In 2003, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC), an Indiana district serving 11,000 students, began implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in a single pilot school. Today, UDL principles are applied to one degree or another in all of the district’s 19 schools, first begun as part of a statewide UDL initiative called the PATINS project.
Dr. Tracey Hall, Senior Research Scientist at CAST, recently visited the district, where she spoke with teachers and administrators at a UDL Institute and witnessed first-hand UDL implementation in the schools.
In the following interviews, CAST asked three district professionals—George Van Horn, District Director of Special Education Services; Jeff Backmeyer, Principal of Mt. Healthy Elementary School; and Julie Calfee, a teacher at Northside Middle School—to share their perspectives on how UDL is changing teaching and learning in their district.
Why bring UDL into your district?
In this excerpt George Van Horn stresses that he along with Bill Jensen (Director of Secondary Education) and Karen Garrity (Director of Elementary Education) were all focused on improving instruction. They had already adopted inclusionary practices for their district and, rather than add on services, the next leap forward needed to come from a focus on improving core instruction. UDL aligned with their core beliefs.
What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
George addresses the challenge of UDL being viewed as strictly a special education initiative, talking about the importance of a team approach to improving instruction, and emphasizes the critical support his superintendent and school board gave to the district’s UDL implementation.
What resources are in place to support your district-wide implementation?
Through a state grant and stimulus funding, BCSC has hired a UDL Project Director on a contract basis to help embed the language of UDL and connect it with teacher practice. They’ve also hired an instructional technologist who works with teachers helping them connect technology with their instruction. Here George describes the key role their UDL Project Director, Loui Lord Nelson, plays in keeping them focused on instruction.
What’s happening now? Give some perspectives from the district, school, and classroom.
George, in visits to classrooms in the district, sees teachers enjoying a new-found creativity that comes from asking teachers to do things in multiple ways. He observes their increased thirst for knowledge and a new mindset taking root.
Jeff Backmeyer, Principal at Mt. Healthy Elementary School, sees that teachers are beginning to use the UDL vocabulary to describe their teaching practices. He also notices that teachers are asking for tools and resources that integrate technology.
Julie Calfee, a middle school ELA teacher at Northside Middle School, reflects on how she applies the UDL principles in her classroom. Her rich description of her teaching practices around the three principles of UDL is exemplary; it’s clear that she has integrated UDL in ways that work for her students.
Jeff reflects on his first days at Mt. Healthy and thinks about where they are headed today. “What’s first engaging to teachers about UDL is that it’s engaging for students. That’s their first hook.” Now he sees teachers being able to use the language of UDL to describe what’s working about their teaching practice.
George describes instructional improvement as a marathon, not a sprint, and sees UDL as a means to structure systemic change in ways that focus on high quality teaching and learning rather than test scores.
According to Dr. Hall, “Bartholomew is a great example — and also a realistic one — of UDL implementation. The aspiration to support, challenge, and engage all learners begins by addressing very practical issues, such as how to leverage existing resources to support UDL, and by recognizing that implementation takes time, training, and patience. I admire BCSC for stepping up to the challenge.”
We asked George for advice for those looking to implement UDL. Below is his list of recommendations.
1. Begin with literature and examples of UDL that are low/no-tech. Focus on instruction not technology. He recommends reading A Practical Reader in Universal Design for Learning, edited by David H. Rose and Anne Meyer, and a Teacher Project Planning Form with UDL developed by BCSC.
2. Provide all instruction about UDL utilizing the principles of UDL and point out what you are doing along the way (i.e., model what you want to have happen in the classroom).
3. Prepare a variety of tools and supports to help with the implementation of UDL that meet the learning needs of adult learners. For example, BCSC created a “help desk” feature on their website offering teachers just-in-time support on lesson planning with UDL. Teachers have a BCSC Rubric of the UDL Guidelines and they also developed a Reflective Questionnaire teachers can use to examine their application of UDL in the classroom.
4. When training the teachers who will be bringing UDL into a building, develop and apply a data collection process (e.g., a specific time and or format used by teachers to demonstrate how they are communicating information about UDL to their fellow staff members and how they know UDL is being implemented).
BCSC website with UDL resources
Lesson plans using UDL (elementary, middle, high school)
Talking with parents about UDL (Word doc)