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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.