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A Universal Approach to Education – La Presse
A Universal Approach to Education – La Presse

Centennial’s educational savoir-faire is beginning to get noticed! Please enjoy this article in La Presse that explains our universal approach to teaching and learning.

Read the original article (in french): Réussite scolaire | Pour une approche universelle de l’enseignement | La Presse

Read the translation below:

A Universal Approach to Education

In his recent report entitled The Student Comes First, the Protecteur du citoyen, Marc-André Dowd, highlights the need to address the learning challenges of elementary and secondary school students. His solution is to offer complementary educational services, such as remedial education, psychoeducation, speech therapy, special education, or psychology, with a goal of facilitating the integration of children with adjustment or learning difficulties into regular classes.

A better approach is to change what goes on in the classroom itself, so the teaching responds to the needs of different types of learners.

Unable to meet the high demand for individual accommodations, some of North America’s top universities, including McGill and Harvard, started implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices into their teaching several years ago. UDL is based on the architectural concept of Universal Design: creating inclusive spaces that are equally accessible to all, regardless of age or physical ability. For example, staircases are a barrier to people with certain physical limitations. Universal Design dictates that wheelchair-friendly ramps should also be incorporated into building designs, because ramps – unlike staircases – are accessible to everyone.

This is referred to as a “social model,” whereby accommodations are built directly and purposefully into a design, to accommodate a greater number of users and avoid marginalization.

Sadly, our schools seem to be stuck in the old “medical model,” whereby the student leaves the classroom to benefit from educational services. This approach presumes the problem lies with the student when, in reality, it is the classroom that is not equipped to meet the student’s needs.

UDL focuses on removing barriers to learning in the classroom and creating conditions that optimize learning, so that the greatest number of students can benefit. This is not only more respectful of students with different learning needs; it is also more effective and cost efficient.

Beyond the Medical Model

At Centennial Academy, a school that draws many bright but struggling learners, we could no longer afford to carry-on using the traditional “medical model.” While our students struggle with a wide variety of challenges – almost all have been diagnosed with one or more learning disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and high functioning ASD – we discovered that the proposed interventions for each diagnosis were almost identical. In keeping with the principles of UDL, we therefore embedded numerous accommodations, such as color-coding, graphic organizers, the use of visual supports, and routine instructional sequences, into every classroom, so that all students can access them. As a result, 90% of the 62 students in this year’s graduating class completed the rigorous provincial curriculum and graduated in five years.

Another key to our success has been to significantly change the role of the teacher. We allow our teachers to put their training and expertise to good use by focusing solely on what truly matters: optimizing student learning.

We leave things like student supervision and coaching sports to other staff members, and we have resources dedicated solely to parent communication, which ensures that communications are consistent and effective, allowing parents to actively follow their child’s progress. In addition, we have an entire team dedicated to student success: coaches and learning support staff who gather data about student performance and behaviour and who ensure that individual student needs are being met and goals are being achieved. With this approach in place, teachers have time to work with small groups of students and to ensure that learning is accessible and meaningful to everyone in the classroom. As a result, student performance has improved, in almost all cases without reliance on specialists.

Furthermore, our approach is affordable: Our cost per student is comparable to the educational services that the Protecteur du citoyen is proposing, yet our approach, unlike his, is inclusive and does not marginalize students. I wish to stress that Centennial Academy is not unique. Schools in Great Britain and the United States have adopted a similar approach.

The province of Québec has long embraced the idea of schools with specialized mandates, like sports études and the arts. Is it not time to test-drive UDL in some public schools? In doing so, we will truly be living up to our commitment to student success.