Pre-Service Teachers' Sense Making of UDL in the Planning and Implementation of Literacy Lessons

Kelly, Courtneay, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Kelly, Courtneay, Education Graduate-cug, University of Virginia

Researchers have identified reading achievement as a critical factor in overall student achievement (NRP, 2000; Reis et al., 2011). Increasing diversity in schools requires that teachers be well versed in literacy pedagogy that meets the needs of students who struggle as well as those who are advanced learners (Firmender, Reis, & Sweeny, 2014; Ivey & Broaddus, 2001; Reis et al., 2004, 2008; Samuals & Farstrup, 2001). While research has shown that teachers are providing more targeted opportunities for remediation for struggling readers (Bender & Waller, 2011; Gambrell, Morrow, & Pressley, 2007), instruction for high-achieving readers is not begin given as much attention, leaving the more advanced readers with fewer meaningful learning opportunities in literacy (Firmender, Reis, & Sweeny, 2013). The majority of elementary students in the United States require targeted, differentiated literacy instruction (Firmender, Reis, & Sweeny, 2013; Robb, 2008).

Building, improving, and maintaining high teacher quality are essential in order to move toward equitable literacy learning opportunities for students. This is why it is vital that novice teachers enter the field prepared to design and implement literacy instruction that is responsive to students’ strengths and needs. Teacher educators are becoming more aware of the evolving nature of reading development and the necessity of preparing new teachers to be able design and teach targeted literacy lessons (King, Williams, & Warren, 2010; McGuire-Schwartz, & Arndt, 2007). An approach that has been adopted by some teacher educators as a framework for designing instruction that addresses students’ strengths and needs is Universal Design for Learning, which encourages teachers to proactively consider multiple methods in which to represent content, increase and sustain student engagement, and allow for student expression of understanding (CAST, 2007; Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005).

The purpose of this capstone project was to explore pre-service teacher participants’ sense-making of the integration of Universal Design for Learning in literacy lesson planning and implementation in order to provide information that had the potential to help the site university elementary education program coordinator and faculty members make informed decisions about future teacher preparatory coursework and field placements. This Capstone was structured as a multiple-case study of pre-service teacher participants, in which their integration of literacy lesson components that aligned with the UDL principles and their sense-making of planning and implementing literacy lessons were investigated.

This capstone project was structured as a multi-case study of three pre-service teacher participants. Data were collected over a 12-week period of time in the fall of 2017. Data sources included screening surveys, interviews, observations, and collected lesson plans. These data collection methods were chosen in order to provide a rich description of each of the cases and to provide details about each participant’s sense-making of UDL when planning and teaching literacy lessons during her student teaching experience. Data were stored and coded through the use of the qualitative software MaxQDA. I initially began data analysis by open-coding the collected data, later coding data into conceptual categories that emerged. I also used the Miles and Huberman (1994) interactive model for data analysis, which includes three steps: (a) data reduction; (b) data displays; and (c) conclusion drawing/verifying. Considerations about trustworthiness, credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability were addressed through data triangulation, analytic memos, a methodological journal, and utilizing a peer reviewer.

This research study was a multi-case study in which I investigated three participants’ sense-making of UDL during their student teaching experiences. Each participant completed her student teaching in an elementary grade level placement, ranging from first-grade to fifth-grade. The school and district contexts varied between cases. Four cross-cutting themes arose as a result of data collection and analysis.
The three findings of this case are as follows:

Finding 1: Participants exhibited well-developed understandings of developmental literacy practices, but a lack of understanding of UDL as a framework for designing and implementing literacy lessons.

Finding 2: Participants felt limited in their ability to incorporate means of representation, engagement, and expression into their literacy lesson plans due to the factors of time and/or literacy curricular resources in their placement classrooms, indicating a lack of deep understanding of how to integrate UDL into their lesson plans.

Finding 3: Decisions made during the implementation of lessons were informed by student responses to instruction and by the factors of time and curricular resources, indicating a lack of understanding in how to integrate the UDL principles during lesson implementation, and also leading to feelings of dissonance between participants’ personal literacy practices and the implemented literacy events.

Based on my research questions and the corresponding findings, my three recommendations for the site university’s elementary education program coordinator are:

Recommendation 1: Because the participants did not indicate readiness to integrate the UDL principles into lesson plans or during lesson implementation, it would be beneficial for the site university education program to offer a pre-service teacher course that is focused on the philosophy of differentiation and that includes instruction on the frameworks that can be used to assist them in the design and teaching of differentiated lessons.

Recommendation 2 : It would be beneficial for the site university’s teacher education program coordinator and faculty members to conduct as an assessment of all potential field placements for pre-service teachers to ensure flexibility in time and curricular resources. Additionally, it would be beneficial to provide training for pre-service teachers that enables them to differentiate lessons in spite of any contextual circumstances that may be present in their placement classrooms.

Recommendation 3: Prior to student teaching, it would benefit the site university’s pre-service teachers to have authentic opportunities to design and implement differentiated lessons, using targeted frameworks for differentiation on which they have received instruction.

There was evidence collected as a result of this multi-case study on pre-service teachers’ sense-making of UDL in the planning and implementation of literacy lessons, that participants demonstrated significant understandings of developmental literacy but indicated low understandings of UDL as a framework for the design and implementation of literacy lessons. This study was conducted to describe pre-service teacher participants’ sense-making of UDL in literacy lesson planning and implementation. Further research on novice teachers’ sense-making of UDL as a framework for literacy instruction would be beneficial, as very few studies have been conducted that focus on pre-service or novice teachers’ theoretical understandings of UDL and/or the integration of UDL principles in planning and teaching lessons.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
Universal Design for Learning, UDL, literacy, differentiation, developmental reading
Issued Date: