Staff Development

Universal Design for Learning and Adaptive Design

CMA’s Inclusive Classroom model integrates Universal Design for Learning and Adaptive Design.

A practitioner with inclusive practices respects the many ways children experience and make art across museum programs both on and off-site. Inclusive directives create opportunities that expose children to the choices an artist makes, as well as various processes and methods used in the creation of art. At the heart of all inclusive initiatives is socialization.

Universal Design for Learning and Adaptive Design are pedagogies that support independence and accessibility to Project-Based Learning, as well as promote the inclusion of various learning styles. Teaching Artists should first plan for the many ways students can access information, learn from, and make choices when designing directives. Teaching Artists should also be prepared to make adaptations to the needs of their community of students which may include designing tools for supporting socialization, independent executive functioning and overcoming physical barriers. Developing a flexible Tool Kit of teaching practices will help to sustain your Inclusive Classroom Model in any setting including private lessons, classroom, public and community programs. Each Artist brings a unique perspective to teaching that benefits all children who are invited to the experience.

Watch the Video: “DIY Adaptive Art-Making Tools“ featuring Kirsten McNally, former Director of Museum Programming, which includes tips on how to think about materials to promote Universal Design for Learning and use creative adaptive tools that serve your students’ needs.

Planning Directives

Start with understanding milestones in child development and mark making.

  • Plan a multi-step project and have supplies divided into different phases of the project to be introduced slowly. Multi-step projects help increase focus, foster success as each step is completed, and allow participants to fully experience each material before moving on to a new material or process.
  • Providing too many directions or materials at once can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially if art making is a new or challenging experience for the individual. Similar to Project-Based Learning (PBL) techniques used in the education field, this multi-step process enables families and children to engage in an extended project and to investigate and problem solve real world situations by making meaningful connections.
  • Scaffolding techniques can help individuals by providing tiers towards a big question the directive will investigate. Tools used to scaffold directives may include the following:
    • Discussions that are non-judgemental and investigative can source ideas (i.e. Visual Thinking Strategies, brainstorming, object-based research)
    • Modeling can provide important information for visual learners, including social skills (i.e. adult-student, peer-peer, group-individual, gesturing)
    • Graphic organizers can help organize ideas and unpack content (i.e. timelines, diagrams)
    • Dividing steps into smaller achievable parts can help reduce anxiety (i.e. scavenger hunts, checklists)
  • The role of the Teaching Artist is to support opportunities for critical thinking, collaboration, communication, social development, and creativity.

Quality of Materials

Different art materials have different qualities. Being thoughtful around the materials you choose begins with thinking about the participant’s age / developmental level, the quality of the art material, and/or what a particular material may evoke.

  • Dry materials like colored pencils and crayons are easy to work with in a structured way and typically evoke a level of control. Dry materials can be a way to encourage focus and collaboration, for example having a parent trace their child’s hand or playing a game of copy each other’s lines.
  • Wet materials like clay and paint are more stimulating and evoke excitement and looser expressions. Wet materials allow for a tactile experience that allows for more fluid creative experiences. An example may be working with watercolors to explore color mixing or considering how clay can be manipulated then seeing how many different shapes it can take.

Below is a simple guide to materials that are typically used and what these materials may encourage in the art making process:

  • Drawing Materials: Drawing materials encourage more controlled exploration. Drawing provides a rich sensorimotor experience and can be used with any age. Drawing materials may include crayons, markers, colored pencils and oil pastels.
  • Multi-Sensory Materials: Multi-sensory materials encourage exploring through our senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing). Multi-sensory materials are great to use with any age, and  are especially fitting for early learners who are developmentally learning through their senses. Multi-sensory materials can be used in combination with a wet material like glue to create a collage. Multi-sensory materials may include pom poms, cotton balls, felt, fabric, tissue paper, sand, bubble wrap or dry spices.
  • Paint: Paint is a fluid material that can be used to make both concrete and abstract expressions. Mixing paint is often a pleasurable experience and using different tools for spreading paint, like toy cars, forks, or marbles, exercises creative thinking.
  • Clay: Clay is a tactile and forgiving material. It is a great material for channeling excess energy and creative problem solving, since it can take so many forms. Traditional clay may be a difficult material for participants who do not like mess or the feel of wet materials. These participants may enjoy polymer-based clay like Crayola Model Magic. For early learners, homemade play dough may be a first step to working with clay.
  • Non-Traditional Materials: Materials that encourage participants to think creatively about what can be used to make artwork. By using materials that can be found around the house, participants can begin to see more opportunity for creative expression. Recyclable materials, like water bottles, cereal boxes, and milk cartons, can be used to make a 3-D sculpture of a building or a model rocket ship. Other non-traditional materials may include toy parts, forks, cups, packing peanuts, wrapping paper, plastic bags or newspaper.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

“Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone– not a single, one-size-fits-all solution, but rather flexible approaches [with choices] that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. The goal of UDL is to provide multiple pathways to understanding for the maximum number of learners. Designing for inclusion and providing choices for looking and making art.”

— from the National Center on Universal Design for Learning

The 3 Guiding Principles of UDL are based on providing multiples ways of:

  1. Representation: Are various sensory perceptions, language, symbols and comprehension methods considered?
  2. Expression: Are there different methods of varying action, accessing tools, technologies, fluency, problem solving and ways of expression of executive functions?
  3. Engagement: Have you considered various styles of motivation, choices, independence, cultural values, safety needs, supports, working styles, levels of mastery, and options for self-regulation and reflection?

Teaching Artist Toolkit

From offering a variety materials and choices (for example, pre-cut paper along with scissors and paper) to increasing engagement with body movement, to creating a cardboard easel to prop up a piece of paper, there is a lot that can be done to accommodate the unique nature of each young artist and create learning experiences that suit individual learners. You do not need anything fancy or expensive to make it happen.

Here are some examples of materials to include in your Teaching Artist Toolkit:

  • Cardboard Easel: Quickly fold a piece of cardboard into a triangle shape to create an easel, then tape it to the table. This creates easier access to the artist’s paper or surface.
  • Tool Grips: Have markers of various thicknesses available, and have some model magic, plasticine or cardboard on hand to create a grip to fit a young artist’s hand.
  • Velcro: You can use Velcro to keep tools in place, or even to comfortably attach an art-making tool to an artist’s hand.
  • Flat Trays or Aluminum Foil: Artists may have difficulty reaching out or in. Try placing materials on a flat tray or tin for easier access, or tape aluminum foil to the table and pour small amounts of wet media on it.
  • Tape: Artists may need objects or tools (paper for example) taped down to keep it in place during the art making.
  • Glue: If young artists do not like the sensation of messy glue or have a hard time using liquid glue, try glue sticks of different thicknesses and sizes.
  • Material Choices: It is always a good idea to offer different types of paper choices and materials that have different thicknesses and textures. Young artists may gravitate towards materials they feel most comfortable handling.

Download a PDF of the Teaching Artist Toolkit for Accessibility

Adaptive Design

Adaptive Design enables people to effectively and purposefully engage in activities. This includes recreational activities like reading, music, and art. This is an affordable and easy way to help children with disabilities as they express themselves through art. You can make devices by transforming inexpensive, everyday household items. With this knowledge, you can also build many other similar DIY devices as your student develops and grows. Examples can include, using scented markers with students who are blind to promote independent choices during project making; and constructing a quick and inexpensive easel out of cardboard for students with restricted movement or reach.

The main ideas of Adaptive Design are:

  1. The PERSON: Who is using the device? You can think about factors like age, gender, height, weight, and even personal interests: What does this person need and want in a design?
  2. The ENVIRONMENT: What is the environment in which the person will be using the device? You can think about things like space and in what context the device will be used (at school, at work, at home?). Does it blend in and work well with the surroundings?
  3. UNIVERSAL DESIGN: Can this device be used by anyone?

Click on the image below to download Four Adaptive Design Solutions created in partnership with an Occupational Therapist. 

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