July 1 Demo Classroom: Universal Design Learning

150 150 DC Special Education Cooperative

July 1 Demo Classroom showcases teaching techniques to improve learning retention, inclusion

Earlier this month, the DC Special Education Cooperative launched its first ever demo classroom on Co-Teaching Practices at Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School.

The session’s overwhelming success has fueled the demo classroom program to offer its second installment July 1, focusing on Universal Design Learning (UDL) at Bridges Public Charter School.

“Our demo classroom program is one of the most exciting initiatives we have launched here at The Co-op,” said Executive Director Julie Camerata. “We see it as an opportunity to connect with educators at a personal, one-on-one level to open up an unlimited number of possibilities for improving both teacher skills and learner outcomes using UDL.”

The demo classroom in July, builds upon the organization’s efforts to expand UDL within DC, by showcasing an interactive environment where educators can explore new techniques with practitioners.

UDL is an educational framework strategy. It is based on extensive study of learning sciences and covers cognitive neuroscience techniques to guide the development of flexible learning environments and spaces to accommodate individual learning differences.

This framework, accepted widely among innovative educators, takes into account 3 core principles:

  • Multiple Means of Student Engagement
  • Multiple Means of Representation
  • Multiple Means of Action & Expression

“UDL encourages educators to look at conventional and non-conventional teaching methods, so concepts can reach traditional and exceptional learners,” Camerata said. “When we approach subjects from different directions, using different modalities, we can help all students grasp concepts that otherwise might not resonate with them.”

Bridges PCS is excited to host the first demo classroom. The UDL aligns with their vision, which touts that improving education for the most vulnerable populations also improves education for all students.

“The Bridges PCS student population is incredibly diverse,” said Olivia Smith, Founder & Director of Bridges PCS. “Our Pre-K to 5th grade program student population is filled with 55 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, 42 percent of students who are English Language Learners and 36 percent of students with special needs.”

Smith goes on to say all of the general education classrooms in the school are reflective of this diversity; and the school has special education classrooms to exclusively serve students with high-level special needs.

“The 4th grade teaching team of Nakita Packer and Brandon Woodland have been challenged and engaged in implementing the strategies and approaches of UDL,” she said. ”Their commitment to implementing UDL to support our students is having amazingly positive results and they are excited by what they are seeing.”

Smith’s pride at the accomplishments of her educators’ successes is evident as she explains: “One morning in November, I was walking down the hallway with Ms. Packer and Mr. Woodland before the school day had started.

“They shared with me how the whole class had done well on a test that week,” she said, smiling. “Everyone was able to demonstrate that they grasped the material covered. Mr. Woodland’s and Ms. Packer’s pride in their students and the assessment results were visible on their faces as we talked.”

Hosting the demo classroom is an additional sense of pride for Smith and her staff, as the school looks to expand its use of UDL across its classroom structure.

“Having a model UDL classroom in our building for our other teachers to observe and see in action, will be really helpful in the work of expanding the use of UDL to the larger school program,” she said.

DC Special Education Cooperative is thrilled to offer continued professional development in the area of UDL as it is a well-proven, effective method for the inclusion of students with disabilities.

“As new technologies evolve, it is only natural our educational tools should too,”  Camerata said. “UDL leaves room for us to grow with the times in making sure we find the most effective ways for students to grasp concepts in all subjects, and not rely strictly on verbal instruction.”

The Co-op will be launching other demo classrooms across the DC Charter School landscape to shed light on other learning and teaching methods proven to improve educational outcomes for DC students. Its first demo classroom, held in June, focused on co-teaching practices. The recording and other valuable tools can be found here.