Accessible Curriculum

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Notes on Accessible Instruction

An inclusive stance anticipates human difference. Designing curricula and writing lessons with an inclusive stance means using accessible instruction. A traditional lesson might ask students to read a text and respond through writing to a set of questions about the content. Consider that in the classroom where you present this lesson there is a student with dyslexia, a student with cerebral palsy, a student who has already mastered the lesson content for the day, and a student who has trouble focusing attention and sitting still. By not anticipating human difference when designing the lesson we have immediately marginalized these students. Consider a class where reading skill level varies significantly. This lesson again marginalizes students based on their current print decoding or comprehensions skills. Grouping students into low, medium, and high (so-called) “ability groups” will usually lead to complex thinking work for the “high” level students and more conceptually simplistic work for the “low” students. A student’s ability to think, analyze, and make meaning is thus defined by his ability to read that specific text.

Accessible instruction considers the variety of learners in a classroom and designs lessons that will have multiple access points for multiple people. It asks you to first consider who the students in your classroom are beyond their assigned reading levels or test scores. By knowing your students holistically you can see the individual strengths they bring to the classroom environment and honor and build on their prior knowledge. Designing accessible instruction that recognizes the variety of strengths of the individuals that you teach means throwing away the single lesson format. This means that there will be multiple activities going on around the same content at the same time. This will allow all of your students to find their point of access to the learning of the day. Often times this is supported through group learning. It is important here to be careful not to rely on “low-medium-high” ability grouping, but rather to be flexible in the ways you offer students access based on their strengths, preferences, and needs.

Accessible instruction does not mean that students aren’t learning how to read, it just means that if you are teaching them anything from literary analysis to science, their reading skill levels or oral expression should not stand in the way of their intellectual endeavors. Some students may need extra reading support and for some reading skills will develop as learning becomes possible and more enjoyable. Single format lessons will inevitably exclude some students in any classroom from the learning experience. Designing accessible instruction can help create an inclusive environment where all students have access to the curriculum and can be invested in their own learning.

Simple steps to consider in making your classroom curriculum more accessible to a variety of learners:

  • Consider all of the learners in your classroom. What are their strengths? What are their interests? What motivates them? What are the obstacles that prevent them from accessing any one particular lesson?
  • Consider the information you want to communicate in your lesson. How many different ways can you represent the same information? Which representations of the information will be accessible to each student? How might you use various modes of representation to engage and challenge all students?
  • Consider the learning objective of the lesson or curriculum unit. How might students demonstrate their learned knowledge? What various activities or modes of expression can students engage in within your classroom?
  • Consider the resources in your room. How might you be able to get more from what is already there?
  • Consider choice. How much freedom can you give your students to decide which presentation of information and which expressions of learned knowledge they would like to work with? How can you organize multiple activities all in one classroom?