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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading Assignments the #UDL Way: Text Options (Part 1)



Introduction: 

As I have mentioned before, I am a teacher at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. The mission of our school is to give students living in poverty a quality K-12 education and provide opportunities to obtain a post-secondary education. Due to the fact that 100% of my students come from poverty, they learn and interact with content differently. This makes reading assignments a challenge. It made me think about how I could develop supports for my students to read the same article (as required by the curriculum) and still experience success. Over the next few installments, I will be sharing how you can structure a reading assignment that is UDL "friendly":


Step 1: Provide Options for Text

Not all students like to / can use the paper handouts that we often distribute in the beginning of class. We throw them at our students and expect them to read. Talk about losing engagement quick! Think for a moment of the diverse students you have in your classroom. Some may have visual impairments, others may have auditory impairments, some have learning disabilities, and others don't. Due to the fact that our classrooms are diverse, we need to rethink the options we give students for reading.

Option 1: Paper Copies

Paper copies still have a purpose. Many of our kinestic and visual learners like the ability to "mark-up" the text with pen, pencil, or a highlighter. This option is still very much appropriate; however, it may not be the single-most appropriate means of communication.

Option 2: PDF Copies

One of my students had a visual impairment, which caused him to need the ability to increase the font size of text. Instead of making "blown-up" photo copies of the article, I provided him with a PDF copy. This gave the student the ability to zoom in and out of text.

Another student of mine has organization issues. If you look at his backpack, it looks as if a natural disaster occurred in it. PDF copies have been the perfect way for this student to always have the article on my website or his network folder, even if he isn't a shining example of organization.

Another student has trouble concentrating on the text when she is reading a paper copy. She likes the ability to zoom in and read one paragraph at a time. This makes the task less overwhelming for her and reduces the anxiety she feels when reading.

Option 3: Audio

One of my students would always begin acting up when we had in-class reading assignments. Like clockwork, he would try
to not do the assignment as soon as he felt the paper in his hand. I talked with this student and learned that he wasn't the best reader. He felt more comfortable "hearing" the article as he moved through the actual physical article.

I began reading the article myself and recording it using a free audio recording program called Audacity. I would save the file as an MP3 and he could download it onto his iPad, iPod or computer. It was amazing to see how this increased his comprehension level and changed his behavior.

Audacity does take some getting used to, which can be a barrier for the teacher. One new idea I came across is using a website / app called AudioBoo. It's easy and free. In fact, I am using AudioBoo to Universally Design my blog posts. Check out the embedded recording! The free version allows you to record up to 3 minutes worth of content, but the paid version does give you more time.

I noticed other students really enjoyed this option. Some of my athletes would download the MP3 file, so that they could listen to the assignment on the bus. It did take some time to prepare the materials, but now I have an audio library for next year!

I do have a great tip for you. Some of my trustworthy students would finish assignments early and have nothing to do. So like any good teacher, I had them record their voices reading the article!

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, standardized testing usually provides a singular way of reading a text; however, if we give students the ability to use different options for regular assignments, we are giving them confidence and strategies to be successful when they actually take the test.

Look out for the second installment of Reading Assignments the #UDL Way:Vocabulary Supports

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