While the theme of this podcast is how one teacher got started with UDL, Jenny and I moved forward from there and talked about tools she believes help teachers move forward with their practice. Within that conversation, we talked about video recording. Whether the idea intrigues or repulses you, there is a whole body of quality literature that says it is an excellent tool to help you improve your instruction (Hollingsworth, 2005; Major & Watson, 2018; Star & Strickland, 2008; Tripp & Rich, 2012). My initiation into the process came early; I was in my undergraduate program and I still have the VHS tape!
We had to record ourselves, take notes, and then hand in the tape and the notes to our professor. We had to identify the strengths and (then labeled) weaknesses in our instruction. There I was in my oversized 80’s white top with writing all over it and my hair was pulled back in a barrette that slowly slid out of my hair during the 30 minutes. I eagerly connected with my four learners as we sat in the boiler room of the elementary school. These were students with disabilities, I was teaching them a side lesson, and this was the available space. My students were nonplussed but I remember being taken aback.
I also recall the mortification I felt when I watched the video recording the first time. Luckily, my professor has the foresight to tell us that we needed to watch it objectively. She only had us watch it once and take notes. I’ve shifted that to recommending three times (you can choose a 15–20-minute segment that you’re going to watch the three times). I recommend that you watch all three of them over the course of three days, not back-to-back in one sitting. Here are the steps I suggest:
Watch the first time with no sound. Watch your movements and your students’ responses.
Watch your facial expressions.
What is your face saying?
Are you happy?
Are your emotions limited?
What is your body language saying?
It is welcoming?
Do you enter the space of some learners and not others?
Do you physically reference teaching aids (e.g., do you point to the board?)
Do you gesture toward resources they are going to use?
Do you make eye contact?
All of your notes should focus on your movement and how your students are responding via their body language.
Watch the second time with the sound on, paying attention to what you’re saying and how you’re saying it.
Are your sentences clear?
Is your speech halting or is there a natural flow to it?
Do you repeat critical information?
Do you use inflection to emphasize important information?
Do you use silence to your advantage (e.g., not talking to create a calm or quiet environment)?
Do you speak in with a shouting voice or a projected voice (the first sounds forced; the latter carries)?
All of your notes should focus on how you are using your voice to communicate.
Watch the third time to observe the flow and movement of your learning environment.
Are you the only one moving?
When students are moving, do they move with purpose?
What can you do to help them gain more purpose?
When you are moving, are you pacing or do you have purpose to your movements?
Should you become more still at times to emphasize material or information?
Can you add in more opportunities for student movement?
All of your notes should focus on the flow and movement in your learning environment.
By breaking down your observations, you’re able to assess more about your teaching in a more systematic and objective way. You can identify patterns that support your learners and patterns that don’t. You’ll see where you tend to look and what you might be missing (no one can see everything all of the time). You can see where you tend to stand and whether you should shift that. Finally, it gives you a different vantage point of the classroom. That’s always valuable.
We’re always going to be subjective about our instruction, but these steps should provide you some distance. You can use that distance to collect data and even discuss some of it with colleagues. It is this kind of observation that can help us shift our teaching practices and discover more ways we can help our learners become expert learners.
Hollingsworth, H. (2005). Learning about teaching and teaching about learning: Using video data for research and professional development.
Major, L., & Watson, S. (2018). Using video to support in-service teacher professional development: the state of the field, limitations and possibilities. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 27(1), 49-68.
Star, J. R., & Strickland, S. K. (2008). Learning to observe: Using video to improve preservice mathematics teachers’ ability to notice. Journal of mathematics teacher education, 11, 107-125.
Tripp, T., & Rich, P. (2012). Using video to analyze one’s own teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(4), 678-704.
This podcast with Cassie Stevens and Lori Scott kicks off a series of podcasts that focus on a group from Educational Service Districts across the state of Washington and their journey to shift statewide inclusion practices through targeted leadership support, professional development, and being accessible to all educators. This series will share the UDL-aligned and UDL-adjacent experiences of building leaders and teachers across Washington, but what I want to focus on here is how they are building self-efficacy.
When you believe you have the ability to pull information and skills together and put them into action so you can produce a desired outcome, you are experiencing self-efficacy (Banduara, 1977).
Let’s pull that apart in a backwards design-y kind of way.
You want to reach a certain outcome, like including more students with disabilities in your classroom for longer periods of time. You know that when students with disabilities are included, their high school outcomes increase (Cole et. al., 2021; Cole et. al., 2022) and you want to be part of that. You have your goal/desired outcome.
When you take one more step back, the theory states that you need to be able to pull together the information you need and activate the skills you have to reach that goal. Within this scenario of inclusion, you gain insights on the types of support a student needs. You realize that the support aligns with support other students need and you feel comfortable weaving that into your lesson and learning environment. You also learn about some support that is unique to a learner (e.g., the student uses a communication board). You immediately realize that you need help understanding how to use this information. Maybe you’ve never taught a student who uses a communication board. It is so new to you, you’re not sure how to move forward.
The theory asserts that teachers need to believe they have the ability, skills and knowledge to meet the stated goal. If that belief isn’t there, movement forward is restricted. But you’re involved in a project that has helped you and others create stronger communication. You reach out to the special education teacher and ask how to incorporate the student’s communication board into your class. The two of you talk about the upcoming lesson, the day-to-day vocabulary that is used in your classroom, and the overall vocabulary that is part of the current unit. You know that the special educator is going to do some pre-teaching with the student and add the new information to the communication board.
With just that step, you start to see greater possibility. You start to believe that you can support this student because you are learning a skill and have gained some knowledge that allows you to move toward your desired outcome.
I believe the Inclusionary Project in Washington brings this theory to life. There are leadership teams across Washington who stepped forward and said, “We want to achieve a goal, but we don’t have the skills and knowledge.” They wanted to place themselves in an iterative learning process (that is continuous, by the way. Implementing inclusive practices is ever evolving). They wanted to reach a point where they believed they could effectively support these learners. They have demonstrated that it’s possible and I can’t wait to share their stories of how they are paving the way so all learners can become expert learners.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84 191–215.
Cole, Murphy, H. R., Frisby, M. B., Grossi, T. A., & Bolte, H. R. (2021). The Relationship of Special Education Placement and Student Academic Outcomes. The Journal of Special Education, 54(4), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022466920925033
Cole, Murphy, H. R., Frisby, M. B., & Robinson, J. (2022). The Relationship Between Special Education Placement and High School Outcomes. The Journal of Special Education, 2246692210979. https://doi.org/10.1177/00224669221097945
Knowing what kind of challenge you’re facing so you can address it
Kaity Day and Brett Boezeman, current and former building leaders, share the story of Schmitt Elementary School in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) during this episode. They share how they came to know Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as employees of BCSC and how they had the opportunity to learn alongside both teachers and other administrators. It is clear that they value the collaborative learning opportunities they’ve had, but what if you’re in a district that hasn’t adopted UDL across all buildings? What if you’re the lone principal? All is not lost.
Adopting any kind of framework or system that helps improve educational outcomes inherently requires change. You wouldn’t need the framework or system is all was fine. Sometimes that change is more significant than other kinds of change. Because UDL clearly states that all learners can learn and all learners should have every opportunity to learn in a variety of ways, this not only changes how some educators design and deliver their instruction, it also requires a mindset shift. For example, instead of believing that learners do best when consistently separated into learning groups, UDL provides a pathway to develop strong, social learning communities where students explore alongside one another (see Vygotsky’s work). Understanding this mindset shift, though, probably doesn’t feel like enough to help you take on the challenges of systems change.
Like I said above, UDL requires change. Diving into this kind of change requires some planned work. Luckily, there are organizations that focus on systems change. One of those is the State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence-based Practices (SISEP). They organize all of the components you need to consider during change into a collection of what they call “drivers.” Drivers are what are necessary for successful change. The three overall drivers are represented by a triangle and include the Competency drivers, the Organization drivers, and the Leadership driver. Leadership is visually presented as the base of that triangle for good reason – leaders are required to face challenges that comes with the change process. They have to keep the change process going and make the necessary shifts along to way to support staff as they meet their own challenges. There are two terms associated with these kinds of challenges: adaptive and technical.
Adaptive challenges require a response that is nuanced and pays attention to human needs and behaviors. Technical challenges require a response that is straight-forward and directive. A major misstep is when leadership try to fix an adaptive challenge with a technical solution.
Using a non-education example: if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, a technical response is to take medication. We know, though, that this specific and singular response isn’t enough. The required solution is more nuanced and needs a closer look at human behaviors. The patient also needs help changing her diet, learning ways to move through her stress, and bringing more exercise into her life. How about an education example?
If arrival is particularly chaotic in the morning, a technical response is to unload buses one at a time and require all “walkers” to come in a separate entrance in a single file line. This response might make things more orderly, but it also adds a lot of time to the arrival timeline. The required solution is more nuanced and needs a closer look at human behaviors. Are bus drivers trained in the school’s overall behavioral norms (e.g., expectations) so they can take students through a reminder process once they’ve parked at the school? Is there signage and active verbal support during arrival to remind students of expectations? Is there an environment of “Welcome! We are so happy you are here!” or an environment of “You must follow these rules, or you’re all going to be in trouble!”? I’m exaggerating a bit here to make the point, but arrival time is more of an adaptive challenge. There might be some technical solutions in there, but the overall issue should be approached as an adaptive challenge.
In their books, “The Work of Leadership” by Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie and “Leadership on the Line” by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, there grew a table that shows the difference between adaptive and technical challenges. I have slightly adapted that table for the education setting (for the original, see https://www.sgaumc.org/files/files_library/technical_vs_adaptive_challenges.pdf)
1. Easy to identify
1. Difficult to identify
2. Often lend themselves to quick and easy (cut-and-dried) solutions
2. Require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships & approaches to work
3. Often can be solved by an authority or expert
3. People facing the challenge do the work of identifying and applying solutions
4. Require change in just one or a few places; often contained within a school or even classrooms
4. Require change in numerous places; usually across the school or district
5. People are generally receptive to technical solutions
5. People often resist even acknowledging adaptive challenges
6. Solutions can often be implemented quickly – even by edict
6. “Solutions” require experiments and new discoveries; they can take a long time to implement and cannot be implemented by edict
I talk about Kaity and Brett’s roles as leaders of change toward the end of the podcast, but I’m going to break it down a bit more here. Both of them brought their ability to address technical challenges with them. They both took time to learn deeply about UDL. To date, they can talk about the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints. They can talk about variability, accessibility, options and choice. They know how UDL fits within the policy structures of the district and what their roles as building and district leaders are when it comes to UDL. All of this helps them deal with the easy to identify technical challenges associated with UDL. They can share their knowledge to answer questions and guide that kind of change in the building. Brett’s example of identifying physical barriers as a first step is a great example of identifying a technical challenge and addressing it. The other kind of challenges they’ve needed to address, though, are the adaptive challenges.
Adaptive challenges required them to shift their thinking within the moment and find another avenue to meet their goal. It was their ability to problem solve and see alternatives, including the changes they needed to make in their own leadership (e.g., “I need to shut up and get out of the way with some of these folks…”). Both Kaity and Brett were also willing to look for additional ways to include students with significant disabilities because (a) they knew that this was a goal of the district, (b) because they knew it was what was best for all students, and (c) because they were and continue to be energized by their own journey with technical and adaptive challenges.
If you are looking to or are currently bringing UDL to your building, I invite you to look at your different challenges as technical or adaptive. This way, you can begin to plan how you want to address them, whether you’ll need or want help, and whether you’ll need to make some of your own changes. UDL is a framework that requires us all to learn and grow. It stretches our conceptualization of teaching and learning. It also makes us confront our beliefs about the capacity and growth of all learners. It is a framework that makes us investigate our own expert learner traits as we support our learners to do the same.
This blog is associated with the first podcast in a series about Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) in Columbus, Indiana. While a big part of their story is the fact that they have been implementing UDL for about 20 years now, they have made significant strides in how to effectively, honestly, and thoughtfully include students with significant disabilities in the general education setting. To get us started on that conversation, though, I wanted to interview George. He is the Director of Special Education for BCSC, a tremendous advocate, and knows how to point funding to benefit all learners.
While the interview focuses on the steps BCSC has taken over their years, George and I landed on a critical piece of that conversation – partnerships. George and others at BCSC have partnered with CAST, the UDL-IRN, and other researchers over the years. As George states, “it’s not a journey you want to take by yourself. You don’t want to be the guy in the row boat out in the middle of the ocean hoping things work out.” But how do you begin those partnerships? How do you connect?
Let’s start with research. CAST makes this easy. On their website, you’ll see a tab at the top labeled, “Get involved.” That dropdown menu includes “Research opportunities.” When you click on that, you will go to a page that lists what it means to partner with CAST, their current projects and how you can help, the benefits to learners and educators, and a chance for you to share your ideas.
The UDL-IRN (the Implementation and Research Network) is a great place to make connections and see what research is going on. You can sign up for their weekly newsletter which shares what’s going on in the UDL community. The conference is a great place to make connections and easily start up those conversations. Like George said, “the great thing about the UDL community is that we all help each other and we’re all willing to work.”
If you’re looking for advice or examples, you’ve come to the right place! Every contact information isn’t included with the podcast, you can also contact me and I’ll put you in touch with them. If you go to my Table of Episodes and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find interviews with principals, directors of pupil services, and superintendents as well as leaders in the field who support schools. Who knows? You might find your UDL mentor in their crowd!
Going back to George’s comment about the row boat scenario, it’s true. You don’t want to be alone on this journey. In her interview Laura Christie talked about “finding her people” when she learned about UDL and found others who are passionate about it because she was the load UDL person in her school.
I encourage you to find those people in your UDL-world. Connect. Have challenging conversations. Share your bumps and bruises along with your hopes and happy thoughts. Helping our learners become expert learners isn’t always easy, but it’s always life affirming – for everyone involved!!
I began to really look at the academic pieces more as a vessel to teach these essential life skills and doing that really became instrumental in creating a safe learning environment for these students and I began a journey with them of learning and figuring out where we needed to go together.
What a wonderful visualization of how to support learners. Melanie sees the academic piece as a vessel or a container that holds space to create a safe learning environment and help learners gain social-emotional skills. Instead of seeing academics and social-emotional learning as two separate components that need to be brought together, she uses the academics as a tool to teach what she called “essential life skills.” During the podcast she describes how she did that in her classroom, but let’s think about another example.
Maybe you’re a high school American History teacher and the focus of the next unit is the American Civil War. According to the teaching standards, students must be able to describe the causes and leading effects of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the political controversies at that time. And because subject standards like History also include literacy standards, you know that your students need to author content across a variety of historical topics, from different points of view and for different audiences. How can you use your subject as a vessel to teach essential life skills?
I can confidently say that every country in the world has experienced conflict during its history and the United States is no different. Examining conflict, how that conflict is resolved and how it is not resolved is a very personal journey and can be a strategy to help students connect with a topic. A unit focused on the U.S. Civil War and Reconstruction could have the students author informed works from multiple points of view about the same historical moment and those works could be for different audiences. For example, a single battle could be chosen and the students could choose to author a piece from the point of view of a soldier, a slave, an indentured soldier, a mother or father of any race or ethnicity from the north or south, and so on. To write for different audiences, students could choose to author a personal letter, a public speech, a political pamphlet, or a newspaper clipping. And, because the standard does not stipulate writing, the students can use a variety of media to communicate their ideas.
To ensure the students are reviewing accurate and meaningful accounts from a variety of voices, you could identify vocal recordings, written letters, endorsed biographies, and verified autobiographies in newspapers, leaflets, speeches, sermons, books, etc. and could set them up to find the voices and written examples they want to emulate. You would need a rubric to clarify the acceptable language and topics as well as the academic components. Part of the assignment, though, would have students openly discuss (i.e., vocally, through writing, or artistic expression) the deep emotions the authors of these works were feeling. You could have them explore the emotions they feel at times in comparison to their character’s emotional experiences. If you want to build community and collaboration in your class, students could work on these projects together acting as creation partners. Your guidance on how to create an equitable partnership would be needed (e.g., ensuring each student has a specific and accountable role in the partnership is key), but give students space and tools to reconcile collaborative missteps. They will need these skills for the rest of their lives!
While the above is the outline of an idea that would need to be specified even more, you can see how Melanie’s idea of the content being the vessel can work at any grade level and with any subject. There are plenty of other gems in this episode, so I hope you listen to it closely. You’ll hear multiple examples of how Melanie is not just helping her students gain content knowledge, she’s helping them become expert learners.
Instructional rounds are a productive and supportive way to improve instructional practices. They are based on inquiry versus evaluation. Nothing is good or bad; rather, the observers and the classroom teacher work together to identify how instruction can shift to make progress toward an identified goal. In this episode, Principal Keith Tonn shares how he and the Eisenhower Elementary 2st Century Coach have been conducting instructional rounds to support their staff in their use of UDL to design their lessons and learning environments. Our conversation got me thinking about typical tools for UDL look for’s and what might need to be added.
UDL is often defined by what is in the graphic organizer, or the UDL Guidelines.
I suggest adding a few questions that get to the foundations of UDL.
Are all learners present? (i.e., are there learners who have been placed in other learning environments instead of this general education setting?)
If all learners are not present, what are the design barriers that are keeping them out of the general education setting?
What scaffolding is embedded within the instruction?
What strategies are in place so students can ask for clarification or support from others (adults or fellow students)?
In what ways does the design of the environment support equity?
In what ways are the assessments used during the lesson directly connected to the goal of the lesson.
In what ways are the materials and methods used during the lesson directly connected to the goal of the lesson?
What examples of student voice and choice do you see?
By responding to these questions via observation and conversation, discussions about UDL become richer and more strongly connected to the purpose of UDL – to create environments where all learners can become expert learners.
During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes with Kelly Zombo, she mentions a significant word from the Universal Design for Learning world – intentionality. She says, “Our focus is always on an intentional plan using the UDL framework and that’s how we really are supporting our strategic plan”. Intentionality. It is the lynchpin of UDL.
While the areas I listed above plus others undergird the framework, there is so much more depth in each checkpoint. That is where you find the depth and breadth of the framework. Below is the checkpoint, Increase mastery-oriented feedback:
Assessment is most productive for sustaining engagement when the feedback is relevant, constructive, accessible, consequential, and timely. But the type of feedback is also critical in helping learners to sustain the motivation and effort essential to learning. Mastery-oriented feedback is the type of feedback that guides learners toward mastery rather than a fixed notion of performance or compliance. It also emphasizes the role of effort and practice rather than “intelligence” or inherent “ability” as an important factor in guiding learners toward successful long-term habits and learning practices. These distinctions may be particularly important for learners whose disabilities have been interpreted, by either themselves or their caregivers, as permanently constraining and fixed.
Provide feedback that encourages perseverance, focuses on development of efficacy and self-awareness, and encourages the use of specific supports and strategies in the face of challenge
Provide feedback that emphasizes effort, improvement, and achieving a standard rather than on relative performance
Provide feedback that is frequent, timely, and specific
Provide feedback that is substantive and informative rather than comparative or competitive
Provide feedback that models how to incorporate evaluation, including identifying patterns of errors and wrong answers, into positive strategies for future success
Intentionally applying this checkpoint means you put into action that beginning paragraph, but then you dig into those five bullets. They describe the dimensions and opportunities you have to honestly and thoroughly learn how to provide mastery-oriented feedback. And, teaching your students how to give this kind of feedback? Talk about a culture shift in the classroom! That’s what it means to intentionally use the framework.
How is this different?
This is another question that comes up a lot and is not always easy to answer in the moment, especially if the person is relatively new to the framework. My response aligns with what I just wrote above – it has to do with how deeply you dig into the checkpoints and purposefully bring them alive in your environment. Providing mastery-oriented feedback to the degree listed in this checkpoint is not an automatic response for most of us because we probably didn’t learn in an environment that consistently provided that kind of feedback. That means that we’re not working from a model (one of the first steps of scaffolding). Instead, we’re consciously practicing the act of mastery-oriented feedback. With that consciousness comes intentionality.
Intentionality burns glucose – the “juice” our brain uses when it’s focused. Intentionality moves us from a state of inactive to active. Intentionality breaks monotony and offers new avenues and opportunity. It is only with intentionality that we’re able to design lesson and learning environments that help our learners become expert learners.
A superintendent wears multiple leadership hats and usually wears several of them at the same time, but two of those hats are the academic leadership hat and the business leadership hat. While wearing the academic hat, the superintendent is focused on things like the academic needs and outcomes of the learners. While wearing the business hat, the superintendent is focused on things like the budget, bonds, the infrastructure (i.e., property and digital), community relationships, and board relationships. It’s easy to see that a superintendent might think about UDL while wearing the academic hat, but UDL can and should influence that business hat-wearing side, too.
The influence comes from understanding what needs to be in place or what supports the implementation of UDL. For example, we know that instructional technology (i.e., technology that can be used by individuals or groups to enhance or guide learning) as well as assistive technology (i.e., technology that is specific to support the needs of a single individual) create options and access and that UDL is definitely focused options and access! Those are instructional examples.
The physical infrastructure (e.g., access to WIFI, wiring for WIFI, the hardware, maintenance schedules, etc.) are typically part of the business side of decision-making. Using WIFI as an example, setting all of that up take money. Schools typically propose a bond. Investors loan the money if there is an agreement to pay them back. In most American cities and towns, this means the school needs to convince the community to pay additional property taxes to pay for that bond. That takes relationship building by the superintendent with the school board and the community. That’s part of business side.
While all of those steps have to take place, everyone has to remain focused on the goal – To expand access to WIFI to benefit all learners through their use of instructional technology and to benefit those learners who utilize assistive technology to participate alongside their peers. Otherwise, you have a nice set of buildings with lovely access to WIFI and no real academic vision for how that WIFI will be used effectively, efficiently, and enthusiastically to provide options and access.
We talk A LOT about intentionality with UDL. We say that we must be intentional about our instructional and learning environment design. Well, the business side of education must also be intentional. The business side is there to support the instructional side, but there needs to be a clear understanding of how the business side provides that support.
During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Carrie Wozniak shares how Fraser Public School’s Strategic Plan and their Portrait of a Graduate address how UDL is a driver in their district. This all aligns with how they want their academics to be designed. At the end of the podcast, I ask Carrie to talk about the business side of her job and how UDL affects that. Carrie talks about her staff, giving us insight into the impact those positions have on instruction. I encourage you to listen and hear the examples of how Fraser Public Schools, from the business and instructional sides, are supporting all learners to become expert learners.
The “art” part of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) opens wide a door that can enhance any curriculum. By including visual arts, media arts, dramatic arts/theatre, dance and/or music, the resulting curriculum has the potential to improve outcomes for many learners. While there are disagreements on how the “arts” are defined and what their purpose is within the curriculum (e.g., to help teach 21st Century Skills like creativity and problem solving or to teach skills specific to STEAM) (see Boice et al., 2021), many continue to build curriculum with a focus on STEAM and see positive outcomes.
In this episode, Donzell Lewis shared his role in adding the art component of the 3rd grade STEAM-based curriculum. Within his focus on the art of theatre, he didn’t take on the role of writing a play to showcase the work of the students. Instead, he used the UDL framework to think of ways to gather the students’ voices to build an entire performance.
Likewise, other teachers from the arts have shared how UDL enhanced how they either teach the arts (listen to Lizzie Fortin and Timmary Leary) or how they represent a topic or skill through the arts (listen to Jessie Sherman). These examples can help educators understand how UDL can enhance the use of the arts for learning, and ensure every student has full access to the art.
STEM education has always been about application, exploration, innovation, observation, problem-solving and the interconnection and dependency that exists between the four subjects. In fact, research has shown that students’ knowledge in STEM, student intent to continue studying in the areas of STEM, and attitudes toward STEM have all increased as have gender dynamics in the classroom (Boice et al., 2021).
While the arts were added as an “onramp” for students who might be less inclined toward STEM (can we say, “hello Recruiting Interest”?), it soon became evident that the use of the arts to engage and represent the information was extremely beneficial (Bury, 2018). In addition, having the students utilize the arts to demonstrate their knowledge and skills related to STEM disciplines furthers their depth of understanding and connection to the content.
Donzell provides a beautiful example of this. He demonstrates that the arts do not pull attention or focus away from the STEM areas; in fact, the arts further immerse the students within the work and the products. The joy is palpable in both the student and his colleagues. The students are engaged in the learning process and overjoyed to see and hear their contributions to the final product. The teachers are engaged in creatively collecting representations of the students’ understanding and knowledge and are overjoyed to witness their students’ creativity.
I always end each blog with a reference to expert learning since that is the purpose of implementing the UDL framework. I hope you take time to listen to the podcast because I ask Donzell to articulate how he sees one aspect of expert learning come alive in the process of the arts and he describes it beautifully. I will leave you with this, though. The disciplines of STEM are “head” oriented. Formulas and equations, numbers and measurements can rule your thinking in science, technology, engineering and math. But life is lived through the head and the heart. As the artist Marc Chagall famously stated, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works. If I create from the head, almost nothing.” A focus of STEAM is to provide students the opportunities to create from the hearts so they can become wonderfully connected with the heady stuff. STEAM on, friends.
Boice, K., Jackson, J., Alemdar, M., Rao, A., Grossman, S., & Usselman, M. (2021).
Supporting Teachers on Their STEAM Journey: A Collaborative STEAM Teacher Training Program. Education Sciences, 11(3), 105.
During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Kim Potter shares how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) influenced how she viewed the significant barriers one student was facing. Simply stated, the barriers he faced might have been seen as insurmountable and unchangeable in another setting, but Kim used her experience as a reading teacher and her newly acquired knowledge of UDL to determine how she could provide that student choice and build his autonomy when reading. This shift supercharged his confidence and outcomes. His success hinged on his adoption of a text-to-speech extension, an idea that aligns with the guidelines Options for Recruiting Interest as well as Options for Perception. But as she stated during the podcast:
We were kind of worrying a little bit about his being able to read. I know in a lot of meetings that I’m in, when we talk about kids using a text reader, people say, “But it’s reading class. You’re not teaching them to read!” which was a little bit of a concern that we had, but we felt like because his encoding was at such a low level, there was no way he could possibly access our curriculum to grow his comprehension if he had to read this stuff on his own.
I’ll let you listen to the podcast to hear the results. Here, I want to share two research studies that might help you or your colleagues become even more at ease when it comes to using text-to-speech as an option for your learners.
Wood, Moxley, Tighe, and Wagner (2018) conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies focused on students with dyslexia, reading disabilities or learning disabilities. Ultimately, they found that the use of text to speech tools had a significant (positive) impact on reading comprehension scores. For those who want to see the numbers, you will find the citation for the study in the reference list below.
Interestingly, this study included both K-12 studies and studies from the post-secondary environment, but even when they removed the post-secondary studies, the results were very similar. This meta-analysis was also different from others in the past that focused on results from large scale assessments. This analysis only looked at studies that used reading comprehension tests as their focus for analysis. In my book, this gets more to the day-to-day of teaching. But what about students who do not have disabilities?
An older study from 2006 had a nice sample size (n=100) of secondary students with average IQs but who struggled with reading. The students were placed into three groups: an assistive technology group, a Microsoft Word control group, and a full control group. The assistive technology group was trained in how to use a variety of assistive tools, the Microsoft Word control group learned how to use assistive tools within that software, and the full control group had no access to any supports.
Included in the assistive technology tools was speech to text. Those students who used this tool in the post-test showed significant improvement in their reading comprehension. While this study did not look at the “why” of this improvement, a suggested theory was that speech synthesis might facilitate decoding which permits the student to focus on comprehension (Higgins & Raskin, 1997). Though an older study, I did not find another study that argues against these findings.
There are plenty of other anecdotal pieces out there where teachers make speech to text a choice for all of their learners and they see higher levels of engagement, tenacity, and deeper comprehension. Ultimately, it’s key to support your students to assess their own use of the technology. Do they think it helps them? How can they assess that? Help them set up their own low-risk study (e.g., use speech to text for one assignment, but not for another, ensuring that the assignments are both of high interest and equal readability levels). It has to be low-risk so they aren’t penalized grade-wise. Also, a study like that only assesses those assignments on those days. Variability tells us that each day will be different. Have that conversation, too. At worst, your students won’t discover what supports work for them. At best, they discover supports. Either way, your students are taking steps toward ownership for their learning. They are taking steps toward becoming expert learners.
Higgins, E. L., & Raskind, M. H. (1997). The compensatory effectiveness of optical character recognition/speech synthesis on reading comprehension of postsecondary students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 8, 75–87.
Lange, A. A., McPhillips, M., Mulhern, G., & Wylie, J. (2006). Assistive Software Tools for Secondary-Level Students with Literacy Difficulties. Journal of Special Education Technology, 21(3), 13–22. https://doi.org/10.1177/016264340602100302
Wood, S. G., Moxley, J. H., Tighe, E. L., & Wagner, R. K. (2018). Does use of text-to-speech and related read-aloud tools improve reading comprehension for students with reading disabilities? A meta-analysis. Journal of learning disabilities, 51(1), 73-84.