Designing Learning for All
Redesigned and Reimagined Spaces Greet Students
Each year, teachers in Fraser are provided professional development opportunities. Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, the focus of that development was Universal Design for Learning. UDL focuses on three main areas: classroom and environmental design; culturally responsive design; and design for executive function.
This year teachers are beginning to implement the UDL principles in their classrooms and lessons.
A cohort of about 40 teachers participated in a deeper level of UDL training last year. Using funds set aside in the 2017 bond, they selected new furniture to redesign the physical space in their classrooms.
When students returned on September 3, they were greeted with flexible furniture in select classrooms and spaces across the district.
In the elementary schools and Richards Middle School, the rooms represent the entire grade level or content area. For example, 5th-grade classrooms at Disney Elementary, kindergarten classrooms at Eisenhower Elementary and 7th grade English Language Arts classrooms at RMS were redesigned.
The new furniture is flexible and most has white board surfaces. Students were excited to try out the different seating and learning areas. The furniture is designed to engage and motive and allows students to thrive, participate and become expert learners.
At Fraser High School, several career and technical education areas were also redesigned. The cyber lab, health sciences classrooms and STEM lab are now outfitted with new furniture that better meets the needs of today’s learners and prepare them for real-world settings.
Fraser Public Schools Leads the Way with Universal Design for Learning
Macomb Daily, August 2, 2019
Things are going to look different in Julie Ricci’s and Mandy Telegadas’ kindergarten classroom this fall.
The two Eisenhower Elementary teachers are among the first set of Fraser staff members introducing the district’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model classrooms, using furniture and other classroom materials to create an intentional, learner-centered space.
The model classrooms will highlight sensory experiences, cultural backgrounds and flexibility so that all students can learn and thrive in an environment that is comfortable and makes sense for them.
The furniture arrangement supports today’s style of teaching, which includes collaboration, flexibility and student-controlled learning.
“The way we teach children has changed,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Donna Anderson, “and we have to create learners that are adaptive and flexible. Kids need different ways of engagement.”
UDL addresses this with small group settings and sensory-friendly spaces that can help children take control of their behavior and make choices that impact their learning.
The model classrooms feature tables and chairs of varying heights, classroom wall décor that reflects the cultures of current student families and a small group area with a “grassy mound” of Astroturf for students who want sensory-friendly input.
“It’s about meeting kids where they are at,” said Anderson.
Ricci has been a teacher for 22 years, but studying UDL made her re-think some classroom processes. After attending one seminar in particular, she returned to her classroom, took a photo and was amazed by what she saw. She described it as overwhelming and she immediately knew that she had to remove some of the “visual noise” so her students could focus more on the tasks at hand.
Ricci is energized about the changes and how they will impact children. She knows kindergarteners love to move and are eager to learn. With flexible seating and tables with different surfaces, like a dry erase board, she knows that UDL will meet their individual needs and personalize their learning experience.
Beyond furniture, UDL utilizes materials, methods and routines to positively impact students. Part of UDL is culturally responsive design. This recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of the learning and environment.
Telegadas plans to incorporate cultural aspects is the classroom by asking families to do a scrapbook page project. This way the students’ peers not only learn about their classmate, but also their families, cultures and traditions.
Another aspect of UDL is executive function. This is the term for the way brains are wired to handle organization, self-regulation and achievement of goals. It allows people to make plans, stay on task and control their behavior. The executive function of younger learners is often in different stages of development, so from a teaching standpoint, kindergarten teachers need to set the tone with visual clues to show what comes next in order to establish routines. For Telegadas, that means simplifying directions, providing reminders and taking apart lessons to review them from a more kid-friendly perspective.
While all staff members did receive an overall introduction to UDL, 43 Fraser K-8 teachers attended extensive professional development training during the first cohort of implementation this past year. These teachers represent each elementary and middle school building.
Ricci is thrilled to participate in cohort 2 as a model classroom. She has put much thought into the overall design of her room and how it can help break down barriers to learning. Kindergarten is an essential step in a child’s education, so getting students on the road to develop the ability for critical thinking, creativity and collaboration is important.
Of course, a kindergarten classroom looks very different from a middle school classroom. UDL is flexible because the goal is to bring out the best in learners and to be intentional and purposeful about arranging classroom space.
This can easily translate into a 7th or 8th grade classroom with small tables and a computer monitor on each that students can use to collaborate on projects together, for example. In a high school Career and Technical Education (CTE) class, the classroom can mimic a workplace environment.
Fraser Public Schools is in the second year of its five-year UDL implementation plan. Administrators plan to roll out more model classrooms in all grade levels in future years.