Category Archives: Educational policy

Hmmm, Culturally Responsive Teaching?


I am so interested in Universal Design for Learning or UDL.  In an article by McGuire, Scott & Shaw (2006) they discuss Universal Design and its origins in architecture by architect Ronald Mace. The idea behind this design is to make environments accessible to all peoples regardless of age or ability. McGuire, Scott & Shaw believe that in the era of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) there needs to be more thought in planning in how we design our educational practices with this idea of accessibility for all. Presently (in New York State) we are facing the consequences of our adoption of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) in our Race To The Top (RTTT) efforts to reform and fund education with the federal government. What we need to understand is how this is impacting the education of ALL students. McGuire, Scott & Shaw at what elements of Universal Design can inform a new paradigm in teaching in learning to benefit students of all abilities. Nine elements of accessibility to a curriculum  are identified (McGuire, Scott & Shaw, 2006) as: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for errors, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use, a community of learners and instructional use. Curriculum accessibility is crucial for success of all students on assessments that rate the effectiveness of teachers and guide instructional supports (Academic Intervention Services) and educational programs (charter schools) for all students. Universal Design of Learning is still developing into a well researched theory or framework. This leads to the question of what theoretical/conceptual framework can inform an understanding and anchoring of UDL?

Digging deeper into UDL, the work of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) is a conceptual theory that shares many commonalities of teaching and learning with UDL. These commonalities are: high expectations for all students, equitable use, flexible use  and a learner centered approach to instruction and learning. CRT has its origins in the work of Geneva Gay. Culturally Responsive Teaching is essentially knowing your students and teaching to them, not at them. It is bringing the diversity of the classroom to help all students achieve their potential through the acknowledgement and integration of experiences, abilities and the whole child for the betterment of the entire classroom. While Culturally Responsive Teaching looks at ethnic backgrounds, it also applies to understanding a students ability or disability.


This is the connection to the understanding of Universal Design of Instruction. It is meant to benefit the needs of all students by addressing the nine elements mentioned above to meet the diversity of our population of students and increase our tolerance and acceptance of this diversity.

So now to the big question: How does our adoption of Common Core State Standards and Annual Professional Performance Review impact our ability to provide instructional practices that embrace the pedagogy of Culturally Responsive Teaching? Does it impact our ability at all?

Wanna be startin’ somethin’

I just signed up to do an independent study with a professor who will guide me through the process of writing an empirical article about special education, common core learning standards and the relationship between the two. I will be looking at a culmination of data from a recent project to  understand and report out my findings.This involves many tasks as I toggle between data, previous research, and theoretical and conceptual frameworks. I also need to keep track of my thoughts, so this is where my blog comes back into my life. It is the recording of my thought process that will hopefully lead me on a clear path to opening up my ability to share and contribute what I know about the field of special education and how that meshes educational theory and practice. So I stand here at the threshold of my journey ready to start something that can have a profound impact on my career as a researcher.

In this early phase of my research I am asking myself a few questions. These questions are:

What will guide and inform my inquiry?

What data will I include/exclude?

Who is my target audience?

In this post I will discuss my first dive into what will guide and inform my inquiry. I begin by revisiting the Socioecological model to understand the dynamic relationships that occurs between the environmental and personal variables in education. The socioecological model has its roots in the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner‘s Ecological Framework for Human Development. Brofenbrenner theorized that to understand human development there needs to be an understanding of the dynamic relationship of humans to their environment. Brofenbrenner identified five layers of environmental factors that surround an individual as: Macro, Exo, Meso, Micro and Nano systems. These systems are dynamic meaning they are multidirectional.


The Macrosystem describes the conditions and beliefs that a society holds. This encompasses laws, social classes, ethnic groups and religious affiliations. It is the overarching determinate of how we view a topic, who makes decisions on a topic and policies that impact how we carry out our beliefs and ideas.

The Exosystem is the connection between places such as schools and neighborhoods, workplace and home. It is a removed relationship of places with  each other and not individual relationships. An example is the relationship that a neighborhood community has with their school and the impact on this has on beliefs and organizations. This shapes perceptions and understanding of relationships and the value they have over an individual.

The Mesosystem is the systems that include the individual and their relationships. The examples cited are school to home, work to home, childcare and home. These are the relationships of the systems that directly influence the individual as they are a part of the individuals direct environment.

The Microsystem is the system of activities in which the individual is involved. The activities, social roles and interpersonal relationships are all a layer of systems impact how the individual interacts with their environment.

The Nanosystem is the individual. Age, gender, genetics are all factors that influence the development of the individual within the dynamic layers of the Macro, Exo, Meso and Micro layers.

While this is a rough explanation the following video explains ecological systems in more depth.


Looking at these systems help to put into perspective the policies of No Child Left Behind, Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), the implementation of Common Core Learning Standards and Annual Professional Performance Review as part of the Macrosystem, but we want to know how these policies penetrate the other systems in the Socioecological model ultimately impacting the educational development of the individual.

So here I stand with my first thought on my paper. It is a line of inquiry that I will dig into each day. I am hoping that my blog posts will make my thinking and learning transparent, and provide a record of decisions and processes that I will go through to inform and guide my writings to create a manuscript for submission by summers end.