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Loui Lord Nelson, Ph.D.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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Choice is not a Reward

Choice is one of the cornerstones of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Not only is it part of the guidelines (see optimize individual choice and autonomy under the Guideline of Recruiting Interest), it is embedded throughout the Guidelines. Every guideline begins with the phrase “provide options for…” That phrase spurs us to identify and build on the ideas proposed within the checkpoints. For example, “Provide options for Recruiting Interest” tells us that recruiting interest is important and we should read about the checkpoints listed below that guideline and build some of those options into our lessons. We know, though, that there is another step to take. That step is to establish those options as opportunities for choice.

During my interview with Susanne Geise, she shares the different ways she provided her students with choice. Students helped design the lesson, they chose what product they wanted to create, and they chose how they wanted to present that product. It was a really exciting lesson, but it got me thinking about how we position choice and for which students.

First, the positioning. What kind of choice truly benefits learners? Katz and Assor (2007) shared that the perception of choice is crucial. When students recognize and associate feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with choice, outcomes like engagement are stronger. Breaking that down, you not only offer them the choice in how they will complete an assignment or an assessment, the amount of choice and how the act of choice is structured aligns with the students’ levels of competence, and the choices provided are relevant to them.

Next, to whom do we offer this level of choice? It turns out that not all learners are given access to this kind of choice. Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (Swoszowski , Evanovich, Ennis & Jolivette, 2017), students with disabilities who are Black and Latinx (Waitoller, 2020), as well as students who are low-achieving (Crumpton & Gregory, 2011). But these students need just as much opportunity to experience choice as their peers. How do we move forward?

Let’s use the 5 W’s plus the H to do some introspective work. (Note: if you want examples, listen to episodes with Kate Stanley, Laura Christie, Megan Gross & Lisa Yamasaki, Monica Watson-Bedard, Rachel Chappell, Carrie Preston, Kim Babeu, or Shelbi Fortner). Honestly answer these questions:

  1. Who have you asked to help you add choice into your lesson (e.g., which students)?
  2. What types of choice to you provide (e.g., does the choice lead to learning and reflection or just preference?)
  3. When do you feel challenged to offer choice?
  4. Where can you add in choice?
  5. Why aren’t some students included in the choice discussion (i.e., choice can be an accessible topic for all learners. See below for next step)
  6. How can you shift things to include all learners?

By answering these questions, you begin the road toward a more inclusive and equitable design because you’re prompted to gather the voices of all learners. And more, you are truly helping all learners continue their own journey toward becoming expert learners.

Crumpton, H. E., & Gregory, A. (2011). “I’m not learning”: The role of academic relevancy for low-achieving students. The Journal of Educational Research, 104(1), 42-53.

Katz, I., & Assor, A. (2007). When choice motivates and when it does not. Educational Psychology Review, 19(4), 429.

Swoszowski, N. C., Evanovich, L. L., Ennis, R. P., & Jolivette, K. (2017). Evaluating implementation of check in/check out in alternative educational settings: Stakeholder perspectives. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 34(2), 107-121.

Waitoller, F. R. (2020). Excluded by Choice: Urban Students with Disabilities in the Education Marketplace. Disability, Culture, and Equity.

The Right Tool in the Right Environment

In this episode, Brandy and Lauren share their use of a HyperDoc doc to inspire and educate their freshmen about the research process. As Lauren stated, that’s a hard topic to teach because it’s so overwhelming and it can be dry. They were really excited about the outcomes their students experienced and how they’ve updated it each year. A copy of their hyper doc is at my website with their podcast recording.

Jennifer Gonzalez at the Cult of Pedagogy put together a fabulous piece, “How HyperDocs Can Transform Your Teaching” which gives wonderful guidance and links and includes a podcast where she interviews the authors of The HyperDoc Handbook. It’s all worth your attention.

What I want to talk about more, though, is the point I made toward the end of this podcast. The HyperDoc, or any teaching tool for that matter, is only as good as the environment in which it exists. Whether that environment is online or face-to-face, there are key structures that need to be in place and UDL helps us remember those.

A simple walkthrough of the guideline Recruiting Interest under the principle of Engagement helps us remember that we need to: help our learners know they have real choice when it comes to learning (individual choice and autonomy), connect with what they are learning in a meaningful way (relevance, value, and authenticity), and feel secure (minimize threats and distractions). All of that (plus more) is under that top guideline! I could walk through the rest of them, but I’m going to stop here and empower you to do this work.

Let’s say you haven’t dug into UDL much yet. You have some favorite teaching tools (maybe it’s the HyperDoc), but those tools aren’t necessarily benefitting all learners. Or, what you’ve determined as poor attitudes and behaviors are getting in the way. Many times, it’s because you’re asking the tool or strategy to do the heavy lifting. Instead, always look at how you’re giving your learners emotional access to learning.

This tool, developed by the Search Institute and is specific to the COVID-19 crisis, provides some quality relationship-building steps you can take with your learners. These will help you build the kind of environment all students need to flourish, especially now, whether you will be teaching face-to-face or via distance learning. Some of the questions are specific to distance learning, but it’s easy to either shift them to focus on the face-to-face environment or pull them out. I encourage you to do a side-by-side analysis of this tool and the principle of Engagement. You will find deep connections and some places where you can add to the tool and make it even more effective!

There is a lot of uncertainty right now, but learning must and will happen. I want you to get really excited about strategies and tools, but I want you to get even more excited about the design of your environment and how you’re going to make it accessible (emotionally, academically, and physically) to all of your learners. Afterall, that’s how we can help them become expert learners.

Not So Fast: When Quick Thinking Doesn’t Belong

During this week’s episode, high school math teacher Lauren Helberg tells a great story of how she personally connected with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). You’ll want to hear the whole story, but the tale reminds us that speed does not equal capability or, for that matter, intelligence. Before we move forward, let me break that down a bit. If you’re a school psychologist, special educator, or counselor, you’re likely familiar with the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and/or the Woodcock-Johnson III. These are assessments used in many schools to determine a student’s eligibility for special education services. If you are familiar, you’re probably saying, “Wait a second, Loui. Processing speed is part of both of these assessments!” Yup, you’re right. But in both cases, it is not a standalone component. Processing speed is part of a composite score. Why does that matter? Processing speed it is part of a larger set of assessment areas; processing speed alone does not determine intelligence. Also, processing speed is part of our variability and variability is highly dependent on the context. Where you are, what you’re doing, and your relationship with the learning environment will affect your processing speed. Unfortunately, though, processing speed is often the lynch pin in academic scoring both in the classroom and in standardized testing. Lauren was left wondering what she could have demonstrated on a standardized exam had she been given the time.

Back in 2014, Edutopia published a piece about research by Dr. Jo Boaler and it included the following quote from her article, “Timed math tests can discourage students, leading to math anxiety and a long-term fear of the subject.” Boy, did that comments section blow up! Both sides of the math-timed-test issue came roaring to life. One side was with Dr. Boaler and the other argued (among other things) that timed tests improve math fluency. One teacher reasoned that students who struggled with speed-based fluency (e.g., quick multiplication) would struggle in higher level math. Interestingly, when Linda Gojak was the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, she wrote a piece reminding educators that math fluency is much more than speed and accuracy. Her argument was the need to build a better balance between computational understanding and procedural skill rather than focusing on speed. In fact, her position is echoed in the updated Position of the NCTM answering question, “What is procedural fluency, and how do we help students develop it?” What we’re getting to here is an agreement that fluency is important, but (a) there needs to be a stronger focus on procedure rather than computation, and (b) we need to quit using processing speed as the ultimate indicator for success.

I’ll give you another example. Let’s say you typically give your students timed math tests to assess their basic skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). The more they complete correctly, the higher their score. I guarantee that if you use the same test to assess those skills over time, you have at least one student who memorizes the answers. That was me. I got the answers down really quickly and I got more of them correct over time, so I was rewarded. I didn’t care if I started off with a low score, I had a strategy that helped me achieve the goal (get more answers correct each time). My teachers thought my speed and accuracy showed how well I knew my basic skills. Nope. What I had was the gift for memorization. I didn’t apply that gift to memorizing the multiplication table, I applied it to that single sheet of paper because those timed tests held a lot of sway in classroom capital (i.e., whether your name was listed as a Super Star).

My strategy got me all the way through grade school and did not prepare me for junior high algebra. Yikes! And what about those times when I did have to perform my facts on homework, tests and quizzes? I was frustrated at how slow I was, but that didn’t matter as much because the reward wasn’t attached to being timed (and having my name on the Super Star bulletin board). I knew how to do the computations, but didn’t have the speed. Honestly, I gained a false sense of success that came crashing down in about 8th grade. I would have been much better served had my teachers focused on procedural fluency.

And that takes me right to the UDL framework. If you look under the Principle of Action & Expression, move into the guideline of Expression & Communication, there is a checkpoint labeled, “Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance.” Within the first two sentences describing this checkpoint, CAST reminds us that students “often need multiple scaffolds to assist them as they practice and develop independence.” UDL does NOT tell us to move away from fluency; rather, UDL tells us that we need to offer our students different pathways to achieve that fluency. UDL also tells us that we need to turn our eyes and energies toward building opportunities for procedural fluency. You can and should have games that encourage fluency building. Students need a non-threatening way to build those skills. At the same time, though, help them shift into procedural fluency where they tie those skills to application. Ultimately, the focus is to create learning opportunities where students gain knowledge via application. That is the route that takes them on the journey toward becoming expert learners.

Practice Profiles: Part of the Package

This week’s episode was recorded live during the UDL-IRN 2020 Summit on Demand for their Network and Learn Live Series. The video chat included an interview with me about UDL in 15 Minutes (how I got started with UDL and my intentional design of the podcast), the interview with Cherie, and a follow-up Q & A. I pulled the audio of the interview out to produce this posted episode because I didn’t want the conversation about practice profiles to get lost!

I learned about practice profiles the year I was at CAST for a Fellowship. CAST had a Gates Foundation grant to work with four districts on their implementation of UDL. It was an exciting project that produced some wonderful material. Brief interviews about UDL implementation with the participating school and district leaders can be found in the National Center on UDL’s YouTube playlist: UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts.

The work we did with the districts utilized the work of State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence Based Practices (SISEP). SISEP focuses on implementation science – what structures and actions are used, needed, and acted upon to support the effective implementation of any practice or system. The practice profile is a tool within SISEP’s broad array of materials to support the implementation process. You can find lessons about the processes of implementation science within the Active Implementation Hub and one of those lessons is on the practice profile.

As Cherie and I discuss briefly, creating a practice profile takes time and deep, deep thinking. As a group, you have to agree that there is a change to be made. That first step is not always easy! In your separate minds, you have a vision for what this change is and what it will look like in action, but those are a number of brains seeing a number of visions. The process behind the development of a practice profile gets everyone to come to consensus about what they want to see and to provide written clarification around that vision. When everyone is involved in the process of identifying what it should look like, then the descriptions can be rich and helpful to every educator. As Cherie stated, the district she is working with decided to use the principle of Representation within their practice profile and embed links to articles, videos, and the UDL framework to help solidify the examples.

Also referenced in the episode, Michael McSheehan and I developed a practice profile on behalf of the Indiana IEP Resource Center titled, Reimagining MTSS through UDL. What we thought would take a few months ended up taking almost a year to produce! Our protocol includes physical look fors as well as mindset indicators. Our protocol is meant to provide an overarching model that can be adopted and edited to fit the local context.

I’m sharing Cherie’s practice profile example from Celina and the Reimagining MTSS through UDL practice profile to show how different they can be (and should be) based on the implementation purpose. Celina’s practice profile is focused on classroom instruction whereas the MTSS and UDL practice profile is focused at the district level.

The development of the practice profile is a facilitated process and you’ll want to have someone on hand who is comfortable with the work of moving a team along when they experience disagreements and conflicts. A good facilitator helps a group move beyond the the-loudest-gets-their-way dynamic or the other challenging dynamics that can appear along the way.

Ultimately, any practice profile must be a tool for change that is grounded in clear communication and intent. It must provide a clear goal – a clear message of what the community is working toward. Within the UDL community, that intent is always going to point toward the development of expert learners.

Sometimes, simple is most effective

We all love and crave simple solutions. They just feel good. I think that’s why the mantras around this issue flow freely. One end of the continuum asserts that complex problems require complex solutions. The other end of the continuum asserts that complex problems are best solved via simple solutions. I almost always find that solutions rest somewhere in the middle of that continuum.

These solutions take into account the complexity of the issue, but break the issue down into smaller manageable parts based on a timeline and/or known and available resources. The smaller size creates the opportunity for simple solutions. At that point, the solution can seem like a straightforward, logical, and obvious fix.

In this episode, Catherine shares how her school has been a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) school for the past ten years. Early on, they adopted Google Classroom as their platform. This allowed access via the different devices, but a colleague observed that while the students could get to the Google Classroom via their device, the pathways they could take to get to those resources were numerous and it was confusing. The perceived complexity included the devices, the inherent nature of digital platforms (i.e., multiple entry points), and a large school setting of 1,200 students. But by asking the question, “what is the barrier?” the colleague saw through the complexity and offered the solution of a single or narrow list of pathways for the learners to use. The confusion the students we’re experiencing was a barrier to their participation. The solution, from the outside, looks like a simple one.

At the heart of UDL is identifying potential and current barriers. We look for potential barriers when we’re planning and thinking about the systematic variability – the variability we anticipate based on experience, knowledge about the students, and the environment. An example of systematic variability is reading. Regardless of where you teach, what you teach, or the grade level you teach, you will have variability in your classroom when it comes to reading because reading is a very complex process. The UDL framework with its options under the nine guidelines provide guidance on ways you can support and encourage that variability all while moving your students toward the goal of the lesson.

The examples of navigating to lessons and reading are very different even though they both happen in instructional environments. Are there similar processes we can use in these situations as well as others? There are, but I am going to suggest you always have at least one thought-partner. Whether this is a community of practice, a professional learning community, or just a colleague with whom you work well and can give and receive honest feedback, this will help you solve complex issues. As you read through these suggestions, I hope you think, “wait…this sounds like she pulled this stuff from the UDL framework!” Yes. Yes, I did. Good for you for spotting it!

First, use tools on hand to represent the complex issue. You might be someone who makes sense of things by talking them out, but creating a graphic can be a powerful way to enhance communication. You can write out the smaller pieces of the complex issue on notecards or sticky notes and establish an organization that helps tell the story. Maybe you connect ideas using yarn or post the sticky notes to a white board and draw lines with a dry erase marker. Whatever resources you use, you’re not trying to solve the issue at this point, you’re just trying to identify all of the components and communicate it.

Next, put on your student glasses. Look at this complex issue through the lens of your learners. Where do they experience barriers within this complex issue? Make sure you start by assuming positive intent (i.e., students want to learn). Coming into this step in any other way will directly impact the supports you design and whether they will truly helpful to your learners. As you’re identifying those barriers, add those to your visual model (e.g., extra sticky notes, write on the white board).

Third, think about those barriers from the adult point of view and the resources you have that can lessen those barriers. Look at your visual model and see if there are barriers that are closer to the “heart” or the center of the issue. You might get lucky and find a solution for other issues that are further out or down the line. In Catherine’s example, they defined a single pathway, created that link, posted it, and the communicated that to the learners. The resources used were time (i.e., time taken to identify which path, time taken to communicate that link) and their digital knowledge. This solution was more toward the heart of the complex issue (i.e., students not attending to coursework, students not completing coursework, students not logging in) and helped solve those other issues.

Finally, make sure you take time to identify how you will know things have shifted. Your graphic will help with this. By looking at the components of the issue and the barriers identified, you can create a watchlist to make sure you look for improvement and whether the supports you identified to lower the barrier(s) are doing what you thought they would do. This step is crucial. Sometimes, solutions are put in place that actually create other barriers (e.g., that time I put a tray for student work on my desk which was across the room from the door to the hallway. Students would forget to put the work in the tray on their way out the door. I moved the tray and the number of students turning in work improved instantly!). Ultimately, any solution we find should support our learners in their journey to become expert learners.

A Rubric for 1-to-1 Adoption

Obviously, I am a proponent of Universal Design for Learning. I believe the framework offers the needed guidance to help us think deeply about the supports and services we are providing to all learners. Those supports and services don’t sit within the four walls of a classroom, though. Many times, they begin outside of those four walls and technology is an excellent example of this. This is true in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC). As Brenny stated during the podcast:

…Universal Design for Learning is our instructional framework. And the way that translates to the technology department is that it really guides every decision that we make, from what technology tools we put in the hands of our students, what hardware we mount on the walls, what software we use for assessments and our delivery of online lessons. UDL is really that goal that we’re all in the rowboat towards all of us are rowing towards it together and it’s all guiding us there.

Many times, the technology (e.g., hardware, software, or apps) chosen for a school or a classroom is either identified based on need or through introduction (e.g., someone sees something demonstrated at a conference). But what does your school or district do from there? Here are some typical questions:

  • Does this duplicate something we currently have or use?
  • How many students will this impact?
  • What will the trainings needs be?
  • Is this meeting an immediate need or a systematic need?

When BCSC was adopting 1-to-1 across their secondary schools in 2012, a group including the Director of Technology, two principals, department chairs, teachers, and I went to locations in North Carolina and Texas that began implementing 1-to-1 district-wide several years earlier and were recognized as leaders in that area. We, however, wanted to look at the use of the technology through the instructional lens of UDL. We didn’t want our debriefing sessions to focus on the number of charging stations or whether students were forgetting them in their lockers. We wanted to focus on how access to the devices was improving the experience of learning for all learners, so Bill Jensen, Mike Jamerson, Eva Cagwin and I developed a rubric to focus our observations and conversations. The rubric was provided in three different ways (i.e., multiple representations) to support effective use.

I’ve attached the rubric which is divided into four sections with space for observation notes. The users of the different sections are identified (e.g., teachers, admin, Mike, Loui) because of how the visits were organized.

  • Section I: Classroom use of technology
  • Section II: Scheduled/impromptu conversations with teachers, students, and administration
  • Section III: Conversations about the technology infrastructure
  • Section IV: Conversations about the technology infrastructure

The rubric represents what we felt needed to be in place for full implementation of UDL. We wanted to identify and observe these examples and then process these options and opportunities as a group. You will likely notice that some of our look-fors are pretty intense. For example, an advanced representation on page 4 for: “Going around and underneath: allowing for and encouraging innovation to create change,” is “It is recognized that reforms and head-on interventions do not create change; rather, allowing for and encouraging innovation creates change.” Obviously, this kind of evidence could only come from specific questions to several individuals, but we did our best to collect those voices.

Based on what Brenny shared, you can see that BCSC has advanced in their adoption of technology (i.e., hardware, software, and apps) and the supports they offer to their teachers, but what continues to drive all of their adoption is UDL because they want every learner to become an expert learner.

Using TeachMeet to Share UDL

Sharing information with your colleagues during the course of a normal school year is tough, much less during this time of COVID-19. Elish Sheridan’s school, though, uses a technique that has suited them well when it comes to sharing practices informed by UDL. They use a meeting style called TeachMeet.

TeachMeet is a way of sharing information via short bursts. Ranging from 2-minute to 7-minute presentations, these bursts can go quickly! Another style within the TeachMeet format is roundtables. These are facilitated, have a central theme, and last about 15 minutes. In all cases, there is a backchannel so people who are not there in person can participate (e.g., listen, respond, or post questions). None of this is firmly defined; rather, the format changes based on the number of people, the venue, and organizer preferences. Hmm, sounds like context has a lot to do with it! (for more information, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TeachMeet).

TeachMeet got its start over in Scotland back in 2006 and it has spread around the world. Just search for TeachMeet in your browser and you’ll see lots of different examples around the world. The outcomes The Kingswood Community College have experienced from using this format have been fabulous (as noted by their UDL Tips & Ideas document).

This podcast, though, got me thinking more about UDL and TeachMeet. I started to imagine what kind of TeachMeet presentations I would want to do. That sent me back to my perpetual cycle of “how to best talk about UDL”.

We all want to share and hear about strategies. But strategies have to be rooted within a framework or system so there’s an overall direction. In the case of UDL, that overall direction is to support the growth of expert learners. We have the UDL Guidelines graphic organizer which guides our use of the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints to design learning experiences, but if we leave it there, there is the chance that some colleagues won’t understand the deeper reason as to why we make those design choices.

That growth towards expert learning can’t happen for all learners unless there is physical, social-emotional, and academic accessibility. That accessibility doesn’t happen without the flexibility of materials and our interpretation of what can and should happen in a learning environment. All of that needs to be guided by goals. And then there’s choice, which isn’t choice unless it’s rooted in accessibility and flexibility. And it’s all given that extra “umph” when we recognize that we need to provide rigorous learning if we want to really support the growth of expert learners. Usually, I use a tree analogy to talk through all of this, but now I’m thinking about it in a TeachMeet way. Little 2- or 7-minute bursts of information and then a 15-minute facilitated roundtable where currently utilized strategies and systems either align (or not) with the each of the areas I mentioned (accessibility, flexibility, goals, choice, and rigor). Could be interesting. If you want more information, I dug more into each of these areas in a previous blog. And, if you give this a shot, let me know how it goes! Of course, you know I’ll ask you to be a guest. We need to keep pushing UDL out there in quality ways because every learner deserves the opportunity to become an expert learner.

Grade/subject Guest and Topic in podcast Episode number
Kindergarten Laura Taylor – The influence UDL has even after 26 years of teaching 4
Kindergarten Karlene Warns – Executive functioning 17
2nd grade Jessie Sherman – Making arts integration even more accessible 3
3rd grade Jana Nicol – Designing the learning environment 10
3rd and 4th grade Kate Stanley – Supporting agency in learning 25
4th grade Camille Wheeler – Making assessments more flexible 16
4th – 5th grade Adria Gold – Chunking information in English Language Arts 14
5th grade Dan Schmidt – Making sure he knows his “why” when teaching math 12
5th grade Tracy Pendred and Kimberly Spears – Mentorship, friendship, & UDL 26
5th grade Shannon Van Horn – When you know about UDL and others don’t 28
5th grade Laura Christie – Improving reading and writing through UDL 33
6-12 STEM Ben Kelly – STEM, Minecraft, and UDL 9
1st – 6th grade Diana-Grace Morris, Bonni Ramage, and Catherine Wong 29
Teacher on Assignment and Elem Special Educator Megan Gross & Lisa Yamasaki – Using UDL to help others and themselves design lessons and online environments for students with disabilities 40
7th grade Dakota Hudelson – UDL and social justice 8
7th grade Monica Watson-Bedard – Choice in assessments 11
7th grade Rebecca Chappell – Using UDL to make a learning app fully accessible to all learners 19
7th grade & STEAM Christina Khatri – Using UDL when you have a brand-new curriculum 34
7th and 8th grade Rebecca Chappell – Choice and fidelity? Small shifts lead to big outcomes for these 7th graders 21
8th grade Karen Keener and Jordan Landis – Co-teaching and mindset 22
8th grade Rachel Barillari – Engagement in poetry 5
9th and 10th grade Ian Wilkins – How UDL impacted how he assesses writing and how he thinks about grading overall 35
10th and 11th grade Kelley Culp – How she uses UDL to design her online environments 37
12th grade Carrie Preston – End of the year and fully engaged 23
12th grade Amanda Hughes – Supporting the executive functions of her high school students 32
High School Dan Marsh – Using UDL and his background in designing online learning environments for today 39
High School Robin Dazzeo – Using her experiences of learning online and UDL to influence how she teaches online 38
High school Kim Babeu – Choice within Human Physiology assessment 1
High school Kim Babeu – UDL, classroom management, and SPORT 13
High School AP Biology Shelbi Fortner – Choice within AP Biology assessments 2
High School Principal Sara Soria – Seeing UDL as a pathway for the artistic expression of students and faculty 36
Higher Education Liz Hartmann – Using UDL to get high achievers to take risks 6
Higher Education Justin Freedman – Designing the higher education learning environment 18
Higher Education Beth Fornauf – How UDL changed a teacher training program focused on rural educators 27
District resources teacher Melissa Toland – Using her experiences as a 7th grade teacher implementing UDL to help others learn about it 15
Digital Literacy Teacher Melanie Acevedo – Using UDL to develop digital literacy lessons 31
Everyone A discussion guide for UDL in 15 Minute episodes 7

Blog and Resources to Support Students with Disabilities and their Families

The call for suggested resources and tools went out about three weeks ago. Then, the website, Distance Learning for Special Education, emerged. Megan, Lisa, and their colleague and friend, Jenny Kurth, launched a site that many have benefited from. What I love about this site is that it immediately recognizes that educators, students with disabilities, and students’ families need support. We’re all in this together. This is the discussion that kicked off my interview with Megan Gross and Lisa Yamasaki for this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes.

Megan and Lisa are incredibly generous and have shared additional tools and resources they have produced for parents and colleagues. I’ve listed them below.

  • Megan put together a webinar for parents of children with disabilities on how they can increase interest and attention at home through choice boards. https://youtu.be/LONV2uy2Hj8

    She also included the presentation slides and templates for the choice boards.

In the spirit of less is more, I’m going to end this blog here. There are hoards of resources floating around out there. Of course, I’m only interested in the ones that will help all learners grow to become expert learners.

The Reciprocal Classroom During COVID-19

During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Dan Marsh not only shares what he’s learned from moving his brick and mortar class online in comparison to the online courses he designs for a purely online school, he shares important feedback he provided to a learner,

“Thanks for asking the questions, because it makes me feel like I’m still teaching and not just throwing things on the computer.”

That’s totally different feedback than we’re used to giving. We’re used to giving mastery-oriented feedback. The kind of feedback that guides our learners toward deeper learning. But this is feedback that says to the learner, “I am a human being who loves my work and my work is focused on helping you.” We have to remember that as teachers, we derive satisfaction and purpose from sharing information and helping others grow. When that is taken away from us, we feel lost and we feel loss. But there are steps we can take.

1. Be real, just like Dan is. Tell your students that you need them just like they need you. There’s a balance here, of course. The point is not to burden your students with your anxiety; the point is to demonstrate to them that part of your personhood is teaching. We’ve all heard the stories of how young students think their teachers live at school. These students don’t have the cognitive maturity or experience yet to understand that teachers live other lives separate from what they, the children, observe. But that model creates an impression that students carry throughout school. Unless they live with a teacher, or have a close relative or friend of the family who is a teacher, they do not understand the passion and commitment teachers bring home and into their daily lives. Students do not understand that the act of teaching is what feeds the soul of the educator and when that act is dramatically disrupted, that hurts the soul. Dan’s simple statement to his learner beautifully communicates this need. You can model your feedback after his.

2. There are many of us in the UDL community that share the Mood Meter from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

High energy    
Low energy    
  Unpleasant feelings Pleasant feelings

Inside each of the colored boxes are words that students learn about and then see how those emotions fit within the spectrum of emotions. They can also begin to see how they can shift their emotions and take greater control of how they are reacting. Why do we like it so much? It is a powerful tool to help our students move toward greater self-regulation and can help them with their executive functioning. The tool, though, helps you minimize threats by giving your learners voice. In addition, if can be a tool for physical action because learners who use assistive technology (AT) as their speaking voice can be given the opportunity to point to words and then express follow-up via the AT. Emotions are also tough to learn about and understand. The Mood Meter is a fabulous tool to support your learners’ comprehension of emotions.

This quick overview offers an introduction, but this video takes you further down the path. You can use the Mood Meter to get your classes started each day and you can participate in the discussion. Remember, this is all about you communicating to your learners that the very act of teaching is part of who you are.

3. Finally, be sure you take time to think about how this shift has redefined your relationship with teaching. Each of us has a professional identity. Internationally, it is a significant topic in the research because our professional identity impacts us all so much. They tell us that our identity is part of both the product (the things we teach) and the process (how we go about teaching). Because of COVID-19, all of that has been shaken up more than a snow globe. And because the process has taken a bigger hit, you’re looking to regain your confidence in that area. But here’s what we know from UDL: (1) make sure you give yourself access. Look at the first row of the graphic organizer. You need to find the relevance, value and authenticity in how you are instructing. It has to feel right, but also give it time. You need seek ways to minimize the threats and distractions that are around you. For example, reach out to colleagues and structure your conversations around this checkpoint. Finally, your own ability to self-assess and reflect is going to be huge at this time. You have to be able to finish your week (and eventually, each day) saying, “I did well. I learned. They learned. And we all did is pretty darn well.”

None of this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. The entire UDL framework is based on research about how we learn. You are learning. Give yourself the gift of UDL in your life. We’re all in the mode of becoming expert learners.