You are not a coder, but take a look at the ‘back-end’ of a website. You are not bilingual, but start reading Le Monde. You are not a mathematician, but explore algebraic geometry. You have few mechanical skills, but still attempt to follow a bicycle assembly manual…and you don’t get very far with any of these areas. Rather, you may think, “It’s all double Dutch to me!”
Double Dutch is speech or language that is difficult to understand or decipher. Spare a thought for students who do not possess prior knowledge or awareness of specific language or symbols used in learning. The English alphabet is a code of letters that symbolise specific sounds. The process of decoding an encoded language begins with reading and then decoding the symbols to Braille, for example. Similarly, recognising and understanding mathematical symbols can be highly challenging. For some learners, fluency in decoding does not occur quickly. This means the student has difficulty in accessing the learning.
The lack of automaticity in decoding symbols creates an additional layer of cognitive load for the student. In turn, their ability to use their cognition on processing the learning or making meaning of it is limited.
To support learners’ acquisition of symbol knowledge and ability to use the coded language efficiently, students need consistent and meaningful exposure to symbols. Providing alternatives or adjustments to decoding supports students to access the learning and develop their knowledge and skills.
Tools to provide alternatives or adjustments include:
- Text-to-Speech software
- Glossaries or keyword lists
- Alternative sources of information (diagrams, voice-over explanations, worked examples, graphic organisers, etc)
- Automatic voicing for mathematical notation
For a relatively small cost in time, effort or money, these tools and strategies can provide meaningful support for students to equitably access learning.
Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the Centre for Universal Design Australia’s website.