Applying universal design as a pathway to inclusive career education
New Brunswick’s Future Ready Learning K-12 strategy aims to meet needs of all learners
There is a sense of urgency as we face the educational, societal and financial uncertainty resulting from a global pandemic. Additionally, a focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion have ignited important conversations. As a Learning Specialist for Universal Design for Career Education for the New Brunswick government, I believe it is more important than ever to continue implementing a universally designed career education strategy for K-12. This is a pathway to meeting the needs of all learners.
It has long been predicted that our young people would face a future unlike anything we have experienced. However, we were unprepared for labour market disruption to happen so rapidly, and because of COVID-19. Regardless, great change is upon us and will only continue to gain speed and momentum. If we do not focus on universally designing career education in K-12, many young people – especially our most marginalized – will struggle to access the associated educational, societal and financial benefits. Therefore, we must consider diversity, equity and inclusion in our design and delivery of career education.
Universal design for career education
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework based in cognitive neuroscience that allows educators to design learning experiences that work across a wide spectrum of learners. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students. UDL allows educators to anticipate learner variability and provide every student with equal opportunities to learn (cast.org).
“If we do not focus on universally designing career education in K-12, many young people – especially our most marginalized – will struggle to access the associated educational, societal and financial benefits.”
Universal design for career education is designing career development experiences to meet the needs of all learners. Using the CAST UDL Guidelines tool, the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD)’s Future Ready Learning K-12 strategy was designed and is being delivered using multiple means of engagement, expression and representation. Using UDL allows us to address systemic barriers that result in inequitable access to career education. This is a means to social justice.
Developing an equitable career education strategy
Using UDL principles, Future Ready Learning K-12 was developed in consultation with all those it represents. The government prioritized the inclusion of diverse perspectives in identifying the best practices that prepare young people for success today and into the future. We conducted student and educator focus groups province-wide to ask what they felt was needed to prepare for the future. We also formed consultative partnerships with organizations representing students with disabilities, the LGBTQ2+ population, newcomers to New Brunswick and Indigenous students. This input informed our career education strategy, including the identification of our future-ready learning best practices. These practices are not subject-specific, allowing them to be universally and intentionally integrated across the curriculum.
Delivering career development across the curriculum K-12 creates equitable access to career education. Adriano Magnifico’s article “Making Career Development ‘Stick’ in K-12” (2020) does a remarkable job outlining the steps needed to sell, prioritize, plan and scale career development programming in K-12 schools. Inclusive and equitable career education requires the use of future-ready learning best practices starting in kindergarten and continuing throughout all grades and subjects.
Traditionally, career education has been the responsibility of a few and takes place only within designated classes, which limits access. We are working diligently at changing the narrative surrounding the idea of career development. We are helping educators to see career education as the development of students’ skills, strategies, supports and resilience needed to successfully transition and pursue their preferred futures. When framed in this way, all educators, regardless of grade or subject, become career influencers.
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Examples of New Brunswick’s universal design for career education
New Brunswick has many new initiatives to help ensure career development is reaching all learners, from professional learning for educators to experiential learning at the middle school level. Here are a few examples of universal design for career education:
Train the trainer: Educators need career development training to be able to offer career education to all students (Councils of Ministers of Education, Canada). EECD has developed a series of professional learning modules for educators that include various instructional strategies and ideas for engaging, expressing and representing career learning. Educators develop a “toolkit” that provides the resources and ideas for offering universal career education. Further, educators are provided with an online course called Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms that will increase their proficiency in working with newcomers and English Language Learners.
The early years: In elementary schools, educators were given the opportunity to select from a list of curated, free classroom books for facilitating children’s exploration of occupations while also considering the social-emotional competencies needed to prepare for the future. Based on the chapter “Children’s Reasoning about Career Development: The Conceptions of Career Choice and Attainment Model” (K. Howard & S. Dinius) in CERIC’s 2019 publication, Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice (ceric.ca/theories), educators were encouraged to incorporate UDL and storybooks to help students understand occupations and careers. Each educator applied the UDL principles to meet the needs of their learners. Multiple means of expression included reading aloud independently, with reading buddies or using audio recordings. Educators engaged students through independent work, small and whole group experiences, and with the use of assistive technology. Most importantly, the students had choice in how they would represent their knowledge. To support the use of UDL, the educators were provided with a UDL Checklist and a UDL Lesson Plan Template to ensure all learners were considered in the development of the career learning associated with the books/lessons.
Middle school experiential learning: The New Brunswick Investigate! Invent! Innovate! (I3) Careers pilot, developed with The Learning Partnership, was used across the middle school curriculum and entire classes were able to participate. In this model of experiential learning, students focus on solving a real-world challenge and then work backward to discover more about the careers and skills related to their areas of interest, rather than job titles. Using UDL principles, educators were able to provide multiple means of representation such as online research, informational interviews with community members and/or guest speakers. Further, students were engaged through co-operative learning, station learning, independent work or the use of technology. Finally, expression of learning included the use of digital portfolios and/or poster presentations.
Considering culture: Recognizing that we have students and families who may have difficulty accessing information due to language barriers, we have been working with local immigrant-serving agencies to have provincial Education Support Services materials translated into the 14 most common languages spoken in New Brunswick (including two Indigenous languages and American Sign Language). This includes a recent career development document titled “Hope for the Future: The Benefits of Planning for the Future,” using myBlueprint. MyBlueprint is an online career/life planning tool that is available to all educators, students and families in New Brunswick. It provides 24/7 assess to career development tools and can easily be used in a variety of languages.
As we take stock of our current situation and consider the challenges that have surfaced because of COVID-19, we are reminded that the time is now to systemically advance universal design for career education. As we work to bridge the career education gap, let us not forget the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning. Every young person needs to be provided with equal opportunity for Future Ready Learning.
Tricia Berry, BA, BEd, MEd, is a Learning Specialist for Universal Design for Career Education with the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. She comes to her position with 16 years of guidance-related teaching experience and training as an employment counsellor. Further, Berry works part time in the School of Education at St. Thomas University.
Arthur, N. (2019). Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice. CERIC
CMEC Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions. cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/372/CMEC-Reference-Framework-for-Successful-Student-Transitions-EN.pdf
Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET). (n.d.). camet-camef.ca/
Magnifico, A. (2020). Making Career Development Stick K-12. Careering. ceric.ca/2020/10/making-career-development-stick-in-k-12/
Novak, K., & Thibodeau, T. (2016). UDL in the cloud: How to design and deliver online education using universal design for learning. Wakefield, MA: Cast Professional Publishing.
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Universal Design for Learning. cast.org