A Journey to Universal Design of Learning by Yvette Evans

 Yvette Evans is an instructional faculty member in the Department of Special Education at Illinois State University

Neuroscience has always sparked my interest. Starting out as a speech and language pathologist; I studied and applied the constructs of neuroscience to individuals with a wide range of syndromes, injury, and disorders related to the brain.  My intention was to promote their ability to communicate, thus improving their quality of life and functional independence.

However, my true love is education and as a lifelong learner (I am currently completing my doctorate degree in special education) my focus shifted from abnormalities of the neurological system to the concepts of brain- based learning.  In brief, I wanted to know how to apply what we know from neuroscience to help children with disabilities reach their full (academic and/or functional) potential.

One afternoon, I was talking with a colleague and he mentioned Universal Design of Learning.  This was my Ah-Ha moment!  Imagine a conceptual framework based out of architecture that leads us to a pedagogy for all learners.

Hang in there, as I provide you with a few key points.

So, How Does the Brain Learn You Ask?

Here are a few basic ideas:

  • Neuroscience is now reinforcing what we already know- by showing the physiology behind the psychology and teaching methods
  • The brain grows from the back to the front- that is why the frontal lobe is later developing: many of our executive function (cognitive bases for learning) occur here
  • Emotions are critical to patterning: emotions and cognition cannot be separated (what we learn is organized by emotions and mind-sets
  • Emotional and cognitive self-regulation are not separate, distinct skills. Rather, thinking directs emotions and emotions effect cognitive development (Blair & Diamond 2008).

    Stress can change the architecture of the brain

Here are sites for your research: 

Start here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Qb3DXY_7fU

Harvard: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/

Childhood Outcomes:

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/theory_of_change/

What is executive function? http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/inbrief_series/inbrief_executive_function/

Zero- Three: Check out the baby brain map: http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/brain-development/

Now, a Word about Universal Design for Learning…  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a conceptual framework taken from the field of architecture. The three main driving forces are directly related to my journey for the connection between what we know in neuroscience and teaching.

The UDL emphasizes the brain networks to provide multiple means of representation (perception language, expression, and comprehension), provide multiple means of action and expression (physical action, expression, communication and executive function), along with multiple means of engagement (sparking interest, sustaining effort, persistence, and self- regulation).

How cool is that?  Of course, like with many conceptual models this framework needs more empirical research.

A site for your research:  CAST: http://www.cast.org/udl/

Here is Why I Want to Share this with you…

  • Early educators are assisting in the development of the architecture of their students brains
  • We are not made the same… Neurodiversity is the key to help us as teachers reach all students
  • By understanding how the brain learns and what is harmful (the effects of stress)we can make a difference in the lives of our students
  • As early educators, we have the opportunity to install the love for learning in our students mindsets

Come and join me on November 1st for a workshop on this topic.  The workshop is presented by Early Intervention System, Child & Family Connections # 16.  http://illinoiseitraining.org/page.aspx?module=15&type=1&item=1&eventid=10353

If you have any questions or would like to know about this topic, feel free to contact me.  My e-mail is yrevans@ilstul.edu

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One thought on “A Journey to Universal Design of Learning by Yvette Evans

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