An important component of my classroom organization and management plan is the design of the classroom and assistive technology used in the classroom. In my classroom, I plan to utilize the concept of universal design. In their book Inclusive Teaching: The Journey Towards Effective Schools for All Learners, Peterson and Hittie describe universal design as a conceptual revolution that seeks to create products and environments that are usable by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized design (Peterson and Hittie 218). They mention a few examples of universal design that I plan to use in my own classroom, such as talking software and audio books that can be used by all students, not just those with special needs (Peterson and Hittie 220). Talking software and audio books fall under the category of assistive technology, another important element in an inclusive classroom. According to Peterson and Hittie, assistive technology is “technology that helps a person with special needs learn or perform a task he or she could not otherwise do” (Peterson and Hittie 251).
In the room design that I created [Figure 1], the classroom is intended to adhere to the principles of universal design and to incorporate assistive technology for reading and writing, two skills that are used intensively in an English Language Arts classroom. Each person who uses assistive technology should be matched with the tool that best serves their purpose, so my classroom is designed to accommodate a variety of assistive technologies. Because computers can be used in a variety of ways as assistive technology, my ideal classroom design contains four computer stations. In their article, Stanberry and Raskind highlight some assistive technologies that can be used by students with various special needs who struggle with writing (Stanley and Raskind 1). These include alternative keyboards with graphics to aid comprehension; graphic organizers to help students physically maneuver information into a coherent structure; proofreading software programs; speech recognition software programs; and word prediction software programs (Stanberry and Raskind 1). The authors also highlight some assistive technologies to that can be used by students with various special needs who struggle with reading (Stanberry and Raskind 1). These include audio books and publications for students to listen to in lieu of reading or to listen to as they read; optical character recognition, which allows a student to scan printed material which is then read aloud by a screen reading system; and speech synthesizers and screen readers that read aloud texts on a computer screen (Stanberry and Raskind 1). The computers in my classroom will accommodate many of these technologies that aid students in reading and writing. The computer stations are situated near the student tables and allow students to face the rest of the classroom so that they can view the entire room and be more fully included.
Mobility is another aspect of universal design and inclusive environments. Instead of constricted rows, my classroom design has students seated in heterogeneous groupings at round tables with ample floor space to promote wheelchair accessibility. The round tables also encourage student interaction, an important component of an inclusive classroom (Peterson and Hittie 233). The round tables can be used as activity centers during certain lessons and can easily be moved to create more floor space. Instead of working from a desk, I plan to interact with students, moving around their tables and the classroom. In place of a desk, my room design features a chair that can be moved around and shelving for resources and materials. One carpeted area of the classroom is surrounded by bookshelves and offers comfortable chairs and a couch for students to sit in. A second carpeted area is offered as a collaborative space or alternative writing area with comfortable chairs. By providing these alternative reading and writing areas, it is hoped that students will be able to work in an environment that is most comfortable and productive for them and an environment that suits their learning style and intelligences.
In addition to the more practical classroom design elements, Peterson and Hittie describe additional qualities of healthy learning environments. They mention that a classroom should be a place of joy, safe and aesthetically pleasing (Peterson and Hittie 220). I believe that round tables create a feeling of equality and foster collaboration among students. My classroom will be decorated with plants, student work, and inspiring and thought-provoking literary quotations. Books and media are also part of the design. Having bookshelves filled with general interest and young adult books is essential in an English Language Arts classroom, as it promotes recreational reading and can spark students’ imagination while writing. I believe there is also a place for music in an English Language Arts classroom, as it can help students create a mood while writing, can enhance reading, or offer a calming break during class. Film and visual media are also important for aiding students’ comprehension of material and in fostering creativity, so my room design also includes a projector.
By creating a stimulating, accessible, adaptive and comfortable classroom, I hope to be able to meet the needs of all of my students with as few modifications as possible. By anticipating different needs, strengths and learning styles, I hope to achieve a universal classroom design.