Flexible environments help learning

Issue: Volume 98, Number 14

Posted: 19 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9x2u

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has resulted in students at Karori Normal School understanding how they learn and taking ownership of their learning.

At Karori Normal School, all students can use universal supports such as headphones, not just those who need them.

The school began to implement a UDL framework in 2016 as a result of the findings from the Inclusive Practice Survey and the ERO review in 2015. The school was looking for a different whole-school approach to make sure that it was inclusively supporting all students. Core Education facilitators helped staff identify strengths and opportunities using the three principles of UDL – the why, what and how of learning.

“Our first focus was on the principle of engagement – the why of learning,” explains deputy principal Andrea Peetz. Teachers looked at one thing they could change in the classroom environment that could help children feel differently about their learning, she says.

“In the first couple of terms we looked at access to materials, resources and strategies to help with self-managing. For some teachers, settling children at the beginning of the day was a focus. Instead of the usual scenario of children sitting on the mat and the roll being taken we considered multiple ways to engage learners from the start of the day. Activities were set up in the junior classes and the teacher would wait for the children to settle before gathering them together on the mat.

“It made a big difference for all our learners, especially those students who needed more support, to settle at the start of the day. It also helped parents if their children had been anxious. They noticed they didn’t have to struggle as much when they dropped them off, because they can come in and know it’s okay to do different things.”

Students can choose from a variety of tasks and different options for presenting their learning.

Normalising diversity

Teachers were supported to think about inclusive classroom environments and explored options, that often were only given to one student in particular, and made these available as universal supports for all.

“Some students need headphones as they are sensitive to noise. Rather than making a statement saying, ‘you are different’, there are headphones available for everybody,” says Andrea.

In the past, she says, some students who needed to use technology didn’t, because they would have been the only ones in the class doing so.

“Now we have laptops for all students to use and we can offer them options to do their writing on a laptop, on a whiteboard, on paper, or they can use speech-to-text. It’s very helpful for students to realise they can achieve the same thing in their learning, but they can do it in multiple ways,” she says.

One diverse learner commented: “I used to be told that my writing was messy and no one could read it; now I am able to use Google Docs, I don’t get those comments anymore. People give me comments on my ideas and thoughts in my writing.”

Teacher aides have been included in the school’s professional development around UDL and this has changed the way they work.

“In the past, teacher aides often took students out of the classroom. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not inclusive, in that we are looking at everyone feeling part of the class.”

Now working in the classroom, teacher aides are aware of students who might need support, but they also support other students.

“This means the teacher has more time to check-in and offer support to students who might require extra help with their learning,” says Andrea. “This is a huge shift but it’s of benefit to everyone and the students don’t feel they stand out”

Students excited by choice

Many initiatives have been introduced over the past three and a half years and professional development is ongoing, particularly for new teachers to the school. A reflection done at the end of 2018 on the impact of the UDL framework for teachers, students and their families showed that students were excited about their work because they could choose from a variety of tasks, as well as different options for presenting their learning.

“UDL underpins the way we make decisions and implement teaching and learning at Karori Normal School,” says Andrea. “I don’t know how we could go back to doing things in another way. What we have found is very affirming. Our achievement has been maintained or improved, particularly in reading, writing and maths.

“Our students are able to take ownership of their learning. They are aware of how they learn and have a growth mindset that they will eventually learn something which may be difficult at the moment. This has been significant because we were putting time pressure on some of our kids and not seeing them at their best.

“If you take the pressure off and allow them to work in a comfortable position, and maybe not have to write with a pen and pencil, they are able to show what they can do. Our students are a lot more confident about what they are doing,” she says.

To learn more about Karori Normal School’s UDL journey, see

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:30 am, 19 August 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts