Strategies for Access
UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING (UDL)
Emerging America’s resources for educators are developed with the understanding that by making the learning of History and Social Studies accessible for struggling learners—students with disabilities, English learners, students facing other challenges—teaching is energized and improved for all students.
The philosophy that educational excellence is achieved by offering multiple paths to understanding is vividly illustrated by the talk by L. Todd Rose called The Myth of Average .
To make the learning of History and Social Studies accessible for all, educators have increasingly built upon the research program of CAST, the organization that first articulated and developed the framework of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
An rich list of classroom strategies linked to the CAST model of UDL by an organization called Goalbook can be found here. Below, we feature strategies that address learning through primary sources by students whose strengths and abilities may cluster in diverse areas.
Students engage with course content in a variety of ways. Teachers can be thoughtful about how to increase engagement in a way that is responsive to the needs of the particular learners in their classrooms—not every method of engagement suggested will be helpful for every student. Engagement may be heightened through the type of classroom activity, the personalization of the content, and the ownership the student feels for the specific project or broader learning.
Some students can access challenging material best when it is offered within consistent classroom routines. Engagement methods that allow the routines to remain the same include
- selecting topics that are likely to engage intrinsic student interest
- primary sources that feature the voices, perspectives, or experiences of young people (journals, newspaper accounts, visual depictions)
- topics that have a sensational dimension or dramatic interest
- personalization of the content to maximize student interest
- topics of study that have cultural relevance to the student’s own environment, heritage, location, or situation
- topics or sources in an area of interest or mastery of the student (will vary with each student)
Image link: https://www.loc.gov/item/awhbib000060/
Model Lesson: Using primary sources, students examine documents showing various generations of Puerto Ricans engaging with Anglo-American culture while preserving their cultural identity. Puerto Rican Identity
Video Example: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in the Early Elementary Classroom: A 2nd Grade Example. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (2017; 27:11 minutes)
Departing from usual classroom routines offers rewards those students who thrive on novelty, and if structured with clarity and good preparation, can heighten engagement of a wide range of students because the approach is fresh. There are many resources for good ideas. Some examples include
- Having students move around the room in teams as they examine primary sources
- Offering independent project development with research support
- Paired activities for analysis of sources, completion of graphic organizers
Educators who follow Universal Design for Learning principles provide multiple ways to represent concepts to students of differing ability levels. When working with primary sources, teachers use variety both in the sources themselves and in the formats used to examine the sources.
Primary source representations can include
- Text passages (with related translations and transcriptions)
- Formal documents
- Personal narratives and letters
- Newspapers, books, log books
- Maps and blueprints produced at the time of study
- Photos, paintings, drawings that document a perspective
- Cartoons that use symbolism and captions
- Sound recordings of interviews or songs
- Objects from the past–actual or reproductions, such as a rotary telephone, clothing, ink well, medals, etc.
Secondary sources and teaching techniques can extend the variety in the means of representation:
- Teacher presentations of information, with or without audiovisual aids
- Text presentation of information, including textbooks, non-fiction books, period fiction and poetry, historical novels
- Produced audio and video presentation of information, with mix of sounds and images (podcasts, films)
- Maps produced for various purposes
- Graphic organizers that use text and groups of lists
- Graphic organizers that use spatial relationships, diagrams, and aggregate charts (add a dot for every instance of…). A Periodic Table of Visual Representation Methods organizational chart offers links to dozens of options; click here for the method types in list form.
- Manipulative models and representations of information (for example: laminated country shapes to be placed on maps, color coded to represent categories being represented)
- Whole-body activities that represent information, as in when students stand in groups to represent economic data, or move to show rotation and orbit of a planet around a star.
Model Lesson: See how oral histories and a mix of maps and other documents are used to represent the Pearl Harbor bombing. Pearl Harbor LessonHow students can take action to use what they are learning and express what they have learned is a distinctive element in Universal Design for Learning. Just as the means of representing and conveying information to students should be varied (see Representation, above), student expressions of learning should be varied to allow students with differing strengths and abilities to display learning in alternative ways.
Developing additions and alternatives to expository writing as a the traditional and primary means of summarizing and expressing learning will enhance teaching of History and the Social Sciences for all students. Following the principles of UDL, students should be given the chance to express themselves using written and spoken word, visuals, and technology.
Model Lesson: Monuments in Washington D.C. Students design a brochure of the Monuments of Washington D.C.
Alternative forms of expression of learning can include
- drawing simple (or elaborate) comic strips or graphic novel pages
- preparing skits, radio-play episodes, or talking tableau presentations
- writing diary entries or letters to the editor in the persona of a person from the events being studied
- creating annotated maps or diagrams related to places or events under study
- preparing a poster that advertises, educates, or dramatizes
- creating a data summary (weather data, population data, widows pension applications, number of ships)
The critical element is creating alternatives that allow students to show different strengths, and to work around any barriers that prevent some students from being able to express learning in one way that they can show in another.
Emerging America built this digital resource to provide ongoing support for K-12 teachers of history, social studies, and humanities to challenge and nurture struggling learners. Sign up to be alerted when we offer the online version of the Accessing Inquiry for Students with Disability through Primary Sources course.
Modules of the Accessing Inquiry Digital Resource