Skip to content

Menu
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
Home > Blog

Blog

Speech to Text: Some of the research

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.

References

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.

Does UDL play well with others?

This episode of UDL in 15 Minutes is a wonderful representation of the layers that are present in a UDL-driven lesson. Gina shares a fabulous example of UDL implementation via a lesson she taught during the height of the pandemic when students were learning via distance learning and their social-emotional needs were growing. Gina used resources within her district and her own digital connections to devise an experience where all of her students thrived academically and social-emotionally. We know that none of this happens magically. I’m going to focus on one of the pillars of her success.

Gina’s students entered the pandemic with digital skills that went beyond how to use different digital tools. The students understood how the tools empowered them to learn and show what they had learned. This was because Gina learned about and chose to work with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Student Standards (https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students). If you’re not familiar with ISTE, it is an organization that “promotes the power of technology to transform teaching and learning, accelerate innovation and solve tough problems in education” (https://www.iste.org/about/about-iste).

Within their website, you can find standards for students, educators, education leaders, coaches, and computational thinking (computer science). As Gina noted during our conversations, the ISTE Student Standards are distinctly influenced by the UDL guidelines. The ISTE standards were designed to help students shift from being consumers to being innovators and from being passive to active participants in their use of technology.

The standards address the following 7 areas:

  • Empowered learner

  • Digital citizen

  • Knowledge constructor

  • Innovative designer

  • Computational thinker

  • Creative communicator

  • Global collaborator

Here’s what I like about these standards (and why I appreciate the UDL guidelines so much). If you look at these standards and the sub-standards, you gain a sense of why you want to use technology in your classroom. These standards move us away from “it’s here, so I should use it,” and “the students really enjoy it when I use technology.” Instead, your “why” blossoms which means the opportunities for your learners blossom, too.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that some won’t look at these standards and become overwhelmed. I can hear someone saying, “Now I have to do this, too?” I get it. I do. So, before you go there (or if you’re already have), take a breath (5 counts in and 5 counts out) and start over.

Read through the seven standards again and see which one resonates with you. Maybe it’s something you’re already doing. For example, maybe you have efforts around digital citizenry going on in your building, so you click on that one. You notice that standard 1.2d talks about students learning to manage their own digital data and understanding digital security as well as data-collection technology and it hits you. Fahrenheit 451 is on the list of options for your students to read in one of your spring units. You can use that standard along with your state standards to construct that lesson. Students can reflect on the issues of digital data through the lens of that book. Or, you don’t teach English literature, but you overheard the English lit teacher say that she’s including Fahrenheit 451 on her list this year, so you ask about creating some cross-subject lessons. You teach Ethics. Using Fahrenheit 451 and this digital sub-standard create an awesome base for one of your units. Again, this sub-standard becomes one of the standards you’re going to address in your unit.

The ISTE Student Standards create an organized set of broad-scope touch points and can guide your use of technology in your classroom. And just as Gina experienced, you can have that wonderful experience of watching your students make decisions about their own learning and how they want to use tool to be their best selves and to be those expert learners.

The Readiness Rubric

This episode with Katie Moder introduces a series I’m putting together about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and district implementation. I will have interviews with administrators, teachers, and coaches from Fond du Lac School District over the next few months to help paint a picture through their experiences. I think it’s going to be really interesting and really helpful to lots of educators!

One of the ideas Katie shares from Fond du Lac is their use of a readiness rubric. You’ll find that rubric posted with this episode on my website, but what is a readiness rubric and what steps can you take to create one for your building or district?

What is a rubric?

First, a rubric is an assessment tool. It lays out clear achievement criteria but does that in a way that informs the user and helps them see what they need to do to climb the ladder toward success. I really like this article, Rubric for Rubrics, created by Educational Testing Service because it breaks down what content should be included, how to ensure clarity, and then how to use a rubric. The best part is that it uses rubrics to describe how to construct rubrics!

Of course, we all like to see examples of quality rubrics. Lisa Yokana shared this sample rubric with Edutopia that will get you closer to what you would create for the classroom. But what about a readiness rubric for a district and for UDL implementation? And, what is readiness?

Readiness

Readiness is a term that is both defined and misused across education. Readiness is defined as being prepared for or willing to do something. In the case of a UDL readiness rubric, you’re identifying indicators that help users determine whether the behaviors (e.g., how instruction and the environment are designed) and structures (e.g., policies, procedures, the culture) in a building are such that UDL can survive and flourish there. The misuse of the term readiness comes when readiness becomes a gateway for advancement. When the sentence “You aren’t ready” is given, the intent is “You don’t belong in a higher-level group,” or “You aren’t going to move from here.” This intent can be seen in how the criterion are written but is clearly (and incorrectly) communicated during the post-assessment conversation. The rubric is only one part of addressing and communicating readiness. The follow-up conversations and planning are where this really sits.

How to you remove that gate and provide a path? The message of readiness should be “You’re here right now, but you have the power to move to the next step,” or “You are here right now, but let’s look at what you can do to move to the next step.” Again, this shows up on the rubric, but is really seated in the follow-up conversations. You need to prepare for these kinds of conversations.

The former interpretation of readiness is a fixed mindset; the latter has a growth mindset. The spirit of UDL is always built on a growth mindset so you will need to ensure that your readiness rubric is intentionally built using a growth mindset.

Getting started

So, what are the next steps you should take? First, you need to identify the “big things” you think need to be in place to support the growth of UDL in your buildings. Fond du Lac focused on Principal support (the support the principal is already providing to staff), Teacher support (the beliefs, understandings, and willingness in place that support the implementation of UDL), Teacher retention (what is the rate of turnover in the building), and Other building initiatives (how many other initiatives are there and what is their emphasis). You might determine that there are other “big things” to add. These should reflect structures and actions necessary to see the growth of UDL as a framework to benefit all learners (versus a framework to benefit specific students – which is NOT how UDL should be applied). Look at your mission, vision, and your district plan. These documents were likely constructed with focus and care and should give you a starting point. If you find that you are identifying other “big things,” that’s a great indicator that what goes on day-to-day and what is in your mission, vision, or district plan is not aligned.

Next, you have the job of determining your criterion. Making sure they are parallel is really important. They talk about writing parallel criterion in the Rubric for Rubrics piece, but I’m going to emphasize it again here. What you provide as evidence or measurement in one descriptor needs to have an associated term in the other descriptors. For example, when you look at the Fond du Lac example under Other building initiatives, you see “UDL implementation is not a priority due to multiple initiatives.” At the other end of that continuum, you read, “UDL implementation is a top priority initiative.” That is an excellent example of a parallel criterion.

Finally, please, please, please involve building-level educators in the creation of your district-wide readiness rubric and ensure equity when it comes to sharing opinions and information. Your design team needs to be representative of those who will apply it. Without that voice, there can be a serious lack of engagement and buy-in. You can have a small group do some initial brainstorming to get ideas down (e.g., the big ideas and some of the criterion), but hold off on any major editing. Don’t even look for spelling or punctuation errors (now that’s a hot button!)! When you expand the group, explain your intent and process for the document and welcome your colleagues in. You can further your design for equity by using tools like Google Jamboard to create an anonymous page where people can place sticky notes with their thoughts and feedback as you move through the design of the rubric. Having open conversations is best, but sometimes you need to have a space where title, years of experience, gender, and race are not at the forefront of the ideas shared. There are your first few steps! If you’d like more information, you can contact me through www.theudlapproach.com/contact!

Here’s to moving forward with UDL implementation from the district level so all learners can become expert learners.

UDL Crosswalks

During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, I talk with Rene Sanchez about the crosswalk he and others created for Cesar Chavez High School in Houston, TX when he was the building principal. The crosswalk identified the intended outcomes of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and International Baccalaureate to help staff see the connections. You can find that document and their associated graphic here.

As you can see, crosswalks are beneficial, but they are beneficial for multiple reasons. The team that assembles the crosswalk becomes deeply knowledgeable about the different components and that knowledge can be tapped during staff professional learning. When other initiatives are introduced into the school or district, that team can help identify where there is alignment or misalignment. Crosswalks also benefit staff by providing a look at larger frameworks or systems, showing connections and overlaps.

Crosswalk designs range from at-a-glance to long form. By looking through a variety of crosswalks, you can identify language, intent, and designs that align with what you are working to accomplish in your school or district. Below, I provide links and a short description of available crosswalks that include UDL. If you know of others, let me know about them so we can share them with a wider audience!

Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FfT) is used by a number of districts across the United States to improve teaching practices. Participants from the Baltimore County Public Schools, CAST, Danielson Group, the Howard County Public Schools, Lakeview Public Schools, and Towson University came together to create a crosswalk of the FtT and UDL. First, this very thorough Power Point provides background and walks you through the crosswalk. A sample of the crosswalk is on pages 6-10. You can find the crosswalk here (you need to fill in a form for the Danielson Group to recognize that you’re not going to widely distribute the crossway, but you can unsubscribe at any time).

The Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin created their own crosswalk of UDL with their Effectiveness Project Teacher Strands. These strands include: professional knowledge, assessment for and of learning, instructional planning, learning environment, instructional delivery and professionalism. They list both sample performance indicators specific to UDL and possible artifacts specifically demonstrating UDL.

Dr. Peggy Coyne (the first ever employee of CAST – just a little history for you there!) pulled together this crosswalk looking at the social emotional connections and classroom strategies, tips, and tools for the Washington State Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (WABIDA). The crosswalk is followed by resources helpful to parents and educators interested in UDL.

While this is an article versus a table or graphic representation of a crosswalk, this piece focuses on a popular topic – how can you use UDL to impact college preparatory mathematics? The article shares how the Oconomowoc Area School District helped lower the barriers across their Preparatory College Mathematics curriculum. They even share their planning tool which stands as their layout for the crosswalk.

Crosswalks are a powerful tool for learning, they assist with the dissemination of information, and help communicate large chunks of information in a contained way. Each of these crosswalks have something in common beyond addressing the UDL guidelines and checkpoints, too. The reason behind these development of each crosswalk goes back to one thing – the need to design so we are helping all learners become expert learners.

Teaching Is Emotional Work

“At its core, teaching is emotional work”

-David Rose, CAST Founder

This quote by David Rose, one of the founders of CAST and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), offers two meanings. The first reminds us that teaching, by default, taps our emotions. Interactions with students, other educators, and with yourself all add up to a deeply emotional experience. But Dr. Rose is getting to something a bit more under the surface here. He’s reminding us that everything we do is emotional. That is how the brain works. There is not a decision we make or an interaction we have that doesn’t stir up our affective networks. It is false to believe that you can have a non-emotional conversation or make a non-emotional choice.

With that deeper level of understanding, it’s pretty easy to understand how emotions impact co-teaching. Decisions we have typically made on our own are now collaborative. A space that we designed on our own is now co-designed. Lessons that we led, revised on the spot, and assessed on our own are now done with another adult in the room. What structures can be put into place or even work toward to make a co-teaching environment emotionally healthier and more productive?

Two researchers out of Norway looked at this very question. More specifically, they focused their attention on well-functioning collaboration practices. This refreshing and hope-filled methodology made me an instant fan! Jortveit and Kovač (2021) solicited special education and general education pairs that were successfully co-teaching to identify underlying cooperative processes that could possibly be transferred to other contexts (think, other co-taught classrooms). These educators were selected according to an assessment by Norway’s agency (Educational Psychological Service) that oversees the assessment of children with disabilities and is knowledgeable about the quality of collaboration among teachers.

Four pairs of educators from Years 1, 7, 11 and 13 (years 11 and 13 are high school) were interviewed. Each pair was interviewed together and were asked questions related to five general areas: “(1) the nature of the collaboration; 2) knowledge sharing; (3) discussions about educational values; (4) examples of collaboration; (5) strategies leading to consensus; and (6) division of roles during collaboration” (p. 6). From an analysis of those conversations came these two significant findings.

First, where there is common ground related to pedagogical principles, there is quality collaboration. This means that the teachers consistently and persistently reflected on their shared principles and essential educational beliefs. Three popular themes across these successful pairs were “equity, active participation in social and academic activities and absence of stigmatizing behavior” (p. 7).

Second, the teachers believed that mutual recognition, a shared enthusiasm, as well as emotional flexibility in terms of teaching were key to a quality collaboration. I find it wonderfully enticing that “emotional flexibility” was identified as a key component because of how it aligns with UDL. These teachers also saw collaboration as a resource, which is fascinating. They didn’t just see collaboration as a verb – as something you do. They saw collaboration as a noun – a thing from which you benefit. That is an extremely powerful point of view.

How can these findings help us in co-teaching settings where teachers are implementing UDL? First, UDL provides a set of pedagogical principles in that it is grounded in variability, accessibility, flexibility, goal-driven lessons and learning environments, choice, and rigor (Nelson, 2019). Co-teachers can reflect on these principles together to investigate how they are brought to life in their lessons and learning environments. UDL provides a frame from those conversations!

Next, there are continuing conversations about the UDL framework and equity (see www.cast.org to become part of that conversation), but it many in the UDL community agree that the framework is at least a starting point for developing those equitable lessons and learning environments for students with disabilities as well as our Black, Indigenous, and learners of color. The beautiful thing is that UDL partners incredibly well with other frameworks that assert equity and culturally responsive teaching. In this way, UDL definitely helps educators design inclusive social and academic activities and it promotes minimizing and diminishing stigmatizing behavior.

Finally, if we apply UDL to the environment we create for ourselves as educators, we will definitely have an environment that supports mutual recognition, shared enthusiasm, and emotional flexibility when it comes to collaboration. Just the guideline of Self-Regulation gets us started!

Teaching is emotional work and co-teaching can feel like an amped up version of that, but amped up doesn’t have to mean a negative. It can mean a positive. When co-teachers are able to have open conversations and find alignment around accessible pedagogy that attends to the systematic variability in their classrooms, they can put the operations of UDL in place and support their learners on the journey toward becoming expert learners.

References

Fluijt, D., Bakker, C., & Struyf, E. (2016). Team-reflection: The missing link in Co-Teaching teams. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 31(2), 187–201.

Jortveit, M., & Kovač, V. B. (2021). Co-teaching that works: special and general educators’ perspectives on collaboration. Teaching Education, 1-15.

Nelson, L.L. (2019). A tree for all: Your coloring book of UDL principals and practice. CAST Publishing: Wakefield, MA.

Helping Educators Implement UDL

This episode with Timmary Leary emphasizes how Universal Design for Learning is not about making things easier, it’s about making things accessible. Those are two very different things. Easier means there is a lowered level of rigor. Accessible means maintaining rigor (and even promoting higher levels of rigor) while designing an environment so all learners can participate in that level of rigor.

When a lesson is rigorous, it is challenging, but that same lesson is designed to help learners meet the goal. One great way to take that first step is to look at Bloom’s Taxonomy. If you’re only expecting your students to remember, understand, and apply information, that is a low level of rigor. You want them to reach levels of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

The first step is to create the goal for your lesson. This list of associated verbs for each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you write lesson goals that focus on that higher level learning.

The goal needs to be based on a standard or standards. Let’s say that your district has mapped out the standards and wants you to address this standard during the first quarter: Third graders need to be able to “Identify and describe the following: cube, sphere, prism, pyramid, cone, and cylinder.”

When you read it, you realize that you could have students simply match the word of the object to the object and then talk to a partner about it. Sounds straightforward and easy lesson. But then you stop and ask yourself, “Am I asking my learners to analyze, evaluate, or create during this lesson?” You know the answer, so you sit down with the verbs list. You see that compare and contrast are both in the analyze list. You realize that the lesson can revolve around these verbs. You write the following SMART goal: By the end of this two-day unit, students will use provided tools and resources to demonstrate their ability to correctly compare and contrast geometric shapes with 90% accuracy. With that goal, you’ve set yourself up to offer options when it comes to tools and resources, but you also know you need to help every student reach 90% accuracy when they are evaluated. What’s nice is that you didn’t limit yourself to one kind of evaluation, either.

Now, you pull out the UDL Guidelines. You begin pulling from each of the principles. You recruit interest by asking students to help you identify things they know in their own lives that look like the shapes. You help sustain their effort and persistence by giving them clear goals for each part of the unit (you break down the process into smaller steps that have clear actions). You help them self-regulate by setting them up with their own self-assessment graph for both days. You know that they need different ways to interact with the shapes (perception), so they have access to three dimensional representations, two dimensional representations, and they can draw and doodle using the shapes. They need to be familiar with the names of the shapes, so you build in interactive vocabulary activities that incorporate the primary language of your English learners, lots of opportunities for them to practice saying the words and hearing themselves say those words (you use a recording and play feature on the classroom computer), and they can make up songs, rhymes, or raps to help them remember the terms. They return to those familiar objects and begin to brainstorm other objects in the school or community that are also those shapes (Comprehension).

Along the way, they practice comparing the shapes and talking about, writing about, drawing, and even physically showing (with their bodies) how the shapes are the same and different (expression and communication). Throughout the unit, the students use their personal file folders to check off the activities they have participated in and to rank them based on whether the activity helped them learn the skill. They also keep track of their outcomes on the formative assessments. These folders are part of their overall portfolio that they reference when they lead their own parent teacher conference.

This lesson is accessible because of the variety of options. Students who struggle more with vocabulary can choose activities that meet their needs whereas students who are challenged with shape identification can choose the activities that help them. The individual folders guide them toward self-accountability and recognizing their own ups and downs with learning.

I’m sure you can see how this lesson is much more engaging and is much more student focused than the lesson that simply had them match the word to the object and talk to their partner. Your students will recall this lesson and will be much more likely to apply what they learned. Finally, each part of the unit is designed to support each student’s journey toward becoming and expert learner and meeting the SMART goal which is what we want for all learners.

Intentionality

During my conversation with Callie Mulcahy for this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, she shares how she uses UDL to help her students move through the process of design. She provides them with a process that helps them think through the steps they will from idea generation to the finished product. What she is doing is helping them be more intentional.

Intentionality has become something of a buzz word in popular culture. Oxford Languages for Google defines intentionality as “the fact of being deliberate or purposive.” They clarify the philosophy definition is “the quality of mental states (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, desires, hopes) that consists in their being directed toward some object or state of affairs. Regardless of the definition you lean toward, intentionality is a necessary part of our lives.

Read this list of actions and think about which ones you do intentionally?

  • Eat your meals

  • Brush your teeth

  • Pet your dog or cat

  • Clean your house

  • Mow your yard

  • Prepare your meals

  • Exercise

  • Talk on the phone

  • Text

  • Drive

  • Post to social media

Of these things, which ones should you do intentionally?

  • Eat your meals

  • Brush your teeth

  • Pet your dog or cat

  • Clean your house

  • Mow your yard

  • Prepare your meals

  • Exercise

  • Talk on the phone

  • Text

  • Drive

  • Post to social media

Intentionality is derived from your goal. Dieticians will tell you to prepare and eat your meals with intention to help maintain a positive relationship with food and to prevent overeating. Dentists want you to brush your teeth with intention to ensure you’re cleaning your teeth and gums evenly. Mowing involves a machine and a blade, so you want to be intentional about your use of the machine, but you likely have the goal of mowing in a certain pattern for the look or health of your grass. Physical trainers want you to exercise with intention so you do not pull a muscle and so you are working toward a goal of improved fitness. Whomever you’re talking to on the phone definitely wants you to have the goal of listening or you want them to listen to you. The act of driving…that one should be obvious. And, we’ve all seen the downfall of social media personalities who were not intentional about a post which is usually followed by a post with, “I apologize for not thinking through what I posted.” Their goal was not well thought out. The only thing I left open was petting your dog or cat. Sometimes, your goal is to daydream while petting them, but they probably appreciate it when the goal is to make them happy. I know that’s the case in my household.

So, what does intentionality have to do with teaching? Everything. To intentionally design your environment and lessons means you have a goal to consciously making decisions about the experiences you want your students to have and the resources you’re going to use. Intentionality is a word that is used when we think about the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) because without that, you cannot truly put the framework into use.

To say that you are implementing UDL means you are intentionally thinking through how you will activate the nine guidelines, you are thinking about the barriers your learners are experiencing or are likely to experience, you are intentionally designing for the variability that is present across your learners, and you are intentionally setting your goals, designing with flexibility in mind, you are guided by inclusive thinking, you actively design in rigor, and your provide opportunities for student-generated choice. That’s a lot of intentionality, but that’s what it takes. UDL is a framework that sets the foundation for change, but change takes intention and that intention is the pathway for your learners to become expert learners.

Interested in a book that specifically talks about teaching with intentionality? Check out Teaching with intention: Defining beliefs, aligning practice, taking action by Debbie Miller. The book is specific to K-5.

When Choice Builds Agency

During this episode, Emily shares how the instructors at the Relay Graduate School of Education not only teach students about UDL, they also use the UDL framework to design their instruction. She makes clear that this has been a journey for everyone and they are continuing with their growth, but what she shares is a wonderful story of exploration and implementation across a system. Woven within her story is a focus of agency which is what I’d like to highlight here.

When we provide our learners with agency, we are giving them opportunities to identify what they are interested in and attach that to what they are going to learn. They are also given choice as to how they will work within that environment (e.g., seating, task, skill, mode of learning or assessment, etc.). That kind of definition can feel really abstract, so I’ll share an experience I had as a student and how it built my agency.

In high school, I opted to take a course called U.S. History-Paperback. We moved through the U.S. History curriculum via fiction and non-fiction books our teacher had identified. For example, for the American Revolution, the list included books like Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, My Brother Sam is Dead by Christopher Collier, and Sarah Bishop by Scott O’Dell (I will say that there was a significant lack of diversity represented in our books, but there are many, many more high quality and diverse books available now. Always, always, always have diversity represented in your materials and environment). This is the first example of autonomy. Though we needed to stay within the curriculum, we chose the book(s) we wanted to read. We could also propose other books. We just had to argue why it was appropriate. Mr. Bloomberg was a smart man. We helped him expand his reading list.

Each student signed a book contract which laid out which book we chose, why, our anticipated completion date, and it gave us an outline we used to help guide our reading process. These were overarching questions about plot, theme, characters, motivations, etc. This is another example of autonomy. He scaffolded the selection process to really make us think about our connection to the book and our reason for choosing it. And, even though Mr. Bloomberg gave us an overall pacing structure (e.g., have x number of books read by x), I know firsthand that he worked with each student on pacing. I chose a really difficult-for-me book to read for the Civil War and I was not going to finish it quickly enough. Luckily, he had clearly communicated to us that we were to meet with him whenever we had questions or concerns. When I left that meeting, he had empowered me with suggestions on how to chunk the book and engage with it better. He never told me that I was behind or that the book was too difficult for me. There was always an option to switch books if you wanted to, but he knew that I didn’t see that as a solution.

Once we were done, we turned in our notes and then chose our next book. Mr. Bloomberg would read through our notes and determine partners based on what we read and what we pulled from our books. If he was going to partner me with someone else who read the same book and he noticed that I didn’t completely lay out the theme of the book, he’d give me a note on that so I could add to my notes. He used everything from jig-saws (meeting with other students who read different books) to same-book partners to help us learn about that segment in history.

When we met with our partner, we had a guide to walk us through the conversations we needed to have. We also had the study guide for the final evaluation, so we could make sure we were getting the answers we needed along the way. If either of us felt we didn’t get the information we needed, we could approach another student who had read the same book. This is a third example of autonomy. We were deciding whether or not we had the information we needed, but that decision was an informed decision based on the study guide.

Ultimately, this course allowed us to gain our autonomy. There were many students who entered that class never having experienced that level of freedom before, but he always had scaffolding in place. For example, he had some non-negotiables (e.g., we had to read at least one book from each time period), but we were also part of determining the class rules (e.g., what would cause you to lose the privilege of access to the library through this cool backdoor from his classroom versus having to walk down the long hallway and through the regular doors). The classroom felt alive and interesting. We could choose to read in the classroom or the library and the same choice was provided for our student meetings (though we had to be a bit more quiet in the library).

I was not interested in history before I took Mr. Bloomberg’s class. I liked reading, but didn’t read for content. That class taught me that I could read history for pleasure. It also taught me that my reading pace didn’t matter. Finally, it taught me that I was really good with time management and could handle big chunks of information. These are things that aren’t in the standards. These are things that supported me as I moved through higher education. These are the experiences I gained through the use of agency. What I love most about this story is that it is replicable in today’s classroom. Other than the backdoor to the library, key components of this environment are replicable.

In what ways are you allowing for agency in your classroom? In what ways are you supporting it? When have you attempted to provide it and things fell apart? Did you shy away from it or did you look for a way to scaffold the attempt? Our learners can only take with them what we provide. You might have to scaffold an opportunity down to its bones, but then you can help those learners advance and grow through those scaffolds. After all, every student needs the opportunity to become an expert learner.

Helping Educators Implement UDL

I had the honor of interviewing Alaa Zaza for this podcast. Zaza works for the Manahel-Syria Education Programme which is helping educators reach and teach children all over northeast Syria, even during the war. You can read more about the programme here (and you will want to).

A theme that emerged from our conversation was: “How do you get started with UDL?” It is a question I am asked during or after every workshop and in response to my podcast. It’s a universal question. To me, there are two contexts: one is when an individual is starting and the other is when a leader is hoping to help a group of teachers move into the framework.

When individuals begin exploring the UDL framework, it’s typically in their own time and follows their own passion. They are intrinsically motivated and have their own purpose for investigating. They can move through resources and build their own knowledge. They might not have an overt plan, but they can set their own goals and can determine their own strategies. What I’ve just described are individuals using their skills as expert learners. But what about educators who work in an organization that has chosen to investigate or adopt UDL? How are they supported?

Just as Zaza and I discussed during the podcast, educators need to be brought into UDL in a way that allows them to practice being expert learners. We need to bring educator in using the UDL guidelines.

Below, I’ve offered ideas that are aligned with each of the checkpoints. These ideas are to get your started. Build on them. And when you do, share them with others and me! Finally, know that there will be systematic variability. What patterns can you identify ahead of your workshops, PLCs, and discussions? For example, time is always identified as a barrier. How can you help minimize that barrier for the educators with whom you are working?

Engagement

Recruiting interest

  • Allow educators to choose the avenue into UDL that makes sense to them (principle, guideline, checkpoint, goal-writing, choice, etc.).
  • Provide time for guided reflection so educators can identify any examples of relevance, value or authenticity in this work.
  • Provide space for educators to discuss their reservations and fears about UDL and address them as a group.

Sustaining Effort & Persistence

  • Articulate the goal for the session or the goal around implementation. Better yet, construct the goal collaboratively.
  • Provide specific and logical connections to resources rather than simply providing lists. Ensure the resources vary in level of information (e.g., beginner, practiced, and expert knowledge about UDL).
  • Encourage educators to partner with others, but provide protocols or guiding frameworks they can use to support their collaboration.
  • You have to be comfortable with the framework so you can provide specific and supportive feedback to your educators as they grow with the framework.

Self Regulation

  • Returning the (collaboratively created) goal, establish growth markers so educators can identify their own growth.
  • Provide ideas for coping skills as educators try new things in their environments. Not every day will go well and everyone will need some support.
  • Take time to co-create a rubric with your educators so they can self-assess their own movement within the framework.

 

Representation

Perception

  • Provide specific support and professional development to your entire staff on tools that support the customizing the display of information, alternatives for auditory information, and alternatives for visual information. Ensure that this professional development provides ample time for practice and ownership.

Language & Symbols

  • Ensure educators are comfortable with the language of UDL (principles, guidelines, checkpoints, learner variability, flexibility, choice, etc.).
  • Ensure educators understand the organization of the UDL Guidelines.
  • Ensure educators have access to tools that support decoding UDL.
  • Design conversations and professional development that support educators to see connections between other initiatives and UDL.
  • Use multiple media to share UDL.

Comprehension

  • Guide educators to connect what they are doing to pieces and parts of UDL while helping them see the bigger picture of the framework.
  • Provide supports (reflection tools, protocols, etc.) that support educators to see patterns that support or patterns that create barriers for their learners.
  • As educators are learning about UDL, provide activities and opportunities for them to share their processing and how they visualize the implementation of UDL.
  • Clarify how UDL can be utilized across the curriculum.

 

Action & Expression
  • Provide specific support and professional development to your entire staff on tools that support response and navigation as well as assistive technologies that are used and others that are available. Ensure that this professional development provides ample time for practice and ownership.
  • Model your use of multiple media when providing information about UDL.
  • Provide access to different tools and resources so educators can practice using different tools during their implementation of UDL.
  • Encourage educators’ UDL fluency by inviting them to share their experiences with each other and using language associated with the framework.

Executive Functions

  • Work with your educators as they set their own goals around UDL implementation.
  • Provide planning tools and strategizing aids to educators as they plot out their use of the UDL framework.
  • Offer an organized space to hold resources, but encourage educators to personalize that organization to meet their individual needs.
  • Encourage educators to adopt their own tools and resources that help them monitor their own progress in UDL implementation.

 
As stated above, these are starter ideas, but they are ideas that are completely aligned with the UDL checkpoints. I invite you to think through them to see how they can work in your environment. And, let me know how it goes! It is my quest to help every learner experience what it means to be an expert learner, whether that learner is a child or an adult.

The UDL Reporting Criteria

During my conversation with Kavita Rao for UDL Research in 15 Minutes, I realized that the topic was perfect for UDL in 15 Minutes, too, because the tool she was sharing is one that can be used by many. This blog will focus on the UDL Reporting Criteria tool and offer suggestions of how it can be used by people other than journal authors and journal editors.

First, I’m going to share this sentence from the tool: “The workgroup concurred that the Reporting Criteria were not “quality indicators” and are not used to evaluate the way UDL is used or to evaluate the quality of a study.” The group did not want the tool to be used to judge the quality of a lesson or environment, evaluate how UDL is used, evaluate the quality of a study. So, what does that leave? It leaves you with a tool that you can use for self-reflection and that you can use to drive conversation during a professional learning community (PLC). It also leaves you with a tool that you can use for planning and reflection.

First, I suggest reading through the entire tool, including the abstract, background, and the development of the reporting criteria. This will give you the grounding you need before you begin editing. Next, move to the tool.

I suggest you replace the word participants with the word learners. That will create an instant shift for you. Second, you will probably need to shift the point of view from authors to the educator along with the associated verb (e.g., “Authors describe” to “The educator describes”). Finally, sit back with the tool and imagine using it as a design tool for your environment or your unit or lesson. Don’t stop there, though. Think of it as a reflective too. It gives you a way to think through the lesson you just taught, how your learners were supported, and how they respond.

Planning while using UDL is a practice that includes on-the-ground thinking (e.g., How am I going to set up this activity?) to what I call 10,000 foot thinking (e.g., Let me look across the guidelines to see if I’ve provided a balance of options for all of my learners). This kind of planning is accordion-like which is why it can seem so odd at first. Most of us learned how to lesson plan using a sheet of paper with guiding words and boxes. We answered prompts. It was very on-the-ground planning. UDL requires us to look at a framework full of options and consider which ones will support our learners as they move toward the goal. That’s a different kind of thinking, but it’s the kind of thinking that needs to happen to create the kind of educational environment our students need.

The last thing I want to talk about is how to reference this tool. The UDL Reporting Criteria tool is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. What does that mean?

Creative Commons is a non-profit. Their “what we do” statement reads, “Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity to address the world’s pressing challenges.” The UDL-IRN uses Creative Common for much of its products because they want everyone to be able to modify the materials to meet the needs of their environment. They are responding to variability!

The UDL Reporting Criteria are licensed so you can reproduce and share the information in whole or in part and you can produce, reproduce, and share adapted material. Here’s the deal, though; cite it. Give credit to the original working group. Educators should support educators which means we should recognize the work of others. By doing this and talking about it with your leaners (we shouldn’t leave that conversation to the language arts teachers, every subject requires citations!), you are modeling how you’ve expanded your knowledge, how you’re being resourceful, and how the best work is derived from several sources. You’re modeling your growth as an expert learner which is a perfect gateway to supporting all of your learners to become expert learners.