Embracing Universal Design for Learning
Stephanie Beaver started taking education classes in college, but due to some changes in her family, her financial situation changed. “I decided to wait on completing my degree and choose a different career path that would be flexible and allow me to support myself,” she said. She began working as a cosmetologist but also stayed involved in the field of education by working as an elementary school paraprofessional and an administrative assistant for a middle school administrator. As she and her husband had three children, she became a stay-at-home mom and led her kids in hands-on learning experiences.
“As a parent, you experience the world all over again through a child’s eyes,” Stephanie reflected. “I loved being part of that joy and discovery.” Stephanie has also enjoyed watching and assisting in the tremendous growth her children have made through early intervention and special education services to address their needs.
After her youngest child started kindergarten, Stephanie began to reflect on her career and wonder what her next step would be. In a Bible study class, she was struck by a question St. Paul asked in Acts 22:10 when he faced a turning point: “What shall I do, Lord?”
“That question rang in my head,” Stephanie comments. She prayed about it and kept returning to the idea of becoming a teacher. She had concerns—was this the right time in her life to go back to school? Was the timing right for her family?
Her husband helped confirm her aspirations. “You’ve always wanted to do this, so why not?” he asked. Their youngest child was starting kindergarten, so having all three children in school full-time gave Stephanie an opportunity to pursue her own schooling without disrupting the family routine.
“Life is going to give us different challenges,” Stephanie remarked. “You either get stuck or you push forward. I’ve always been a ‘push forward’ person.”
Stephanie looked at a few different universities that offered graduate-level education programs, and Immaculata stood out. “It felt right; it felt like home. The staff answered my questions, and the process to enroll in the education program was seamless,” Stephanie remembered. “It was the best fit—why did I even look at other schools?” she wondered.
Stephanie began the coursework to become dual certified in special education and PK-4 education in January 2020. In summer 2021, she will complete her M.A. in Educational Leadership, which requires just four additional courses beyond the certification. Stephanie also plans to add a fifth and sixth grade certification this summer and begin her reading specialist certification in the fall.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, both Stephanie and her three children shifted to online learning at the same time. As she helped her kids with their schoolwork, she listened to their teachers and observed how they provided instruction as well as accommodations. Watching these teachers at work reinforced what Stephanie was learning in her education courses at IU.
One of Stephanie’s favorite classes was Instructional Accommodations with Karen Miscavage, Ed.D., who explained an approach to teaching called universal design for learning (UDL). “When you plan for the few, you will teach the many,” Dr. Miscavage emphasized. In this model, teachers adapt their lesson plans not just for students with special needs, but for the whole class. Most students learn better with simple accommodations such as looking at visual checklists on the board, using graphic organizers and taking “brain breaks.”
“All students benefit, no one is singled out, and everyone has access to various learning strategies,” Stephanie noted.
In her Curriculum and Instruction course with Joe Corabi, Ed.D., Stephanie put the UDL method into practice by creating a presentation about how she would accommodate and assess a student with an individualized education plan. After she presented, Dr. Corabi commented that her work was at a level he would have expected from a seasoned teacher, not someone just getting into the field. “I have learned through my own children what they need, and now I’m applying that knowledge, understanding and connection as both a parent and educator in the classroom,” Stephanie said. In addition, she has found that observing her children’s teachers and how they addressed their students’ needs helped her apply what she had learned in her classes.
Stephanie appreciated the boost of confidence she received in Dr. Corabi’s feedback. “That was, ‘Yes, I got this!’” she said.
After Stephanie completed her student teaching experience in an elementary school classroom, the school asked her to become a long-term substitute teacher in a fourth-grade classroom, and she plans to seek a full-time position in the fall. All her experiences, with her children and her education at Immaculata, have given her the sense of purpose and the skills to be an excellent teacher.