Universal Design for Living and Learning (Republished from Oct '14)

As Virginia Ressa and I presented our session, Reaching Every Student through Universal Design for Learning and Formative Instructional Practices, last week at the Educators Connect for Success Conference, it occurred to me that this blog from last October was worth revisiting. 

To download our presentation from the conference, click here. 

It feels unimaginable. It's a typical summer day and you're riding your bicycle along a nearby bike trail. Then, suddenly a 3 1/2 ton tree that once stood 80 feet tall, falls and crushes you, paralyzing you from the waist down. You return to your home in a wheelchair after six weeks only to realize you cannot get into your own house due to steps at every door. Then, once that obstacle is addressed, you discover that you can’t access the bathroom because the doorways are too narrow; your use of the kitchen is extremely limited because you can’t reach the cabinets or have access to the oven.

Rosemarie rossetti, ph.d.

Rosemarie rossetti, ph.d.

When this happened to Dr. Rosemarie Rossetti in 1998, she realized that her own home had intensified her disability. Moreover, since her business was in the basement, even her livelihood was being compromised.

But Rosemarie is an accomplished Central Ohio woman with a history of ingenuity and determination. Once she stumbled upon the concept of Universal Design, she set her sights on building a new home—her dream home—one that not only met her own needs, now that she was effectively 4-foot tall while seated in her wheelchair, but equally those of her husband, Mark Leder, who stands over 6- foot tall.

image courtesy of http://www.udll.com/

image courtesy of http://www.udll.com/

Building her new home began as a necessity and evolved into a mission. Now, 16 years later, Rosemarie’s dream house is nearly completed, and, through a community effort, is a model for best practice in universal design (UD). In fact, it is the highest rated UD house in North America!

What is universal design? Simply put, UD is designing from the inside out; constructing and crafting environments that serve the needs of all of its dwellers. It is less about retrofitting spaces for accessibility by adding features or modifying structures; it is moreabout well-designed spaces that require fewer individualized modifications. Everyone benefits.

Rosemarie and her husband collaborated with several builders and interior designers to meticulously create what is now a life, work, and education space. They recruited support along the way from a myriad of sponsors and volunteers, and will soon be opening their home to the public. Here, architects and designers can learn more about the features of this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home (it is also a green home), and how the concepts can be integrated into their own design thinking.

What about your own design thinking? Do you think about instructional design and learning spaces in the same ways that Rosemarie thinks about home design? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) borrows the concepts that Ronald Mace put forward in 1988 concerning architecture, and applies it to teaching and learning. Universal Design for Learning is an orientation to student learning that focuses on all students and how we create adaptive environments that are good for all of them. UDL focuses on the ways we assure that learners can adequately receive information, express their understandings, and meaningfully engage with peers. UDL is entirely consonant with FIP. After all, formative instructional practices (FIP) are about how teachers create ways to increase student ownership by focusing on helping students to know where they are in their learning, where they are going, and how they can get there. FIP teachers constantly examine if their efforts result in students becoming clear, confident and self-reliant on their path to mastery.

The Reaching Every Student module series focuses on UDL principles. The three modules extend the foundational module learning by asking educators to carefully consider the components of FIP and to make sure that their decisions increase each student’s ownership and mastery of their learning. 

Specifically, the new Formative Instructional Practices: Reaching Students with Disabilities module deepens teachers’ understanding of how to best use FIP to meet the needs of students with a range of special needs by using FIP to maximize their achievement and growth.

This module is intended for classroom teachers that are interested in improving instruction for all of their students, including students with disabilities. It is also for intervention specialists who may be beginning their FIP journey. It is meant to be used as a companion to the Foundations of FIP and FIP in Action Modules.

Below is an example of what we mean by UDL and FIP thinking.  You will see that there is NO RETRO-FIT IN FIP! To find many more ideas to meet the needs of all your learners, enroll in this module. The module provides strategies and most importantly, ways of thinking about options intended to augment FIP effectiveness.

The story of Rosemarie Rosetti’s demonstration home is inspirational as well as educational. I encourage you to visit http://www.udll.com/ for more information, pictures and a virtual tour. Volunteers are needed to guide tours. So, if you have time, or if you know of students needing service credit, contact Rosemarie at rosemarie@udll.com.

For more about Universal Design for Learning, you can also visit this resource:http://www.ocali.org/project/learn_about_udl/page/udl_resources