  What It Looks Like

Begin with the grade-level standards and UDL framework. Where are the barriers to learning? 

Unit grade-level goals based on the social studies standards: 

  • Students will be able to answer questions and organize information about chronology in history.
  • Students will gain content vocabulary for social studies.
  • Students will be able to discuss how societies have changed over time.

Mr. Harrington chose his lesson and materials with an eye toward the UDL framework of providing multiple means of engagement, representation and action, and expression. The seven images below are samples of the social studies PowerPoints that are used to teach all students.

An archaeological excavation site. Several people are working on digging up and removing artifacts.

In this slide, students see an image of an excavation site.

Tools used in an archaeological dig: trowels, toothbrushes, buckets, sifters

In this slide, students see tools typically used at an excavation site.

Students sitting outside identifying their excavation materials with accession numbers. Accession numbers are how scientists label what is excavated to be able to locate and identify them. Accesion numbers include month, day, year, column, and row.

In this slide, students are sitting outside identifying their excavation materials with accession numbers. Accession numbers are how scientists label what is excavated to be able to locate and identify them.

Text of the image: Geologists describe and explain the changes in the Earth's surface that occur over time. For example, geologists might discover a fossil of a sea creature in an area that is all land and conclude that the land was once covered by water. They can also determine the material from which a rock is made and explain how it was formed. This information can help scientists discover where ancient people got the stone to make their tools. Geologists can also trace the geologic movement of stone from one location to another.

This slide describes what a geologist does.

Defining geologist versus geology. Geology is the study of the Earth's surface. A Geologist is a person who studies geology.

This slide describes the difference between geology, the study of the solid Earth, and a geologist, a person who studies geology.

A worksheet where a student has two boxes to fill out about geologists. One is labeled What do they do? The other is labeled why is it important? Text available to the student before filling out the worksheet is Geologists study the Earth's surface and how it has changed over time. They can look at fossils and make guesses about what the Earth looked like a long time ago. For example, if they see fish fossils on land, they know there was water there at one point. They can look at rocks and know how it was made. This helps them disover where people got their tools from.

This slide asks students to describe what a geologist does and why is important.

A tree map that has some items filled in and some items left for students to fill in. From left to right: archaeologist has the study of pottery filled in and one blank for another answer. In the next item, the student must determine the specialist by deciding who studies plants. There is also one blank left for the student to fill in on what else this specialist might study in addition to plants. Next a geologist is listed. Rocks are listed as one of the things a geologist studies. Another blank is left for a student to list another thing a geologist studies. Next is a linguist. One blank that is filled in says translates languages. There is one more blank for a student to fill in. Finally, the last specialist listed is a Paleoanthropologist. One items they study is teeth. There is another blank for a student to fill in what else they might study.

This slide asks the student to complete a tree map to show each archaeological specialist and what they study.

Review content and materials for individual needs: what individual barriers and needs exist? 

Most of these slides had multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression, because:

  • key information was highlighted
  • information was shared visually, auditorily, and textually 
  • graphic organizers were embedded 
  • background knowledge was woven throughout the unit

When Mrs. Calvin (special educator) and Ms. Holcombe (speech language therapist) reviewed the materials for students on their caseloads with speech and language support needs, learning disabilities, ADHD, etc., they found three slides had potential barriers. 

 Adapt materials and content only as much as necessary

Mrs. Calvin and Ms. Holcombe made the following changes to meet individual student needs and to support the learning standard: 

  • condensed the text, removed some details, and highlighted the topic of each slide, decreasing executive functioning requirements   
  • combined slides 4 and 6, reducing the cognitive load
  • moved the questions about geologists to the same page as the definition, lessening the amount of visual tracking and short-term memory needed
  • provided an answer key to guide student answers for the timeline activity, supporting word recognition, spelling, and movement needs
  • made the matching activity a more concrete graphic organizer with specific boxes for each specialist, making it more accessible

A collage of 3 slides that represent how the activity was originally designed.Slide 1: A worksheet where a student has two boxes to fill out about geologists. One is labeled What do they do? The other is labeled why is it important? Text available to the student before filling out the worksheet is Geologists study the Earth's surface and how it has changed over time. They can look at fossils and make guesses about what the Earth looked like a long time ago. For example, if they see fish fossils on land, they know there was water there at one point. They can look at rocks and know how it was made. This helps them discover where people got their tools from.Slide 2: A worksheet that is meant to be an answer sheet. The student matches the items from Slide 3 with their correct category in slide 2. The categories are: Botanist, Archaeologist, Chemist, Geologist, Paleoanthropologist, and Linguist

Slide 3: An answer sheet with items on it that fit in the categories from Slide 2. Items are listed as words or images. The items listed as words are age, human skeleton, human culture, plants, Earth, language. the items listed as images include a dig site, a fossil, and a skeleton. 

These images of three slides show the slides were adapted for individual learners. One slide has the description of a geologist, what they do, and why it is important written above two boxes that ask, "What do they do?, and "Why is this important?". The next slide is one that asks the student to match the specialist with the correct picture and key word, with boxes below the names of the specialist. The third slide is a word and visual bank to be used when filling in the matching exercise.

Repeat as needed for additional students.

Mr. Turek (inclusion coach) and Mrs. Baughman (paraprofessional) then looked at the materials to determine if there were additional supports needed for some of the students with significant cognitive disabilities. 

Mr. Turek and Mrs. Baughman made the following changes:

  • color-coded answers in the text, to focus attention and support answering questions
  • printed the presentation as a booklet for students in the hybrid instructional model, for easier access
  • condensed timeline activity to reduce the complexity of the text
  • provided two options for engaging with the timeline activity, for accessibility and to support generalization across materials
    • digital version drag and drop slide
    • hybrid version velcro and paper activity
Slide 1 from above that has been adapted for UDL. This slide shows the previous geologist definition and "Why it is important" slide with highlighting of the important parts of the summary text. Color coded boxes help students easily match parts of the text to the right questions.

This slide shows the previous geologist definition and "Why it is important" slide with highlighting of the important parts of the summary text. Color coded boxes help students easily match parts of the text to the right questions.

Slides 2 and 3 from above combined into 1 slide using UDL principles. All visuals and words are provided on one page so that students may click and drag easily if using it digitally. A one-page format also allows students to draw lines from picture or word to the appropriate place on the worksheet, if using paper and pencil.

This slide has combined the previous two slides asking the student to match the specialist with the correct picture and key word. All visuals and words are provided on one page so that students may click and drag easily if using it digitally. A one-page format also allows students to draw lines from picture or word to the appropriate place on the worksheet, if using paper and pencil.

Other possible supports not evident in these slides include: 

  • providing objects used in an archaeology dig instead of only using the pictures for students with low or no vision
  • embedding instruction on number identification or a calendar or grid for help with foundational skills
  • assigning paraprofessional support via chat boxes or during asynchronous times of the day

Review materials and instructional strategies to ensure they maintain the essential parts of the standard. 

Mr. Harrington then reviewed each version to ensure the changes remained true to the concepts being taught. 

While the barriers to learning changed when school moved to online and hybrid instruction, the foundations of good curriculum and instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities remained the same.

Because teamwork really does make the dream work.

Author(s)

Mark Turek

Deborah Taub

Jesse Harrington

Jackie Baughman

Mary Beth Calvin

Michaela Holcomb

Distance Learning Series: DL #30, March 2021

  • Turek, M., Taub, D., Harrington, J., Baughman, J., Calvin, M. B., & Holcomb, M. (2021). An Example of UDL and Online Collaboration(DL #30). TIES Center.

TIES Center is supported through a cooperative agreement between the University of Minnesota and the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (# H326Y170004). The Center is affiliated with the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) which is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration (ICI) at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) leads the TIES Center partnership. Collaborating partners are the Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North-Carolina–Charlotte, and the University of North Carolina–Greensboro.

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