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Giving People the Opportunity to Contribute: A model for inclusive education

October 18, 2011 — 

Dr. Jennifer Katz’s model holds real promise of making the inclusive classroom a more concretely understood practice in Manitoba. While we have a legal statute that mandates appropriate education, we desperately need to translate that mandate into everyday experience. Dr. Katz’s “Three-Block Model” can help educators to create that new reality.

– John VanWalleghem, Teacher

In 2000, Dr. Jennifer Katz developed a program for establishing a compassionate learning community she called the “Respecting Diversity (RD)” program. The RD program resulted in improved self-concept, respect for others, a sense of belonging, pro-social behaviors, and reduced aggression in students. The success of this program, made it possible for Dr. Katz to try a new practice for implementing inclusive education in her classroom she calls The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Since joining the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in 2009, research on the success of the UDL model has been supported and she has been able to further develop this unique and effective approach for inclusive education.

The UDL model provides teachers with a method for creating inclusive environments and improving student engagement. Dr. Katz explains, “Inclusion means that every child is a part of the social and academic life of the classroom regardless of gender, culture, language, ability/disability, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. Students coming to school should all have the chance to feel good about themselves and what they contribute to the community, the opportunity to experience success and growth, and feel a sense of belonging and interconnectedness to something larger than themselves. The UDL model offers teachers a way to include students and to ensure that students have the opportunity to realize their gifts.”

To help teachers manage the UDL model, Dr. Katz has broken the process of implementation into three blocks. The first block examines Social and Emotional Learning, and involves building compassionate learning communities, in which all students feel safe, valued, and have a sense of belonging.

In the second block of this model, called Inclusive Instructional Practice, physical and instructional environments are designed so that students have access to differentiated learning opportunities in order to address their varied learning modes. Dr. Katz explains that, “Course materials are differentiated in terms of level of complexity, methods of acquiring knowledge, and strategies for demonstrating understanding. As part of this practice, teachers build rubrics that reflect multiple developmental levels of understanding, and can be used to assess multi-modal expressions of understandings. Regular feedback and assessment is ongoing so that teachers can assess for learning, and when needed, conduct assessment/evaluation of learning.”

In the final block of the UDL model, Systems and Structures, provincial policy, funding, staffing, and other administrative practices are explored in the light of promoting an inclusive school system.

Mr. Charles Bendu, a Special Education Resource Teacher with Dufferin School (Winnipeg), has begun to implement the Three Block UDL model in his classrooms and witnessed an increase in student engagement. “Once the room is set up and the students understand what their strengths are, the students can begin to demonstrate their learning from that point of view. What makes the UDL model so effective is that it helps teachers guide students to demonstrate their learning and to be engaged. It’s a very democratic and flexible way of instructing students at different levels.”

The engagement and improved feelings of self-concept that develop in the students who attend classes using Dr. Katz’s strategies are expressed best by the students who attend these unique classes. One student explains that he learned a lot about himself and others like him through this unique program. “The most important thing I have learned about was people. People such as me. How someone can shine a light on you even when you are in a dark place. How all people have something to contribute. I have learned to listen to others with their own opinion because it can help me on my work. Some kids believe that there is no hope in life. That they will always fail. But these children have never heard of hope for the better, of Multiple Intelligences and that there is something for you. In conclusion, kids and all people matter. All people have the ability to achieve. Everyone has a great mind no matter how they act to others. The most important thing I learned was…to always believe in myself, and never give up.”

Recently, Dr. Katz completed a large study exploring the instructional outcomes, as well as the social and emotional outcomes for students, of The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning in the province funded by a grant from the University of Manitoba. Over 600 students, and 58 teachers, in ten schools located in four separate school divisions participated.
Students in the study ranged from grade one to grade twelve, and were located in a variety of rural, suburban, and inner city schools. Results confirm the earlier findings of the RD program, which include; improved student self-concept, respect for diverse others, sense of belonging, and perception of class climate. As well, the study indicated that students were significantly more engaged in their learning, and specifically, were more actively engaged in their learning in UDL designed classrooms at all ages. Analyses were conducted to explore whether the model has differential impacts on students of varying ages, locations (ie. rural versus urban), and gender. It was discovered that students in secondary UDL classes, on average, spent 42/60 minutes actively engaged, while students in non-UDL classes spent 7/60 minutes actively engaged. And while the results were profoundly significant at the high school level, significant effects were found at all ages, locations, and for all genders.
Teachers have also been surveyed to determine their experience of teaching in this way; it’s benefits and challenges, student outcomes, and job satisfaction. One teacher commented, “A program like this is very important, now more than ever. I can see that my students have a better understanding and overall respect for diversity as a result.”

To learn more about The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning, Dr. Katz has formed the Manitoba Alliance for Universal Design for Learning (MAUDEL). The alliance includes members of the Faculty of Education, Graduate students in the faculty, members of the Manitoba Teacher’s Society, Manitoba Education, and Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Council, and teachers and administrators from many different school divisions across the province. It’s stated goal is “Connecting Researchers and Practitioners, Research and Practice; Furthering the Goal of Building Inclusive, Compassionate Learning Communities.”

Dr. Jennifer Katz


Dr. Katz has travelled around the province speaking to school staffs, parent and teacher groups, Healthy Child Manitoba, and other community agencies about UDL and Inclusive Education. Recently, she presented her work at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Dr. Katz is the Manitoba representative to the Canadian Research Center for Inclusive Education, and met with the Minister of Education for New Brunswick, Mr. Jody Carr, to discuss the implementation Of Universal Design for Learning. Dr. Katz also was the keynote speaker for the Light the Fire conference sponsored by the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Council. Her book, Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning will be coming out this spring from Portage and Main Press.

For more information contact Dr. Jennifer Katz at jennifer_katz [at] umanitoba [dot] ca.


One comment on “Giving People the Opportunity to Contribute: A model for inclusive education

  1. Pingback: Faculty of Education » Dr. Jennifer Katz new book Teaching to Diversity: The Three-Block Model of Universal Design for Learning » Faculty of Education

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