Teaching to the Edges: Putting it into Practice

Students are diverse, and they come to the classroom with many different skills, kinds of knowledge, and background experiences. Everything they bring offers an asset to the group’s experience of learning. See if you can think of some examples. Compare your ideas with those in the table below.

The Student His or Her Skills, Knowledge, or Background How it’s an Asset to the Class
Miguel, an English learner in the fourth grade Speaks Spanish and is learning English Helps all the students learn some Spanish; provides examples of words in English and Spanish that are similar because they come from Latin
Charla, a fifth-grade student who is deaf and who uses sign language Belongs to and understands Deaf Culture Provides support to others modeled on experiences with the supports provided to her through participation in Deaf Culture
William, a first-grade student with autism Enjoys repetitive tasks Models perseverance
Ruth Ann, a third grader who grew up in rural West Virginia and has recently moved to Columbus, Ohio Knows a large number of folk stories, especially ghost stories Shares insights about literature

The diverse characteristics of students also point to their unique needs. For example, to read well in English, Miguel needs to expand his oral vocabulary in English. Charla may need to see visual cues to represent or substitute for sounds. William may need to learn how to transition from one activity to another, and Ruth Ann may need to learn the differences between the phonemes in her dialect and those used in standard American English.

Learning about your students is an important first step in planning lessons for them. The next step involves figuring out where they are along a learning progression that fits with an important academic standard.

At this point, one option is to consider grouping students based on the commonality of their needs. This is called flexible grouping. Grouping has downsides, however, but it’s easier to do than creating UDL lessons.

If you are ready to try UDL, it’s helpful to work with a team. Together you can design lessons that offer options. With enough options, a UDL lesson can meet some of the unique needs of each child while at the same time giving that child opportunities to learn from and interact with peers.