What this is we bring your America: The co-construction of an electronic picturebook by special educators and their students according to the principles of Universal Design for Learning
John Francisco Fitzgerald, University of Pennsylvania, United States
University of Pennsylvania . Awarded
In 1997, one of the stipulations that Congress inserted into the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA-97) was the mandate that schools must give students with disabilities access to the very same standards-based curriculum as their non-disabled peers. Just as Universal Design emerged as a paradigm in architecture to meet the physical "access for all" mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act earlier that decade, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) arose as a framework for providing students with disabilities entry points to the General Education curriculum.
However, since extant examples of curricula designed according to UDL principles are not comprehensive across all content areas, this study inquires into the process one group of educators, serving students with diverse mild through severe special needs, undertook in designing an electronic picture book based on a passage from Whitman's Leaves of Grass and linked to a specific standard in English/Language Arts. The study documents how the UDL team at this New York City school co-constructed the electronic picture book with students and created challenging opportunities for these students so as to demonstrate the competencies their disabilities so often obscure.
Despite having neither explicit knowledge of Lev Vygotsky's concept of the Zone of Proximal Development nor of Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy, the educators in this study applied principles that correlate with those advocated by these two theorists. Findings in the study also illuminate new potential for electronic media in the education of students, with and without disabilities, even while revealing that tensions can exist in valuing and evaluating work completed independently and interdependently. The findings also show how the distinction between "teacher" and "student" can at times be blurred in Freirian fashion.
In its conclusion, the study argues against one UDL premise, namely that retrofitting curricula necessarily results in an inferior product. Since the medium of an electronic picture book can be expanded to address the needs of populations beyond those envisioned during the design of the initial versions, retrofitting may not be problematic to the degree that some proponents of UDL suggest.
Fitzgerald, J.F. What this is we bring your America: The co-construction of an electronic picturebook by special educators and their students according to the principles of Universal Design for Learning. Ph.D. thesis, University of Pennsylvania.
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