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Universal Design for Learning's blogs

  • Don't wait until you have a Deaf student in your class or school to introduce yourself or your students to New Zealand Sign Language or NZSL. Learn NZSL together so you can:

    • introduce yourselves to a user of NZSL in your community
    • support communication options in the classroom.

    Take a look at how NZSL has been introduced into Glen Eden Intermediate school.

    Providing alternative representations of auditory information is one of the UDL checkpoints. It's aligned with the principle of providing multiple representations to support understanding.

    In Meghan's story above, she tells us about how many of her classmates have learned NZSL. If you are using NZSL in your classroom, we'd love to here your stories. 

    Here's another example from Howick Intermediate School.

    For more information on:

  • It's World Autism Awareness day on 2nd April. 

    Visit Autism and Learning on the Inclusive Ed website to find out how to strengthen your inclusive practice (there are dedicated primary and secondary sections). All the strategies underpinned by UDL thinking.

    But first up, check out the first-hand perspectives of children and adults with ASD. See what they say makes a difference.

    If you know of more great videos or have your own experiences to share, we would love to hear them.

  • Timer apps

    In many learning areas, talking and text have been the primary resources to support student learning. 

    For many students, especially those with dyslexia, presenting information only orally or in text can create unnecessary barriers to learning :-( 

    Things you can do to remove barriers to learning. 

    1. Use more charts, visual calendars, colour-coded schedules, visible timers and cues to increase the predictability of regular activities and transitions.
    2. Encourage students to use mobile devices to schedule alerts and reminders for regular and novel events and task deadlines
    3. Model the use of mind maps, 3-D manipulatives, outlines, flow charts and real objects to high-light critical features, big ideas and relationships  
    4. Offer students graphic organisers and flow charts to support planning and thinking in ALL curriculum areas. Encourage students to develop their own.
    5. Kanban boardModel the use of visual task management tools like to break up tasks and lengthy assignments into small manageable parts.

    Useful links:

    Check out the secondary section on Dyslexia and learning for more ideas underpinned by UDL.

    Tell us what you use :-)

  • Last week I had the chance, in a team meeting, to listen to my colleague Liz Stevenson as she shared her experience of walking alongside Te Kura o Kutarere, where they have been using a free digital tool called Storybird to support their work in literacy.



    Although Storybird, this simple, yet beautifully developed digital tool has been a significant part of the story, what has stayed with me is the way in which the use of video to capture and reflect on the learning has been so skillfully woven into the fabric of the experience.


    From the very beginning, Liz has had her camera in her hand or in her pocket and has captured so much natural footage of learning. As she modelled this way of working, the students too have picked up her cell phone and using the camera, have recorded either Liz or each other talking and thinking.


    In the video below, both the teacher, Susan Lee and the student speak with such clarity. I know now that this level of comfortableness in front of the camera, talking about learning, has been supported by a practice grounded in the ongoing sharing of feedback and reflection.


    Together the use of Storybird and video demonstrate the potential of the use of technology to customise teaching and learning. Both have been used to enable expression and reflection. Both used to connect and communicate with others. And on top of all that, the literacy levels of the learners are collectively ramping at speed.

  • The Third Teacher: The physical building and it's furniture

    The concept of the "third teacher" comes from the idea that alongside the teacher and their peers, the environment is a child or young person's "third teacher". 


    In the video below, architect Trung Lee challenges us as educators to think about how we use and organise space. 



    Having watched this a couple of times, I wonder how we can apply the concepts without the beautiful refits. Many of our schools will be open to the ways of working Lee talks about, but working within buildings where learning spaces are separated from one another and nothing has wheels.


    The empty space and it's potential

    One approach to the dilemna that I really like, illustrated below by Rob Olazagasti, is to create immersion environments for learning that don't require a building permit, but do require bold, innovative teachers.


    As a participant in such a learning experience, I can imagine that not only would I remember and be able to use the associated learning in years to come, but also that I would be inspired and motivated to transfer that model of engagement to other contexts. See what you think.


    You can also watch "Thinking Big About Engagement" with an interactive transcript on YouTube. This is really useful if you want to revisit a quote or ponder an idea.


    So if you read this and are working in a school or know of school that is bravely re-defining how it uses it's current environment and/or the furniture within it, I'd be really keen to find out more.


  • If you have not yet discovered the Apple iBooks Author app, it's worth a look. The video below gives a succinct overview of it's potential.

    For me, one of the most exciting things the iBooks Author app offers is the ease with which we can create resources which model Universal Design for Learning principles: 

    • Text, audio, video and image together, providing multiple options for representation and engagement. 
    • Enlarge pictures and text so we can get up close.
    • Re-play videos so we can repeat and revisit ideas. 
    • Listen to the text read aloud by Apple's built-in screen reader, Voice Over. 

    And if we embrace the following guidelines:

    1. How to make your ibooks accessible - an Apple help page
    2. Using styles - link to Apple iBook Author video "Using styles section"

    And pass them on to everyone we know, we will be modeling those inclusive skills we know will make a concrete difference to lots of users.

  • A succinct synopsis of the functional, equitable potential of the iPad for all classroom teachers.



    NB: The only irony, you have to be sighted to appreciate it. LOL.

  • Screen reader introduction

    A screen reader is a software package that can covert text into speech. It allows a person who cannot see to access both web content and documents.

    A screenreader can read the text from top to bottom, one line at a time.

    But it can also navigate the content from 

    • link to link 
    • heading to heading (if the web content has structured headings).

    This navigation feature enables a user to "scan the content", so that they can skip to what they need without having to read everything on the page.


    2 examples of a screen reader in use


    Video 1: Accessing the web using screen reading

    This video by RSC Scotland describes how to use a screen reader.


    Video 2: Web accessibility for people with vision impairment

    In this video, a blind lecturer is tutoring a class of sighted students. He is demonstrating how to access web content using a screen reader called JAWS. The sighted students seem pretty blown away!!


    Common screen readers

    There are 3 big players in the screen reader world:

    • Jaws ( over $1,000, most common and established package - Windows only)
    • NVDA (a free download onto your computer - Windows only)
    • Voiceover (built into Apple Mac products)

    A newer option is Webanywhere, which you can carry on a USB stick and can plug into any computer.


    Links to further information on screen readers


    Screen reader tutorials

    • Jaws- video on YouTube
    • NVDA - video on YouTube
    • Voiceover - video on Apple website (16 minutes long, but great overview)
    • Webanywhere - video on YouTube


    Shortcuts and hotkeys

    Short cut keys for JAWS - overview on the WebAim website

    Graphic overview of Voiceover hot keys - on Apple website