How to Prep for a Universally Designed Classroom

There has been much talk and articles written about Universal Design for Learning in recent years. But, how does a teacher actually prepare their physical classroom and their students for the experience? A fourth-grade teacher, Beth, logs her prepping process in a to-do list which can be used as a blueprint for anyone looking to implement the philosophy in their school.

  • Write an introductory letter – What is more welcoming than an introductory letter at the start of a school term? It not only introduces the teacher to the students and their families, but also acts as a guideline of what to expect throughout the year.
  • Read up on students - Beth reads up on all her students well before the first bell on the first day of term. She knows which students have IEPs, what their household situation is; whether they have siblings, live with both parents or are brought up by their grandparents. She also knows what the first language of these households are and goes to the trouble of translating her introductory letter so everyone in the family can understand.  How inclusive is that?
  • Arrange desks thoughtfully – The result of reading up on the students in advance means Beth is better equipped to make a strategic seating plan. She decides pods of six are the best solution, but makes sure no one has their back to the SMART Board ® and there is enough room for her to get alongside a student if needed.
  • Make a classroom supply wish list – Would the classroom benefit from exercise balls for students to sit on, or swivel chairs for the wrigglers? What about fidget toys for those in class who need them to concentrate? Beth makes a list of her wishes and submits to the school budget committee.
  • Create a quiet book area – Every classroom needs one.
  • Be aware of sensory issues – Consider removing fluorescent lighting which makes a buzzing noise, and fit used tennis balls to the chair legs, so as to dampen the noise of chairs scraping along the floor.
  • Schedule classroom visits – Arrange visits for anxious students, their families and newcomers in August, ahead of the first day of school. These intimate meetings will help cement lasting relationships throughout the year.

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