Here’s a loose attempt to apply a gaming analogy to valuing and planning for diversity in your learning community.
Level 1 : Planning for the predictable
Imagine this scenario:
- You have been asked at short notice to prepare lunch for 20 people
- You don’t have an opportunity to find out about preferences/allergies
- You are directed to go to the local supermarket (with the work credit card) to “Get something for lunch”.
Chances are you wouldn’t buy $150 of mince and cheese pies. Instead, you would probably run this little narrative in your head, “Hmm, I bet someone is vegetarian, maybe gluten-free or even dairy free, better get a range of stuff then people can choose what they want”.
That’s planning for the predictable.
We expect people to have different preferences and needs, so we plan for them. We want everyone to eat, to feel welcome. It’s about courtesy. We definitely don’t want anyone to feel excluded.
In any teaching context, the above scenario translates pretty well. As teachers or facilitators, we find ourselves in situations where we have to prepare an environment for learners we don’t know personally.
What guides planning in this context? What might be the predictable needs or preferences in a learning environment? How do you demonstrate courtesy or practise manaakitanga?
Maybe you think about:
- The people: who they could be, what they may bring, what may be important for them
- The tikanga you will use
- Potential barriers hidden in the design of the environment or activities that could hinder participation and learning
- Options and supports that can be offered to everyone
Summary: Level one is about expecting, valuing, and planning for that diversity from the outset.
Level 2 : Valuing the personal
Scenario two: Kai for a friend’s birthday.
If I invite a friend over for her birthday and I know she loves strawberries, I’ll probably offer strawberries as an option for dessert. It’s a small ordinary thing: something most of us do.
When I am facilitating, and I know that there are a bunch of people in the room who love walking in the mountains, I will try to include analogies and images related to mountains, big vistas, and wild remote places in my storytelling. Again, it’s a small act, motivated by an intention to build connection and support engagement.
Again, the practice connects easily to the classroom:
- Reflecting knowledge of learners and their histories/experiences/context in the learning design
- Offering everyone options and supports inspired by the needs, preferences or interests of individual learners
Summary: Level 2 is really about getting to know people personally and using that knowledge to refine the learning design.
Level 3 : Getting strategic
Adopting Level 1 and 2 practices will probably improve the usefulness of most learning environments. The downside? These approaches can be a bit random, e.g., when learners move between classes they can experience very different levels of access, options, and support.
So, what can help us establish:
- shared foundational approaches to ensure learners get a more consistent deal as they move from class to class, course to course, school to school?
- common language to support our practice and conversations with students, whānau, and each other?
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the approach I wholeheartedly recommend schools, kura, and learning organisations investigate. Although UDL originates in the US, we are learning to use it with integrity here in Aotearoa.
- a strategic approach to inclusive practice
- endorsed by the Ministry of Education
- an explicit component of the revised approach to PB4L school-wide approach
- provides a framework for effective use of technologies
- applicable to all aspects of education (systems and processes, professional learning design, community partnerships, the design of physical environments, assessment practice, activity and event planning…).
Many of the practices recommended in the UDL framework are already familiar, so we’re not starting from scratch.
The value the UDL framework brings is it helps us:
- notice aspects of our practice that we hadn’t considered before
- identify and remove barriers to learning hidden in the way we routinely do things
- move away from random well-intentioned acts of inclusion
- supports us to engage actively with diversity and variability
- guides deliberate coherent innovation in inclusive design.
Summary: Level 3 is about taking a strategic transparent approach to planning for diversity.
Rate your workplace
So, which level best represents your organisation ?
- What’s your view and what’s your evidence?
- What would the students say?
Getting some support to level up
If you are keen to find out more about inclusive practices and Universal Design for Learning:
- Visit: Universal Design for Learning in Aotearoa New Zealand Guide
- Inquire: CORE UDL team coaching and mentoring options
- Investigate: Teacher-Led Innovation Fund or Centrally-Funded PLD with CORE UDL team
- Enrol: Introduction to Universal Design for Learning online workshop
- Contact: CORE UDL team or your local RTLB team.
Level-up image: By Diomedes17 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51580060¶
Stars: By CFCF – Own work on Wikimedia, CC0,