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Inclusive Strategies in CTE Courses Improve Student Engagement

Subtle changes are underway in career and technical education courses across the country that are significantly impacting how students learn and engage in training for trade skills, CTE experts said.

Growing efforts to include lessons and activities with more relevance, choice and accessibility are helping students who have historically faced barriers in CTE courses, including students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and girls.

The focus on accommodations is also encouraging educators and their CTE business partners to be more inclusive of all types of learners. The CTE programs are using a universal design for learning framework for creating curriculum that gives opportunities for student engagement, learning preferences and demonstration of knowledge. 

While the UDL framework has existed for a while — its origins began when CAST was founded in 1984 with a mission to support students with disabilities — it has since been promoted as a best practice approach for learners with a wide range of cognitive and physical strengths and needs.

The Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have references to UDL practices. When the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act —  which provides federal funding for CTE programs — was reauthorized by Congress in 2018, it also endorsed UDL principles.

Now, district CTE programs are exploring ways to incorporate practices into their programs. This could be allowing students to choose the design for their construction and architecture project, giving options for demonstrating the way they build a recipe for a culinary assessment, or allowing for multiple ways to provide feedback to educators. The classroom approaches can help build student resourcefulness, confidence and ownership in their learning. 

Instructional approaches

In many ways, CTE programs are a natural fit with UDL practices because classes typically have multiple means of student engagement and demonstration of knowledge. As an example, IVVC has 10 member school districts. About 500 high school juniors and seniors from those districts travel to the center each school day for two-and-a-half hour elective coursework in their chosen CTE concentration. The center has five career pathways — Skill Trades, Public Safety, Health Sciences, Technology and Human Services.

IVVC is incorporating UDL approaches by designing options into curriculum and anticipating barriers to learning or participation. For example, in the past, culinary students only had one option for demonstrating a cooking technique, with all students using the same recipe. During the pandemic, the teacher started allowing students to use videos to show their cooking technique, using recipes they chose. Students were able to take so much more ownership because they were able to have those different ways to prove that they learned it, but also to express that back to the teacher.

Valley Education for Employment System in Illinois is also incorporating UDL into its practices. VALEES provides assistance and professional development to 17 member school districts that design and operate their own CTE programs. For students, that UDL approach may include giving choice and autonomy for understanding concepts through a video or reading an article. For CTE teachers, it’s about helping them design their lesson to be more flexible in the presentation of concepts, the use of technology and how students show they’ve mastered the content.

Supporting teachers, business partners

UDL provides a “common language” between district administrators, CTE educators who often come from specific trade industries, and the CTE programs’ business partners. It also gives CTE teachers — who may not have gone through traditional teacher-preparation courses — the approaches they need to support the variety of learners in their classrooms. If you design with UDL from the beginning, right, you’re already supporting those learners. You’re building that into your practice.

Thank you for publishing this blog and for incorporating the video about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). We are trying to do a better job at my school to rethink our practices to incorporate UDL and to develop a UDL-first mindset so that it becomes more common practice. The real-world examples in the blog are great because they are practical, and I can easily see how they are replicable. Great blog!

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