The typical science textbook is a dense read, presenting students with a highly specialized vocabulary and hundreds of new terms. For students with language-based disabilities, textbooks can be an insurmountable barrier to success in science.
But it doesn’t need to be that way, according to EDC’s June Foster. “All students have the ability to learn science,” she says. “But most texts are written in a one-size-fits-all manner, and we tend to classify children as learning disabled if they don’t fit that size. Now we have the technical capability to make curriculum adaptable to many different learning styles and challenges.”
Foster and colleagues at the University of Michigan and the Center for Applied Special Technology are creating software that allows curriculum developers and publishers to digitally adapt science curricula to be more accessible to more learners. They are drawing on principles of universal design for learning (UDL), a movement in education that recognizes and addresses diverse learning needs and styles.
Access for many learners
When a UDL text presents a new term, the word is linked—not only to a written definition of the term, but also to a visual representation or a concept map. The finished software package will include text readers, graphic organizers, simulations, and other supports for learning.
“When people think of UDL, they tend to think of students with disabilities,” says Foster. “But disabled or not, all of us have preferred modes of learning. The idea behind UDL is to present information in a number of ways so many different kinds of learners can access it.”
In addition to the software, project staff are customizing units from middle and high school curricula, including several from EDC’s high school curriculum Foundation Science. The units will be available online as exemplars for developers and publishers. “The program won’t replace the hands-on experimentation, demonstrations, or discussions that characterize inquiry science instruction,” says Foster. “It will enhance them.”
Originally published on July 25, 2008