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Hosting Learning the UDL Way

Have you ever been to a really great dinner party? The music is just right, the atmosphere is energized, conversations are tantalizing, and the food is impeccably prepared and delicious. The key to this special night is the host, who put in weeks of planning and preparation to make sure everything is perfect. From constructing the menu and inviting the right people to planning icebreaker activities and setting the mood, a massive responsibility falls to the host. The UDL classroom is like a dinner party—or more accurately, a really interesting potluck—and the teacher is the host. Teachers provide the main course (content), set the mood (a prosocial and safe classroom), facilitate stimulating conversation, anticipate the needs of their guests (students) using UDL guidelines, and, like the dinner party host, spend weeks in planning and forethought. 

This analogy seems pretty easy and straightforward, right? The interesting part is what the students bring as their side dishes to share: their backgrounds, previous learning, variable outlooks, and crucial soft skills/talents. One difference between a good potluck and a great one is that the side dishes are unique and are the best that participants have to offer. No one brings the fish sticks they made last Wednesday night. Likewise, when teachers use UDL in their classrooms, they recognize the variety their students bring with them and encourage them to bring their best. Host teachers realize that while a lot of what happens in the classroom depends on them, it is the confluence of host AND guests that create a party’s (or classroom’s) success. Host teachers set the mood, design the environment for all students, and provide the main course, but everyone makes the night memorable.

Any worthwhile party has great icebreakers to help move things along—so does a UDL classroom. The activity outlined below is designed to not only be interactive, but to teach students how to build great teams and find their own soft skill strengths. Please feel free to change the names of the archetype list. Trading Card templates can be found here or at http://www.mtgcardmaker.com/.

Trading Card Activity/Strength Finder

Purpose: To develop a well-balanced skills team based on the models listed below for performing collaborative tasks such as research groups, labs, or problem solving activities.

Activity 1: To find your own skill model (teacher directions)

Step 1: Have students look over the list of models (listed below) and give clarification where needed.

Step 2: Have students choose their top two models: the skill sets that fit them most and feel will add value to a team project.

Step 3: Hand out one trading card template to each student. On the bottom of the template,  have students list their models and the skills they have identified that support the models.

Step 4: On the top of the trading card, have students draw a representation of themselves. This drawing could be a superhero, a stylized stick figure, or a symbol. 

Activity 2: To build your well-balanced skill team (teacher directions)

Step 5: After the students have finished their cards, signal them to become their own “Hype-Artist."  Hype-Artists  promote all the great skills and attributes a person has. They also talk about how well a person would fit on a team. In this case, students promote themselves and talk about why they would be an asset to the team.

Step 6: After students have formed their teams, the teacher should make sure the final teams have a balanced representation of the models list. For example, an entire team made up of Futurists may have a hard time getting past the planning phase, while a whole team of Curators may struggle to establish a vision.

Step 7: Students are now ready to take on collaborative tasks that showcase their unique abilities.

Example of Application: 

In an eighth grade ELA classroom, students were given a group research project that stretched over a two week period. Having them begin with this activity established roles in the group based on students’ strengths  allowing them to begin with confidence. Students also divided the workload more equitably as it was based on their individual skill sets. In students’ post reflections, students stated that they all felt ownership and no one had to do all of the work.

Archetypes List

* Curator - recording, research, information gathering, note taking

* Communicator - presenting, explaining, performing, and storytelling

* Content Specialist - the "knower" of the group. Has prior knowledge and understands material at deep levels

* Discipline - developing process, order, and structure 

* Empathizer - group dynamics, collaboration, and interpersonal dynamics of the group 

* Futurist - idea creation, creativity, and asking "what if"

* Responsibility -  finishing the project, managing projects, generating checklists, "pulling it all together" 

Trading Card Template and Example

- Bryan Dean

Bryan Dean is a Special Education Consultant at Oakland Schools ISD in MI. Bryan promotes the UDL movement by designing professional learning around UDL and working with districts, buildings, and teachers towards implementation of UDL. He is the co-founder of #PLN4UDL, a virtual community of practice for educators implementing UDL and co authors a blog with the same name. He is a member of the CAST PL Cadre, a facilitator for the Harvard Graduate School Summer UDL Institute, a member of the UDL-IRN Board of Directors, and a moderator for the #udlchat bimonthly twitter chat . Find him on twitter @drrevdean.