When UDL Really Hit Home
It was happening again. Standing outside the school doors, I watched my son emerge from his school day ready to burst into tears. He held in his emotions as we walked home from school, but the recurring pattern was disturbing. Every afternoon, he was visibly upset and refused to discuss what was wrong.
Today he erupted, “When it’s time to pack up to go home, the teacher tells me five different things to do, and there’s no way that I can do all those things at once!” This explained why on most days he came home without his homework folder, or lunch bag, or hat realizing that he left it at school. This led to other issues like not having a worksheet that he needed to do for homework, which led to anxiety about returning to school unprepared.
My son was describing an issue with processing multi-step, oral directions. He would hear several steps at once and was unable to recall where to begin. The way he heard the directions varied from the way other students heard it. He could see the other students listening and responding and couldn’t understand why he didn’t get it. He started to doubt himself as a learner. Parents and teachers understand that all children vary, but sometimes it’s hard to recognize how much we vary in terms of an everyday task like processing directions.
As the cofounder of Lessoncast, I happened to be working with a college that was using our web app to share examples of how to apply UDL. One teacher at the college described a tool called Visual Schedules, which is basically a list that breaks down multiple steps. It can be a schedule for the day or a series of steps in a process. Visual schedules may use pictures, words, or a combination of both.
I worked with my son to create a visual schedule. I asked him, “What are some of the things that your teacher tells you to do when packing up at the end of the day?” He listed five things. He could recall the items, but he couldn’t process the steps when the teacher would say them all at once. I wrote the list of items neatly in a checklist format and made two copies. We put the original in his binder and asked the teacher if he could keep a copy at his desk and at his locker. The plan was for him to refer to the written list when the teacher orally gave the directions.
The next day – he emerged from the school doors with a smile! After two weeks, he didn’t even refer to the lists anymore. The visual schedule helped to ingrain the steps for him mentally.
Now, we make visual schedules for proofreading his work and checking for understanding when reading independently or other multi-step tasks. Seeing each step individually helps him to process the information, but even more importantly it helps him to feel better about himself as a learner.