Closing Gaps with UDL

October 3, 2015

The article below is taken from the UDL Journal.  It's too important pass up...

 

Imagine that you are a teacher in a large urban school with a large and persistent racial achievement gap.  A number of strategies to close that achievement gap come to mind—providing extended-day school programs, offering intensive remedial programs in core literacies, initiating a one-to-one laptop program, and so forth. All of them require considerable investment of time and resources and generally have produced only limited success.

 

A line of work reported and replicated in the journal Science suggests that there may be a more efficient way to approach this problem. A simple intervention, offered three to five times a year and taking only a few minutes, has been shown to lower the achievement gap as measured by grade point averages. In the experiment, students were asked to complete a brief in-class writing assignment wherein they were prompted to reaffirm their sense of personal adequacy or self-integrity. This simple exercise resulted in up to a 40% increase in scores of African American students on tests they took afterward. That's it: no extended remedial skills training, no special course in study strategies, no reward system. That short exercise alone significantly improved the grades of African American students and reduced the racial achievement gap by 40%

A simple affirmation of learners’ positive sense of self, of their value as individuals, and of the importance of their membership in a cultural tradition has repeatedly been shown to have positive effects on learning and on performance.

This experiment has been replicated under a variety of different conditions and with a variety of students who, like the African American students in the first study, typically feel the effects of what is called “stereotype threat” or the experience of stress, anxiety, or worry that one's performance will align with a negative stereotype about a group to which they belong (ethnic, racial, social, etc.). It can be thought of as a way of measuring how context can impact educational or academic performance. The positive effects of this kind of intervention have been seen among minority students who often experience stigmatization and the tyranny of low expectations. Amazingly, in a follow-up study, positive effects were still being seen up to two years after the intervention. What is consistent across these experimental interventions is the focus on affect.

A simple affirmation of learners’ positive sense of self, of their value as individuals, and of the importance of their membership in a cultural tradition has repeatedly been shown to have positive effects on learning and on performance. Those effects can be seen on a test taken just a few minutes after the intervention, on cumulative grades over a month of study, or even on overall academic and health status over the span of a college career.

 

Academic achievement and social emotional learning

For most of us, these results are still astonishing even though they have proven robust in multiple studies. What they show is the enormous power of affect. In the last decade, we have witnessed an extraordinary volume of theory and research—including whole new journals and major books—on the topic of affective neuroscience and its relationship to learning. Where affective neuroscience once seemed “squishy” and unempirical, it is now central and dominant to the empirical understanding of any brain function. At the same time, we have seen a parallel growth of research within the education sciences on the power of emotion and affect in the classroom. Congruent with the renewed emphasis of neuroscientists on the centrality of affect, educators have also come to recognize the central role of engagement and motivation in any effective educational reform.

 

If you are interested in reading more, check out:   http://udljournal.cast.org/reading?1&loc=chapter.xml_l1969929

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