As you may know, the Ministry of Education is currently in the process of implementing a new vision for public education in BC which is outlined in a document entitled The BC Education Plan . While I don’t intend to talk at length about the plan today, at the heart of this vision is a ‘personalized’ approach to learning that serves to capitalize on the interests, preferences, learning styles, and passions of our students in their everyday learning experiences at school.
In reading this document, I am struck by how here in New Westminster we are already incorporating many of the features of this personalized approach to learning. One such example is Universal Design for Learning or UDL, which is a systematic approach to teaching and assessment that strives to meet the needs of ALL learners, ALL of the time. The beauty of UDL is that it allows teachers to create flexible goals, materials, and assessments that can accommodate a variety of student differences, thus allowing ALL students to be active participants.
Currently in New Westminster, we have UDL ‘Action Teams’ consisting of over 90 teachers from elementary, middle, secondary, and youth alternate schools in the district. You should know that this number represents approximately 20 percent of our entire teaching force in the district! These teams are led by Ms. Janet Grant, Director of Instruction, Student Services, and are based on a collaborative, interactive model where teachers plan together and share successes and challenges.
At the heart of this exciting model is a three-part approach which allows students to demonstrate their knowledge through multiple means of ‘representation’, ‘expression’, and ‘engagement’ (see it here). This powerful approach moves well beyond the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model by providing teachers with the tools to customize teaching and learning to suit their students’ needs, strengths, and learning styles. SMART Board technology has also been used extensively in our schools by Action Team members to help implement the UDL principles.
As Superintendent, it fills me with great pride and appreciation to see the sheer number of teachers in New Westminster who have embraced Universal Design for Learning so passionately and at all grade levels in our district. I am constantly amazed by how skillfully our teachers are able to create such powerful and transformative learning experiences for our students every day. This passion reflects a deep and abiding commitment to innovation, quality-teaching, and life-long learning which is so important for our students.
And what about the kids? How do they feel about UDL? Here are just a few comments;
“It was like we were learning and having fun all at the same time.” (Grade 3 student); “It helped me because it helped me see the water cycle moving.” (Grade 4 student); “The Smart Board made the lessons more visual and easier to understand the topics.” (Grade 9 student).
Teachers involved in UDL Action Teams report that their students seem to be more engaged, more attentive, and show higher levels of motivation, owing in part to the increased use of visuals, movement, animation, digital media, and other ‘multimodal’ means to achieving desired learning outcomes through UDL.
It’s amazing to think about the transformation that is occurring right now in the field of public education and its positive impact on our kids. One such transformative approach is certainly UDL, which is presently thriving here in New Westminster and will no doubt continue to increase its presence in the months and years ahead. I am overwhelmed by the quality of the work we have accomplished in this area to date, and I will continue to keep you posted as our progress continues along this exciting path.