Universal Design for Learning and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

..collaborative teachers also value and build upon the knowledge, personal experiences, language, strategies, and culture that students bring to the learning situation." (ibid)

This teaching procedure has the advantage of being multidirectional and not limited to the teachers directed knowledge only. This obviously allows for a more inclusive approach and for those student at different levels to express themselves in this environment.

The following is an example of how this process should work.

Consider a lesson on insect-eating plants, for example. Few students, and perhaps few teachers, are likely to have direct knowledge about such plants. Thus, when those students who do have relevant experiences are given an opportunity to share them, the whole class is enriched. Moreover, when students see that their experiences and knowledge are valued, they are motivated to listen and learn in new ways, and they are more likely to make important connections between their own learning and "school" learning. They become empowered. This same phenomenon occurs when the knowledge parents and other community members have is valued and used within the school.

An important aspect of the collaborative classroom is the sharing of authority - which is an aspect which also has raised concern among many educators. The theory is that, while previously the teacher would set all tasks and work assignments, in a collaborative or inclusive teaching environment the students are invited to participate. They can for example, "... set specific goals within the framework of what is being taught, provide options for activities and assignments that capture different student interests and goals, and encourage students to assess what they learn." (ibid) The teacher would then guide the student, and suggest areas for further research and learning. The teacher is therefore seen more in the role of mediator and facilitator than a traditional authoritarian figure.

This approach has a number of decided educational advantages. For example, mediation from teachers in this environment assists the strident to connect to the new information provided through his or her personal experiences - making the learning process more relevant. An important aspect is that students learn about the process of learning. As the facilitator and mediator the teacher provides support and balance to ensure that the students are acquiring the most effective level of education.

This approach is especially successful when it comes to the heterogeneous classroom and inclusive teaching methods, where students have various degrees of ability and different levels and types of interest. Probably the most important aspect in this regard is that the student "...is engaged in a thinking curriculum, everyone learns from everyone else, and no student is deprived of this opportunity for making contributions and appreciating the contributions of others." (ibid)

In other words students are not separated and segregated according to their ability or previous achievements. This is a crucial aspect of inclusive teaching and has been shown to have many positive aspects. Educators state that "...segregation weakens collaboration," (ibid) and in effect impoverishes and reduces the possibilities inherent in the learning environment.

Students we might label unsuccessful in a traditional classroom learn from "brighter" students, but, more importantly, the so-called brighter students have just as much to learn from their more average peers. Teachers beginning to teach collaboratively often express delight when they observe the insights revealed by their supposedly weaker students."

The above also implies a very different teaching method and approach in the combination of collaborative and inclusive methods. As Tinzmann et al. In their article What Is the Collaborative Classroom? state:

Across this nation, teachers are defining their roles in terms of mediating learning through dialogue and collaboration. While mediation has been defined in different ways by Reuven Feuerstein, Lev Vygotsky and others, we define mediation here as facilitating, modeling, and coaching. Most teachers engage in these practices from time to time. What is important here is that these behaviors (1) drive instruction in collaborative classrooms, and (2) have specific purposes in collaborative contexts.

This also implies that teachers involved in this process are required to create rich learning environments which also include activities and opportunities for collaborative work. This may be range from something as simple as arranging desks to the use of computers and multimedia technology to enhance the inclusive and collaborative modes of teaching.

Other teaching aspects that can be used are the inclusion of elements and subjects from the lives and homes of the students in order to induce and facilitate more involvement. Collaborative classrooms also usually have a wide variety of media and reading material at hand, such as magazines an video, which is intended to stimulate discussion and explore the various resources.

There are many other aspects to consider in terms of teaching methods in this environment.

An important area is the structure of the classroom and the role of the students themselves in determining this structure. Parents and the community may also be brought into various learning projects to enhance this aspect. A contentious issue, which many see as disadvantageous, is that, within an inclusive and collaborative system, classroom rules should be determined by the students as well as by the teacher or teachers.

In this environment the Socratic teaching method also becomes a viable and advantageous tool. The Socratic Method refers to the "Method of teaching used by Socrates, in which he aimed to guide pupils to clear thinking on ethics and politics by asking questions and then exposing their inconsistencies in cross-examination." (The Hutchinson Encyclopedia) This method is pertinent to the collaborative method in that it situates the teacher as a mediator and facilitator in the learning process. It is also a method which encapsulates the central motivating factors behind collaborative teaching - to stimulate and encourage the student to explore and learn. This is achieved not by coercion but through questioning and suggesting various avenues of exploration.

The Socratic Method is about moving people along -- in a direction they want to go. It's not coercion, or manipulation -- its a means to help people see the world around them, and how they think about it, more clearly The "moving" is done by guiding and, when necessary, nudging people to examine those things they take for granted such as their assumptions, beliefs, experiences, and paradigms. The Socratic Method uses questions to challenge these things, to check their accuracy and their completeness. Through these questions the Socratic Method guides people on a journey of discovery and moves them toward greater understanding and increased performance.

Patnode, Maj. Norman H.


5.1. Pods

The idea of the " pod" is an innovative concept that is related tot the structuring of the collaborative classroom and has excited educators in terms of future teaching (Arnot C. 2003) At a simple level pods can refer to the arrangement of desks or seating in the classroom that is designed as an environment for group sharing and discussion.; often with a designated student mediator to facilitate the process. However, beyond this, the idea of a learning environment as a self-contained "pod" has been touted as the future of collaborative and inclusive learning.

One of the leading advocators of pods is Professor Stephen Molyneux, director of the University of Wolverhampton's Learning Lab. He is also known as one of Europe's leading experts in the field of learning technologies. He foresees a "...not-too-distant future in which youngsters are taught within a building that is itself a learning resource rather than just a physical entity. Exercise books will be replaced with electronic 'tablets' that pupils can carry about and write on while exploring the classroom." (Shahid Naqvi. 2003) This view takes collaborative leaning classrooms to new heights and possibilities of learning and teaching potential. 'It is about putting teachers and pupils in places that will enhance those skills to build the knowledge economy rather than using the crude mindsets we used to build the industrial society.' (ibid) The pod would be adaptable to suit various learning environments.

Conclusion: advantages and disadvantages.

A number of the advantages and disadvantages have already been referred to in the above discussion. Central to the advantages of this type of teaching and learning process is the very flexibility and openness that the collaborative method offers. This method, as well as the principle of inclusion, offers a new teaching model where the student is more involved and there is a more genuine reciprocity between student and teachers. The main advantage is obviously that in this environment learning is no longer a "forced" process carried out through an authoritarian structure.

It is to be expected that many educators have raised numerous concerns about this method as it challenges established and traditional teaching methods. The most contentious aspect for many traditional educators is the aspect of control and structure in the classroom. Teachers are concerned that the collaborative method would mean a breakdown of order and discipline. Advocates of collaborative teaching point out that that the essence of this method relies on bringing the student into the process within…

Sources Used in Document:


Arnot C. (2003) The learning pod. Retrieved August 7, 2005. Web site: http://education.guardian.co.uk/curriculumonline/story/0,12708,902015,00.html

Bowe, F.G. (2000). Universal Design in Education: Teaching Nontraditional Students. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Byra, M., & Jenkins, J. (2000). Matching Instructional Tasks to Learner Ability: The Inclusion Style of Teaching. JOPERD -- The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 71(3), 26. Retrieved August 9, 2005, from Questia database, http://www.questia.com.

Cawley, J.F., Foley, T.E., & Miller, J. (2003). Science and Students with Mild Disabilities: Principles of Universal Design. Intervention in School & Clinic, 38(3), 160+.

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