Culturally Responsive Design for English Learners: The UDL Approach

Culturally Responsive Design for English Learners: The UDL Approach

by Patti Kelly Ralabate, Loui Lord Nelson



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781930583054
Publisher: CAST Professional Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2017
Pages: 232
Sales rank: 102,059
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Loui Lord Nelson, PhD, is an international educational consultant who focuses on Universal Design for Learning. She is the author of the bestseller Design & Deliver (Brookes). Patti Kelly Ralabate, EdD, is the author of the bestseller Your UDL Lesson Planner (Brookes) and former Director of Implementation at CAST, Inc.

Read an Excerpt



This chapter offers an overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). We also present a rationale for Culturally Responsive Design, including planning learning environments and instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students and English learners (ELs), and we describe expert learning and expert teachers.

[] Meet Felicia

"Oh, boy!" Felicia, a 9th-grade biology teacher, remarks as she reviews her class list with her colleague Allyssa, a 10th-grade geometry teacher. "I don't know how I'm going to do it this year. So many of my students are English learners and they come from all over. I don't even know how to pronounce many of the names on my class list."

Allyssa jumps in, "I've been using Culturally Responsive Teaching strategies for years, but this year, I'm also going to integrate UDL — Universal Design for Learning."

"I thought UDL was just for students with disabilities," Felicia counters.

"That's a common misconception about UDL," explains Allyssa. "The UDL framework focuses on how we all learn, which includes the cultural variability and language learning needs of English learners."

"That's just what I need!" declares Felicia. "I'm going to look into UDL."

REFLECTION How do Felicia's concerns relate to your beliefs about your own instruction?

Cultural and Linguistic Diversity and UDL

Felicia's situation is a common one. She is deeply devoted to her teaching, but as her school's student population changes, she finds it more difficult to meet their diverse learning needs. She's heard about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) but has mistakenly believed that it is only helpful for students with disabilities. That's a frequent misunderstanding. As Allyssa asserts, UDL helps educators to address the learning needs of all students, including those who are English learners (ELs).

According to the 2013 U.S. Census, almost 21 percent of people over the age of five speak at least one language other than English (U.S. Census, 2013). As classrooms in the United States become more culturally and linguistically diverse, educators are under pressure to meet the learning needs of ELs without diluting the focus of their educational goals and curriculum, and potentially sacrificing the progress of other students. The good news is that there is a framework they can apply to their lesson planning to reach all learners: Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL offers a unique lesson planning process that helps educators to develop learning environments that respond culturally and proactively to the needs of all learners, including culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students and English learners (Chita-Tegmark, Gravel, Serpa, Domings, & Rose, 2012).

The UDL framework is defined in the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 as "a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice" for all students, "including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient" (see 122 Stat. 3088). Based on learning and cognitive neuroscience research, UDL espouses a set of principles, illustrated in figure 1.1, that drive curriculum and learning environment design. The three UDL principles address specific sets of neural networks and are used by educators to engage learners in learning (i.e., Engagement, addressing the Affective networks), represent accessible and meaningful information (i.e., Representation, addressing with the Recognition networks), and offer options for expressing their learning (i.e., Action and Expression, addressing the Strategic networks).

A key premise of UDL — that curricula should be designed from the outset with built-in flexibility and choice — requires some educators to make a conceptual shift from traditional ways of thinking about lesson design, curriculum, and learners. Educators who use the UDL framework understand that an inflexible, one-size-fits-all curriculum creates barriers that prevent students from reaching learning goals. Rather than expecting learners to access concepts, express their learning, and engage with assessments, materials, and methods in only one way, teachers who apply UDL to their teaching design flexible instruction with multiple options and choices (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Concisely stated, "UDL is a framework that guides the shift from designing learning environments and lessons with potential barriers to designing barrier-free, instructionally rich learning environments and lessons" (Nelson, 2014, p. 2).

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Another common framework for addressing the learning needs of CLD students and ELs that aligns well with UDL is Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). Geneva Gay, a pioneer in the field, defines Culturally Responsive Teaching as "using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (Gay, 2010, p. 31).

CRT builds on the learner's culture. What do we mean by culture? Culture is not limited to ethnic or racial groups. Any group or community possesses culture. According to Ung (2015), culture includes a group's, community's, or society's shared beliefs, values, norms, expectations, practices, and unspoken rules of conduct.

CRT involves valuing, building on, and teaching from each learner's experiences and background knowledge gained through his own interactions within his culture. Gay (2010) doesn't stop there, though. She reminds us that CRT is not just how we design our lessons or structure the environment; CRT is how we acknowledge the importance of cultural diversity in learning. When we understand the value of diversity, we begin to celebrate and "empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (Ladson-Billings, 2001, p. 17–18).

Expert Learners and Expert Teachers

Helping students become expert learners is one of the primary goals of applying UDL to teaching practice. Frankly, no matter what their background, all students can become expert learners. Expert learners are not necessarily the most academically or linguistically proficient students in the classroom. Instead, expert learners are motivated and capable of managing their learning by focusing on a goal and identifying ways to reach that goal. They might not know all of the needed strategies when they begin working toward a goal, but they are resourceful about finding or using new strategies. In a nutshell, Meyer, Rose, & Gordon (2014) define expert learners as resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, goal directed, and purposeful.

Essentially, the process of integrating UDL with the CRT framework depends on your ability, as an expert learner, to (a) find out what you need to know, (b) acquire the desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and then (3) use your new knowledge effectively (Nuri-Robins, Lindsey, Lindsey, & Terrell, 2012).

Together, UDL and CRT create a foundation for creating inclusive instruction and designing learning environments that heighten engagement, clarify academic content and language concepts, and offer meaningful and relevant expression options that help all learners become expert learners.

As you learn more about UDL and CRT, keep in mind these two points: (1) successful instructional change is dependent on first determining that a change in practice is needed, and (2) successfully changing your practice to include UDL and CRT may require a conceptual shift in your existing ideas and beliefs.

Let's be clear: Although you may want to improve your teaching effectiveness, you may also feel that improving student performance is beyond your immediate control. Research suggests otherwise. Although students' backgrounds and abilities, home environment, school climate, school resources, and peer behaviors can impact learning, research reveals that the greatest influence on student success is the teacher (Hattie, 2003). In fact, expert teachers have the most direct impact on student outcomes.

Any teacher — whether a novice or experienced educator — can become an expert teacher. What is an expert teacher? Importantly, expert teachers focus on more than achievement goals and do more than cover the curriculum. Expert teachers "... engage students in learning and develop in their students' self-regulation, involvement in mastery learning, enhanced self-efficacy, and self-esteem as learners" (Hattie, 2003, p. 9). They aim to improve student self-concept, set appropriate challenging goals, and build deep understanding. Furthermore, Hattie (2003) states that expert teachers:

• Identify essential representations of their content

• Guide learning through classroom interactions

• Monitor learning and provide feedback

• Attend to affective learner needs

• Influence student outcomes (adapted from p. 5)

The exchange between Felicia and Allyssa encapsulates a number of the attributes of expert teaching. Felicia is interested in finding a way to better meet her learners' needs, particularly the ELs. Her intentions may lead her to redesign her instruction and eventually become an expert teacher. Clearly, Allyssa already has the characteristics of an expert teacher. Her plan to blend UDL and CRT illustrates that she intends to design instruction that engages learners in mastery-oriented learning, builds language and self-regulation skills, and is responsive to cultural variability.

Creating Expert Learners through Braiding CRT and UDL

Culturally Responsive Teaching and Universal Design for Learning complement each other in today's classrooms. By applying CRT principles, you can build instruction on a value system that honors the background and culture of learners, their families, and their communities while increasing the meaning and relevancy of curriculum. By applying UDL principles (figure 1.3), you can design instruction that addresses learner variability within the classroom and honors individual learners, helping every learner become an expert learner. By braiding UDL and CRT into your practice, you are able to demonstrate essential characteristics of an expert teacher.

Educators are seeking a way to plan instruction that addresses the needs of all their learners. This book, Culturally Responsive Design for English Learners: The UDL Approach, illustrates how to inclusively plan for all learners, including those who are CLD students and ELs. A natural relationship exists between the two frameworks that focus on meeting diverse student learning and providing culturally responsive instruction: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT). Based on learning and cognitive neuroscience research, the UDL framework guides teachers in designing learning environments and lessons with built-in flexibility and choice. Similarly, infusing CRT in instructional design builds lessons that value, build on, and reflect each learner's experiences and background knowledge. By applying the principles of UDL and the components of CRT, expert teachers — those who focus on developing learners' self- regulation, self-efficacy, and self-esteem as well as academic success — can create responsive, inclusive classrooms that help all students, including English learners, become expert learners: learners who are resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, goal directed, purposeful, and motivated.

Reflection Questions

1. In what ways does Felicia's reaction to her class list resonate with your experiences as an educator? How diverse is your class list? To what extent is the population in your school or district changing?

2. What frameworks or strategies have you used to create an inclusive learning environment? How effective have they been?

3. How satisfied are you with the responsiveness of your instruction?

4. In what ways do you prepare students to become expert learners?

5. To what extent do you feel teacher experience contributes to teacher expertise? Do you believe that applying UDL and CRT can help teachers become expert teachers?

Check-In: Reflect on Your Instructional Design

Given what you've learned so far, how inclusive and responsive is your current instructional design? Use this matrix to evaluate the inclusive and culturally responsive aspects of your current instructional design and reflect on what components you may want to consider keeping or changing.


Learner Variability and CLD Students/ELS

This chapter reviews how the three brain networks and UDL principles are associated with cultural and linguistic variability among CLD students and ELs, the neuroscience of bilingualism, and second- or dual-language learning.

[] Meet Annette

Annette is a skillful third-grade teacher whose classroom is organized into learning centers. At the beginning of each school year, she traditionally identifies students by levels for the core subjects and uses those levels to define groups for each of the learning centers. This year she has enough ELs in her class to make a separate group just for them. But as the school year progresses, she confides to her colleague Lily that she's not happy with how the EL group is doing. "Why is it so difficult to plan for them?" she says. "I thought they'd have similar needs but they are almost as different in their learning as the rest of the class! Why is that?"

The Only Constant Is Variability

Generalizations about learners can lead to planning ineffective and unsuccessful lessons. Annette assumed that learners with one common characteristic (such as nonproficiency with English) learned in the same way. Instead, she discovered an important teaching maxim: each learner has different, unique strengths, skills, interests, desires, and readiness levels. CAST researchers state it this way: "... all individuals are unique and learn in ways that are particular to them" (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014, p. 49). Does this mean that each learner needs an individual lesson plan? Not necessarily. Recent learning and neuroscience research suggests that although similar characteristics exist among human brains, the real constant is that learning is remarkably variable (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Therefore, teachers need to plan with learner variability in mind.

What Do We Mean by Learner Variability?

To understand learner variability, it's helpful to delve briefly into how we learn. Although there are small specialized networks and specific parts of the typical brain that are responsible for certain functions, learning is actually accomplished through a complex system of interconnected brain networks (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). These brain networks are made up of neurons that communicate with one another via synapses along pathways formed as individuals have experiences. Figure 2-1 shows how neural pathways multiply as an individual has different experiences.

In effect, synaptic patterns are constructed every time humans experience anything. According to Hebb's theory of automaticity, as neurons fire together, they wire together — meaning that as pathways are repeatedly used, they become faster and more efficient along the pathway, leading to more automatic responses (cited in LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). For example, consider what happens when Ahmed is asked to name pictures, a frequent task for ELs (seefigure 2.2). Naming a picture entails more than just verbalizing a word that matches the visual representation. A learner goes through a series of actions, such as:

• He must first perceive the visual pattern of the picture.

• Then, he must connect it with similar or other known items and meaningful experiences, including associated sensations (e.g., hearing, smell, tactile-kinesthetic).

• Next, he might invoke emotions linked to memories of personal experiences with the pictured or similar items.

• Then, he must decide which exact word matches the picture.

• Next, he must mentally formulate how to verbalize the correct vocabulary.

• And finally, he must activate and physically control the appropriate oral musculature to say the word.


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