Universal design for learning (UDL) can greatly improve learning opportunities for all students including students in world language classrooms. In order to participate in a multicultural world, all students need to understand the many benefits and opportunities that come with learning another language. In my career there have been times when special education teachers have expressed concern in placing students with individual education plans in world language classrooms. I have assured them of the flexibility that a world language classroom can and should have and reminded them of the many social and cognitive benefits of learning another language.
The world language classroom naturally lends itself to a variety of methods in line with universal design. Below I have described how I have successfully designed curriculum for world language students that are responsive to the needs of a variety of diverse learners and can sustain students’ interest.
Snapshot of a classroom that incorporates UDL practices:
- The learning goal is clearly posted in a variety of formats.
- Students have a device or access to a device and earbuds that allow them to access information and search for information using the Internet.
- There are textbooks, dictionaries and other print resources in the room, as well as access to digital texts.
- There are supports such as a word wall and bilingual posters with sentence frames that are posted around the room.
- A supply cart is in the room with supplies for students who need pencils, markers or other supplies.
- There are a variety of seating choices in the room, including tables, a carpeted area, a comfy padded bench and desks with tennis balls on the feet, so students can form and change flexible groups quietly and quickly.
- Classroom behavior expectations with the students’ signatures are posted to remind students of the agreement on how the class will work together.
- The teacher’s desk and/or table provide space for conferring with individual students and small groups.
- Samples of student work showing the different ways that they have demonstrated their learning are on display.
How students learn?
- The learning goal is made clear. The goal, in the target language, is posted and referred to daily. Keeping the goal clear and present is critical. How students will get there as individuals can be flexible.
- Students have opportunities to lead. Students are encouraged to lead warmups as “the teacher of the day” and other activities. Students can lead alone or in groups of two or three. Working together with fellow classmates in a leadership role assures more participation and can relieve anxiety.
- Large group, small group and individual instruction is provided and content is presented in diverse ways. Providing students with diverse ways to learn new content and conferring with individuals supports diverse learning styles, abilities and proficiencies.
- Students have opportunities to collaborate with peers daily. Students need time and opportunities to practice language with their peers. Students are grouped purposefully for specific tasks to encourage and support language development. Students are provided with supports such as speaking frames and vocab lists as needed.
- Students have access to online and print materials. Using a learning management system allows teachers to create an independent learning experience for students as well as provide easy access to informative and engaging learning resources. This allows students to learn and review at their own pace. Creating learning modules with links to videos, quizzes, vocab games and online digital text makes learning accessible at all times when they have an Internet connection and a device.
- There are established daily routines and practices that include the message that all students have equal opportunities to learn and that the teacher and students support each other in the learning process regardless of any individual student’s proficiency and ability. One routine that I have used that provides a regular opportunity for all to participate involves random pulling of sticks with students’ names for any given task.
How students show what they learned?
- Students are assessed in all modes of communication and in a variety of ways. Traditional paper and pencil tests, digital assessments and performance tasks with different levels of scaffolding are incorporated in formative and summative assessments.
- Students make decisions on how to show what they have learned and then share with other students. For example, students may demonstrate a dialogue, make a poster, or teach a mini lesson to other students as a demonstration of their learning. This student choice can instill excitement and maintain motivation for student learning.
- Students and the teacher participate in the creation of rubrics related to expectations of performance tasks in formative and summative assessments.
- There are opportunities for students to meet with the teacher individually or in small groups for assessment and feedback on a regular basis.
Teachers who get to know their individual students and their needs will appropriately plan and implement learning experiences that meet the needs of diverse learners. Not attending to the needs of diverse learners is a disservice to children as it closes doors to future school and work opportunities and participation in a multicultural world.
Patricia A. Hanson has held a variety of positions in K-12 education including administrator, English language learner specialist, and Spanish teacher. She earned a Ph.D. in Urban Education from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.