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Strategies, Supports and Tips for Working with Students with Disabilities
Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for designing curriculum and instruction that provides all individuals with equal opportunities to learn.  It has its roots in the “universal design movement” in architecture and product design, which calls for the design of products and environments to be usable by all people.  For example, in the environment these are things like curb cuts, sidewalk ramps, closed captioning, etc.  In the workplace, these are things like standing desks, desks at different heights, control buttons in large print or color coded and environmental considerations (e.g., low noise areas, climate control, or physical accessibility). UDL takes that “universal design” concept of “usable by all people” and applies it to the teaching and learning settings.  It calls for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners, regardless of ability, disability, age, gender, or cultural and linguistic background. Implementing UDL principles saves time, saves money, promotes inclusion and assists in avoiding legal issues.  UDL helps us “educate for diversity.”

UDL is an approach to learning that seeks to remove barriers such as inflexibility, one-size-fits-all, or lessons that do not meet the needs of the learners.  Grounded in research of learner differences and effective instructional settings,

UDL principles call for varied and flexible ways of:

  1. Representation:  Giving learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge (the “what” of learning)
  • Examples of Representation:
    • Offering alternatives for auditory and visual information
    • Clarifying vocabulary and symbols
    • Activating or supplying background knowledge
    • Illustrating through multiple media
    • Offering ways of customizing the display of information​
  1. ​​​Expression:  Providing learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know (the “how” of learning)
  • Examples of Expression:
    • Varying the methods for response (written, oral…)
    • Allowing the use “assistive technologies” to demonstrate knowledge
    • Using multiple media for communication
    • Supporting planning and strategy development
    • Building fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance
  1. Engagement:  Tapping into learners’ interests; offering appropriate challenges; and increasing motivation (the “why” of learning).
  • Examples of Engagement:
    • Providing choices (projects, work independently, work in pair/groups)
    • Optimizing relevance, value and real-world connections
    • Minimizing threats and distractions
    • Providing opportunities for self-reflection and self-assessment
Learning Strategies: Cognitive and Metacognitive

Learning aids/strategies facilitate the acquisition, manipulation, integration, storage, and retrieval of information across situations and settings. They help us understand and learn new material or skills, integrate this new information with what we already know in ways that makes sense, and recall the information or skill later. There are two types of learning strategies: cognitive and metacognitive.

Cognitive Strategies

These assist a student with processing and manipulating information (i.e., taking notes, asking questions). In other words, these strategies function to produce learning. The list below contains examples of cognitive strategies.
  • Strategy: Rehearsal
    Definition: Reciting items to be learned from a list
    Benefit: Believed to influence the attention and encoding process. It does not seem to help students connect current information with prior knowledge

  • Strategy: Elaboration
    Definition: Summarizing or paraphrasing
    Benefit: Believed to improve a student's ability to store information into the long-term memory by building internal connections between items to be learned; assists with the integration of new information with prior knowledge

  • Strategy: Organization
    Definition: Outlining
    Benefit: Helps learners select appropriate information and construct the connections to be learned

  • Strategy: Analyzing
    Definition: Problem solving, critical thinking
    Benefit: Assists students with applying previous knowledge to new situations in order to solve problems and/or reach decisions
Metacognition Strategies

These strategies assist students in “thinking about thinking.”  Metacognition is an important concept in cognitive theory. It consists of two basic processes occurring simultaneously:
  1. Monitoring your progress as you learn.
  2. Making changes and adapting your strategies if you perceive you are not doing so well.
Metacognition, or awareness of the process of learning, is a critical ingredient to successful learning. Learning how to learn and developing thinking processes that can be applied to solve problems, is a major goal of education. When life presents situations that cannot be solved by learned responses, metacognitive behavior is brought into play. Guidance in recognizing and applying metacognitive strategies will help students successfully solve problems throughout their lives. Metacognitive learners ask themselves and answer questions like:
  • How much time do I need to set aside to learn this? (planning)
  • Do I understand what I am reading or hearing? (self-monitoring)
  • How can I measure my success? (self-evaluation)
Over time, the acquisition and use of metacognitive strategies help students build confidence about their ability to learn. As this confidence builds, independent learning is fostered.
It is important to understand the relationship between metacognitive and cognitive strategies. The metacognitive activities like self-questioning usually occur before or after a cognitive activity. An example of the relationship between the metacognitive and cognitive strategies is a learner who uses self-monitoring when reading. He/she knows that they do not comprehend what they have read (metacognitive) and recognize that they will understand the text better if they create an outline (cognitive).

Strategies to develop metacognition include:
  • Share and model self-monitoring processes (e.g., proofreading, etc.)
  • Explain and provide handouts regarding particular strategies that may be helpful
  • Clarify and model when particular strategies are appropriate
  • Clarify why particular strategies are helpful and useful
Learning Styles

The term learning styles is widely used to describe how learners gather, sift through, interpret, organize, come to conclusions about, and store information for further use.  
Learning styles group common ways that individuals learn.  Some people have a dominant learning style, while others may have a mix of styles.  Some people may find that they use different styles in different situations.  There is no “right” mix.  Nor are learning styles “fixed.”  Many individuals can develop ability in less dominant styles, as well as further develop styles they already use well.  

Learning styles are often categorized by sensory approaches:
  • Visual – preference for “seeing” material to learn it
  • Auditory – preference for “hearing” information to learn it
  • Kinesthetic – preference for “hands on” type of learning
Using these three “sensory approaches,” teachers and students can approach teaching and learning using strength-based strategies.  For example:

Visual
  • Strengths of the visual learner: 
  1. Instinctively follows directions
  2. an easily visualize objects
  3. Has a great sense of balance and alignment
  4. Is an excellent organizer
  • Best ways to learn: 
  1. Studying notes on overhead slides, whiteboards, Smartboards, PowerPoint presentations, etc.
  2. Reading diagrams and handouts
  3. Following a distributed study guide
  4. Reading from a textbook or website
  5. Studying independently
Auditory
  • Strengths of the auditory learner:
  1. Understanding subtle changes in tone in a person's voice
  2. Writing responses to lectures
  3. Oral exams
  4. Story-telling
  5. Solving difficult problems
  6. Working in groups
  • Best ways to learn:
  1. Participating vocally in class
  2. Making recordings of class notes and listening to them
  3. Reading assignments out loud
  4. Studying with a partner or group
Kinesthetic
  • Strengths of the kinesthetic learner:
  1. Great hand-eye coordination
  2. Quick reception
  3. Excellent experimenters
  4. Good at sports, art and drama,
  5. High levels of energy
  • Best ways to learn:
  1. Conducting experiments 
  2. Acting out a play
  3. Studying while standing or moving
  4. Studying while performing an activity like bouncing a ball, using a fidget device, standing, etc.

Other Tips & Strategies for Teaching Students with LD

The national average of students with documented disabilities in the Job Corps is about 26% with some centers reporting significantly higher percentages.  How can staff make sure they are prepared for teaching all students, including those with disabilities?  How Can staff “work smarter,” minimize stress, and create successful learning environments? 

When working with students with LD, specific tips and strategies have been correlated to student and staff retention with consistent positive outcomes.  Some of those specific tips and strategies from special educators include:
  • Teaching smarter:  Better teaching is not a code for “more work.”  Small adjustments in instructional practice can lighten teachers’ burden and improve learning. 
  • Taking time for reflection:  Take time to reflect on what is working, what is not working, and how might you adjust your approach to teaching students with specific disabilities in the future.  
  • Accepting every student as they are:  Students come to us with packages and baggage.  Open and unpack slowly and gently, with kindness, respect, and understanding.  Building a relationship with each student takes time and patience—allow it to happen organically.  Particularly with students with disabilities, if you push it, shove it, or force it, you’ll have to start all over and it may or may not bloom.
  • Active listening is a gift:  Every day, every student will have a problem—or something they perceive to be a problem.  Stop, make eye contact (when appropriate), and listen.  Don’t offer a solution until invited to do so.  Don’t minimize their problem, experience, or situation.  Don’t take their problem to another staff member or superior until you’ve given the student time to think it through.  Sometime all they want is to be heard.
  • Scaffolding a lesson is just good teaching.  Be prepared to break down a lesson and create pieces of learning.  When each piece is explained, modeled, practiced, and applied, the parts fit together solidly to form a whole of understanding.  Too much lecturing, too thick a packet, or too many directions can cause anxiety and disquiet.  One small step at a time usually works best.
  • Ask for help:  Do not assume that you can teach, nurture, feed, clothe, and shelter every student in your class.  Before you jeopardize your physical, emotional, and mental health, it’s important to ask for support.  Your colleagues, Center Mental Health Consultant, the student’s Counselor, Regional Disability Coordinator, and other staff are ready to help you help your students.
  • Start with the right resources:  It can be difficult to find enough tools or instructional strategies to use, but with the right resources, partnerships and connections, it becomes easier to find something for each student. 
  • Design for Less Stress Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL):  All students are different, and one size does not fit all.  Designing environments and tools with disabilities in mind from the start provides solutions that are not only inclusive—they’re also better for everyone. UDL is an approach to learning that seeks to remove barriers such as inflexibility, one-size-fits-all, or lessons that do not meet the needs of the learners. 
Resources

General
Job Corps Specific

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