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Universal design in the science classroom

July 6, 2012

*This review was written by Brenda Cornwell (uploaded by Jerrid Kruse)

Reference:  Cawley, J. F., T. E. Foley, and J. Miller (2003). “Science and Students with Mild Disabilities: Principles of Universal Design.” Intervention in School and Clinic 38.3: 160-71. Print.

What is known:

  • Subject matter education is basic to programming for students with mild disabilities
  • Science is flexible and has encompassing capability to address academic, social-personal, cognitive, and life needs of students when presented appropriately (currently lacking in general education standards)
  • Collaboration needed between special educators and science educators
  • Partnership between meaningful curricula and specially designed instructions for science is needed

What this research adds:

  • Universal design to guide science program that includes:  flexible curricula, multiple representations of information, multiple or modified means of expression and control, and multiple or modified means of motivating and engaging
  • Literacy dependence – the general approach of reading to learn science is in opposition to the available data relative to program effectiveness.  Hands-on approaches to instruction offer more diversity in activity
  • Flexible Curriculum should include the following elements:  content School district or teacher plays important role in selecting), level (age/grade), pacing (rate and amount of time devoted to a topic), mass (amount and type of knowledge presented), complexity, and sequencing (one component building on another)
  • Science for All Children – 4 essential components
    • All teachers have all the materials for all the grades
    • There are multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement
    • There are no significant demands for proficiency in reading and writing
    • There is an unlimited number of material formats and supplemental activities can be incorporated into the program

Implications for practice:

  • Use a combination of instructional practices that include curriculum and expected outcomes
  • Instruction should match the expected outcomes of the student
  • When developing instructional practices, relate them to the goal of the lesson.  May include: expository instruction, guided meaning, and problem solving
  • For example, a lesson may begin with explicit instruction and then be extended to included guided meaning through questioning that requires critical thinking.  From there, the teacher could draw on previous experiences and give the students a problem to solve related to the overall content objective.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2012 9:09 am

    “There are no significant demands for proficiency in reading and writing.”

    This is a very challenging idea.

  2. July 7, 2012 9:15 am

    I would urge you to look more deeply into the concepts of Universal Design as you investigate how to apply it in any classroom. Universal Design for Learning when truly embraced replaces “school (teacher) decision making” with “student decision making” – replacing the American traditions of pathologizing and diagnosing “disabilities” and prescribing solutions while labelling students with a concept of tool choice (see and ) with “tool” and “technology” described as broadly as possible.

    This is based in a theory I call “transactional disability” (though others might use different words) and presumes – to a great extent – that there is no difference between “inability” and “disability” – that we are all “able” with or without tools. And in the concept that humans are “tool users” and the most important thing we learn to do is to choose and use tools well.

    Thus, I would argue, it is not that “there are no significant demands for proficiency in reading and writing,” because there are high needs for information intake and output, but rather that we redefine reading and writing in a contemporary and universal way and it is not that “instruction should match the expected outcomes of the student,” but that “opportunities to learn should align with the learning needs of the students.” We never want to limit students – especially labelled students – to our (often disturbingly low) “expectations.”

    In the end, Universal Design is not about programming or even instruction, it is about “ending required sameness” and perhaps “expected sameness.” And it is about granting full humanity to every student, with the right to learn to make good choices – but not necessarily the teacher’s choices.

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