UDL Connect

Online Community of Practice for UDL Implementors

Teaching from under the floorboards!

Kerry Armstrong

December 2, 2013

This year, I am teaching in Coquitlam. It is a big move to the big city. Instead of easing into retirement, my husband and I have moved to the big city. A retired Professional Forester, he commutes to the city centre to work on the 19th floor with a Natural Gas company. It is a huge project that is not yet part of anything that Canada has done before. His job is to develop relationships in communities so that everyone can work together to create a detailed and complete Environmental Assessment. In Canada, an Environmental Assessment must take into account all factors of the environment including the social metrics. A complex and collaborative task! As the project goes forward, there will be tremendous opportunities for community members wanting great jobs. People will need to be trained for these technical jobs.

On the other hand, I have a new job too! I’m teaching English 12 to adults using online and self-paced models - Students who “fell through the cracks” at secondary. Reasons for falling through the cracks include:

  • Tragedy struck – eg: death of a loved one, sickness, war, refugees, refugees that lost what little they had in a fire at the refugee camp, violent act
  • Racism
  • Learning disabilities
  • Health issues
  • Anxiety
  • Motivation
  • Babies
  • Money
  • Self confidence
  • Witnessing violence
  • National and International level arthletes or artists who needed to focus their time and energy on the opportunities presented at such a high level of performance

My new students have experienced living in poverty and unemployment or low paying jobs because they have not completed secondary; and now, they want to make a significant change for themselves and their families. I have a sense that we are under the floor boards of the school looking up at the other classes and teachers. We can hear them. We have a view of the work they are doing and where they are all heading; however, everything is a little muffled. The learning materials don’t resonate with multiple layers of activities and collaboration. We are focused on results and the process is only about the task, not the process. Time is of the essence! But we can hear the students and teachers laughing, socializing, playing sports and generally enjoying their high school experience. For us, we have a mission. My students must finish fast and get a job to pay the rent, feed the family and build some pride. From under the floor boards, we can hear some students getting frustrated or anxious or just wanting to party and we yell as loud as we can, “DON’T FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS!”

My entire career has lead me to this job. I feel a little like Scrooge as I meet ‘students of years past’. They are not the exact same people but the cracks from which they fell through are the same. Here I am at the end of my career under the floor boards with a second chance, just like Scrooge, to use all my skills to teach to diversity. The Principles of UDL have never been so important as I meet a new student each day with the intention to finish secondary, enter university and get one of those new jobs that so many Canadians will be first in line for as long as s/he has the training.

What is so UDL about my new job? More about that as the year continues but here are few, perhaps obvious, essentials:

Multiple means of engagement:

  • Students can start at any time of the year, when s/he is ready, we are ready to start too
  • Students can work online or with paper
  • Students and teachers meet one on one, in person or online
  • Colleges and universities require 73% in English 12
  • We contact students via email, phone and websites
  • A study centre with learning support is on site

Multiple means of representation:

  • Paper based
  • Texts
  • Videos
  • Websites
  • Internet
  • Coaching
  • Peer work
  • Braille

Multiple means of representation:

  • Essays
  • Videos
  • Blogs
  • Tests
  • Study packages
  • Online forums

My present students have a Christmas wish for each and every future student and that is that we all work harder to keep each and every student above the floor boards and that we seal up the cracks with the 3 principles of UDL and more importantly with the belief system that we all belong. Architects build concert halls and libraries and university buildings to a include and honour each and every person who enters and so my students wish that future students will feel included and honoured in classes and schools, even if s/he is in some way diverse from others. My Christmas wish is, like Scrooge, to have opportunities to work to undo the collection of chains that I built as I watched my students fall through the cracks in my class and school. Unfortunately, I did believe that some students just can’t. Shame on me and just like Scrooge, I have a long chain ready for me because of that misguided training and practice.

Please feel free to send me thoughts on what will help my students overcome their barriers and succeed! What have you done to help someone in poverty, on drugs, healing from grief and PTSD etc? Perhaps more importantly, what can be done to change our belief system?

Peace on Earth and Goodwill!



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