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.
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.
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.
Robin, just like millions of other educators, is moving her way through this new teaching experience. As a high school English teacher, though, she’s very used to taking attendance, grading papers, and giving assessments. During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Robin shares how this has shifted. But something else that she said also caught my attention:
While I don’t have a lot of experience teaching remotely, I do have a lot of recent experience as a student learning remotely. So, I’m reflecting back on what I found worked for me and what my professors offered me in terms of engagement and making sure I had access, and the like.
Robin is going with what she knows and building on that. But if you don’t have recent experience of learning online, how are you moving forward? Where are you finding your guidance?
Advice for how to teach online abounds. Good or bad, the advice has come out like throwing spaghetti at the walls. It creates an unpredictable pattern. Some of it falls off while some of it sticks. But even the stuff that sticks is based on popularity rather than quality.
Content specific ideas are intermingled with suggestions for digital teaching tools and rarely do the two align. Here’s where my thoughts come in; let’s break this down a bit using some of what we know about UDL. I call accessibility, flexibility, goals, choice, and rigor the underlying components of UDL (Nelson, 2017). Without those, you cannot meet the needs of your variable learners. Below is a mix of resources and guidance on how to consider each of these areas while designing your lessons and online environment.
From Monday, March 30th through Monday, April 20th, the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials is hosting free webinars on access and distance education. All of these are recorded, so you can return to them. Plus, these area ideas that should be woven into any digital environment all of that time, so bookmark these!
The website, Distance Learning for Special Education is a beautifully organized repository of resources, tips for families, tips for professionals, and frequently asked questions around the education of students with significant disabilities.
We’re all under extreme pressure right now, which means our executive functioning (decision-making, choice-making, planning, and execution) isn’t doing so well either. Where learners might not have needed this kind of support a month ago, assume they need it now (e.g., checklists, step-by-step instructions, graphic organizers, consistent check-ins, feedback that guides them, not just praises them). We all do. This is part of accessibility to learning.
Now that we’re all operating in the digital environment, it would be easy to assume that we’re providing flexibility to our learners. Not true. You’ll find information related to this tucked under accessibility, but just how Robin examined her own learning experiences, examine your own and build on them. Put yourself in your students’ shoes and ask:
If I can see text on my screen, can I also listen to it?
Can I magnify the text or images?
Can I choose the font?
Can I highlight the text or choose how the text is highlighted?
The difference here is that the learner has control over these things. You provided them to make the learning accessible to all learners. Flexibility comes in when learners choose how and when they are going to use the tool.
When we have all of our learners in front of us, we can read the goal out loud together and talk about it. Online learning, especially asynchronous learning, doesn’t provide that important connection, but goals are even more crucial now. Many are discovering that they need to break the overall goal down into bite-sized sections (a goal for every 15 to 30 minutes of instruction and smaller chunks for younger children or students who need more support). You can communicate more clearly what the outcome should be and they can see that the outcome is possible.
Often seen as the star of UDL, choice actually hinges on accessibility, flexibility and goals. If you aren’t providing accessibility and flexibility and aligning those with the goals of your lessons and online learning environment, then you cannot provide the level of choice necessary to meet the needs of your variable learners. Choice is the gateway to empowerment and self-determination for our learners, and learners need those skills to grow as expert learners, but that opportunity needs to be provided universally.
Online learning can go down the tragic path of information delivery with a few quizzes thrown in here or there. From the learner point of view, there is a ton of input (what they are taking in), but the output is less and feels more like regurgitation. Give your students the time, space, and tools to talk about how they are making sense of (a) the world right now, and (b) what they are learning. That’s an incredibly important first step. Next, have them share the patterns they are discovering. Have them put on screen how they are they organizing this information (they can take a picture of something they draw or write or they can create an online representation). Those are just the first two steps Robin Jackson talks about and are the perfect way to begin your journey to developing some rigorous online learning opportunities.
Most of us are new to creating online learning opportunities and we’re doing it under extreme pressure and within a stressful environment. We also know our learners are under stress, but we are a source of consistency and promise for them. Just being there each day adds to that consistency. As you begin to find your footing, add in the above components and you will continue to move your learners toward becoming expert learners.
During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, Principal Sara Soria shares how influential art has been in her life and how it has become a two-pronged tool for her work. First, she models using art to connect with others (be sure to click on the Crystal Blue Persuasion link in the top right corner to hear music while you look at the slides). Second, she shares how Coalinga-Huron incorporates arts into instruction. In each case, she continues to see how this art emphasis improves student outcomes. I visually represent this two-pronged approach below and then share the specific connections to the UDL framework below the figure.
Model how art is used to connect with others
For her course assignment, Sara cultivated photos and other images of art to tell her story. When designing this montage, she connected to the guidelines Recruiting Interest (minimizing threats and distractions) and Sustaining Effort & Persistence (foster collaboration and community) to gain a connection with her audience.
Model how art can influence instruction
During the podcast, Sara shares how she encourages her staff to celebrate learner variability and connect to the guidelines by showing how art can be used to represent information to learners via Language & Symbols (illustrate through multiple media) as well as Comprehension (highlight patterns, critical, features, big ideas, and relationships) and how learners can use it to express their skills and knowledge via Expression & Communication (use multiple media for communication).
Sara ties all of this to the need to be transparent as educators. She believes there is a need to show our students who we are, from where we came, and how we’ve traversed barriers. Her interview initiates the question: What stories do you share with your learners? Do you use stories from your life to show how you’ve moved beyond obstacles? How do you feel about storytelling? What are your barriers to telling your own story? Where could you start? This post on teachthought.com offers 30 tips for teachers who want to use storytelling to connect with learners and is an excellent way for you to do some reflection. The ideas can ease you into a genre that might not be familiar to you.
As Sara points out, the arts are a powerful way for teachers to engage learners, to represent information, and to provide different mediums for students to express what they’ve learned. In fact, you can return to earlier podcasts with Rachel Barillari and Jessie Sherman who also focused on the use of the arts to enrich their lessons. But just as each of them said, the power emerges when our learners begin to adopt the skillsets associated with being expert learners. So, if you are already on a journey with using the arts in your learning environments, or you want to begin, remember to take time and examine the UDL guidelines. Investigate how you are providing access to the arts as well as proving opportunities for students to use the arts in their learning. Examine the opportunities you are providing them to become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed. The more you provide those opportunities, the richer the art becomes, both what is offered and what is produced.
Thinking about Gifted Learners through the UDL Framework
In the first bit of time what I started to learn about UDL was that it fosters an active approach to learning where I think so much of traditional ways of education, including grading and assessment are passive, where students can tend to get in the habit of kind of checking the boxes or becoming good at the game of school, as I call it. – Ian Wilkins
If you were to assess this small piece of your teaching, which would you say your students do more – check boxes or are active participants in their learning? Do your learners know how to play along with the system to just get the grade or are they invested? How do you shift them away from box checking and into investment?
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework’s emphasis of engagement is directly aligned with this idea mentioned by Ian during this podcast episode. And though we talk about all students when we talk about an environment designed using UDL, this blog is going to spend some time talking about the supports we provide to students who are gifted because many of these students know exactly how to play along. We need them thinking.
Students who are gifted need additional challenges to keep them simulated. Before we get into the UDL and gifted connection, this blog from Edutopia reviews the damaging misconceptions some educators have about students who are gifted and talented, but those misconceptions can be addressed through the use of the UDL framework. I’ll share a story first, though.
I was the full-time sub in an 8th grade Algebra classroom during my first year out of undergrad (I had been hired as a paraprofessional in the same building). My colleague and her husband adopted a baby and the process moved more quickly than any of us imagined. One day, I was sitting with my colleague and the principal planning the transition and one month later I was in front of her classroom.
One of my classes included a 4th grader who was dropped off by his mother 5 minutes before class started every day. She shuttled him over from the nearby grade school. I wasn’t terrified of him; I was terrified of failing him. Every day, he sat in the front row, swinging his legs, with his pencil ready and every day I went into my lessons wondering how I was going to support him.
I remember him showing me four overarching emotions/reactions: consistent curiosity, glee, shyness, and frustration. I’m pretty sure the last emotional response included my inability to give him challenging enough options and my general lack of understanding of how to support him. I wish I’d had UDL to guide my lesson and learning environment development. What would I have done differently?
First, we know that all of our learners should be given options (that’s why every guideline begins with the phrase, “Provide options for…”), but when we’re constructing our options for a learning environment, we’re thinking through the variability that is present and anticipated. I would have given all of my learners, including him, options around time, space and materials (this was the early 90’s, so there was no technology in the classrooms) to share the connections they were making between the mathematical concepts. That would have been a much more valuable conversation rather than solving math problem after math problem.
Next, I would have provided clear guidance around roles and responsibilities in group work. My 8th graders knew that if they were grouped with him, he’d do all of the work. That meant that some of the 8th graders occasionally wanted to be grouped with him but most did not. They wanted to learn, too. Just as the Edutopia blog discusses, he didn’t have the social maturity to define his own role. He and his peers needed that scaffolding to help them delineate responsibilities, self- assess their contributions, and manage resources. By giving them this guidance, it would have provided the platform for deeper learning through collaboration as well as a platform to solve more challenging problems.
Finally, I would have provided many, many more supports around executive functions for all of my learners. Though most of the learners in this class were identified as gifted, most of them had limited organizational skills when it came to managing the information given to them. They were great at learning specific skills and then applying those skills to algorhythms, but they were not skilled at taking their skills and knowledge and planning how they would use it or the steps they would take to solve a larger problem. Executive function has to be practiced and we have to provide scaffolds to support our students on that journey. This piece lays out a day in the life of a student with executive functioning issues. Though your learners might not have a diagnosis of ADHD, there are some great tips for both home and schools.
There was nothing in my mathematics teaching manual to help me see these and other holes in my lesson plans and learning environment. Throughout that period, I received help from other teachers, but only around content delivery. It wasn’t until the very end of that year that I read work by John Dewey that shifted how I approached lesson planning: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. Education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” I began to wonder how I could connect what my students were learning to what they were living and life in general. For me, that mindset shift was part of my journey toward UDL. I began thinking about how to make the learning more real, how to connect him and his peers, and how to help them all with their planning and monitoring skills.
Our gifted students are part of the wonderful variability present in our learning environments. Their scaffolds and supports will look a little different at times, but when you provide the options suggested across the guidelines, you are giving them the guidance all learners need – guidance in how to become expert learners.
Different teachers come to UDL via different paths, but every teacher wants students to be more engaged in learning. The principle of engagement shows us the various ways we can raise engagement, but it depends on the structures around us. For example, Christina was able to add in flexibility to her curriculum. During this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes, she shared:
So the students were supposed to write an answer to a warm up question, and then they’re supposed to read an article and they’re supposed to take some notes in a specific format, and then they’re supposed to share their notes with each other in a specific format, and then they’re supposed to answer some questions at the end. And I’ve, in the past, had a lot of trouble getting students to really engage with it as well.
Even her description makes it sound tedious. But what comes out in her story is that the structure isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the design within the structure. She identified space within one of those steps to add in more flexible, engaging options. She had to shift her pattern.
You have patterns. We all do. It’s what humans do. We create and love patterns. Heck, our recognition networks (the neural networks behind the principle of representation) are what guide that infatuation. At the same time, we get really bored with patterns. We become disinterested and disconnected when we’re learned the pattern. We are no longer engaged. What’s an educator to do? Look to the students. Hear their voices.
Humans are wonderfully variable. That means students are wonderfully variable. That means they will have different ways to approach things, like how they will approach parts within a pattern.
While telling her story, Christina said, “So, I wanted to figure out a way to make something that had more options and people could do more in whatever method worked for them. But every time I was always going about it, it would seem like something that would take so much time and so much materials and where would you store it and this and that, and people do it at different paces.”
Before we jump to the solution, go back into her thought process – “But every time I was always going about it, it would seem like something that would take so much time and so much materials and where would you store it and this and that.” That’s a lot of truth-telling right there. When she started to think about what to offer her students as choices, her brain went on overload. It actually went into pattern mode. It was going off of previous decision-making cycles – those responsible adult patterns we follow when designing our lessons. But Christina allowed for a tiny disruption. She allowed student voice. Students shared their ideas and those ideas stemmed from what she already had in her classroom or she had easy access to. And then (and this is awesome) students were so engaged with the activity, they used materials they had at home!
Student voice and student choice are a mantra in the UDL community. If you’ve listened to any of the UDL in 15 Minute podcasts, read any books on UDL, watched videos about UDL, you’ve heard about student voice and choice, but there’s a barrier that remains. And that barrier is patterns.
Here’s what I want you to do. As an observer (not a judge), I want you to keep track of the patterns you have in your planning and in your classroom. If you think you’ll judge yourself, bring in a colleague to watch for patterns or listen to you list your patterns (just list, not change). Do this for a week. Then ask, where can you open the door to student voice? What place (e.g., folder storage, bookshelf placement), action (e.g., where they sit), or lesson design (e.g., what do they read during independent reading time) pattern can shift. Next, be open with your students. Tell them why you’re trying this. Give them ownership.
Each UDL in 15 Minute podcast is devoted to help educators understand shifts they can make to lead their students toward becoming expert learners. This is one of the most significant steps you can take. By giving students voice, letting them know why you want to hear their voice, and then using their opinions to design a lesson or your learning environment, you are positioning them to see the purpose in their learning and to build motivation. You are moving them down the path of becoming expert learners.
So, I started with surveying the students about what they felt they would want. Do they learn best if they have a video? Do they learn best if they have audio support? Do they want audio support on vocabulary words that are unknown? And do they prefer reading on a digital platform or do they want to read in the traditional textbook or do they need both? Do they want on their desk the iPad and also the paper version of their textbook, and what would that look like? And I asked them if they would be willing to try out different strategies to find a just right fit.
The above quote by Laura Christie comes from this episode of UDL in 15 Minutes. In it, she’s asking for her students’ input, but that request is supported by something else – intent. What she intends to do with their responses sets the pathway for building trust, true opportunities for choice, and opportunities for her students to develop assets.
In their research, Dana Mitra and Stephanie Serriere of Penn State University define what they call the ABCDE’s of asset development. These include:
Agency: acting or exerting influence and power in a given situation
Belonging: Developing meaningful relationships with other students and adults and having a role at the school
Competence: Developing new abilities and being appreciated for one’s talents
Discourse: Exchange of ideas and diverse opinions to work toward a common goal
(Civic) Efficacy: Cognitive belief that one can make a difference in the world, and the responsibility to do so (2012, p. 746).
In the UDL community, we talk about providing our learners with choice so they can identify the different ways they like to approach and participate in learning, but if the choices we are providing aren’t built from the concept of agency, they are hollow choices. All students need to experience situations where they have influence over a decision or outcome.
During class visits to the media center, there was a policy that students were only allowed to look at books in a determined section because there were always three or four classes in the media center together. Though they rotated sections each time, Tanisha and Terrence were very interested in designing fashion and knew the books and magazines about sewing and design were not in their designated section that day. They began protesting in loud voices, but their teacher Mr. Cunningham quickly came over and said, “I’m here to listen.” They shared their frustration with the policy and he suggested they talk through with him what they could say to the media specialist to communicate their request. After a few tries and with some coaching from Mr. Cunningham, they went to the media specialist, Mrs. Carey, with their request and the reason for their request. Mrs. Carey listened and said that she appreciated how mature they were in their request, and asked them what solution they proposed. They suggested that they would go straight to that section, get the books and magazines and then come right back to sit with their class.
When the UDL community talks about choice, we need to ensure it is true choice. True choice is backed by agency. These students knew what choice they wanted to make, but there was a barrier to their choice. In this example (which is factual, though the names have been changed), Tanisha and Terrence were given the guidance to have some influence in that situation. They had a meaningful conversation with both Mr. Cunningham and Mrs. Carey and were appreciated for how they made their request. In that short scenario, they hit on agency, belonging, competence, and discourse. This kind of conversation takes time, but without it, students do not gain these skills.
Clarence Ng, a researcher in Australia, recently observed and interviewed teachers and students about the shift that happened when students were given agency to share their opinions about the silent reading time. Based on their input, the time was shifted (it had been right after lunch), they were given more latitude in their choice of reading materials, time was provided for them to talk with another student or the teacher about what they were reading, and they could read with a partner or in a group. Prior to sharing their opinions, silent reading time was a battle and no one won. Throughout the process of hearing their opinions, the students were provided agency, they knew they had a role in the change, they were listened to and appreciated, they shard other diverse opinions (some of them didn’t manifest in the end, but they could still share them), and they experienced how to make a change. After that came the daily choice during silent reading and they relished that time.
The ABCDE’s are not the only system out there focused on asset development. The Search Institute has 40 positive supports to guide the development of assets along with tools and lessons that are widely used. It’s worth your time to investigate the site and supports.
The concept of developmental assets fits hand-in-hand with UDL as a support to what the framework wants to accomplish. They are the competencies learners need to gain to become effective in their academics, their relationships, and their futures. These assets are logical partners to the experiences we must provide to help our learners gain the skills necessary to become expert learners.
Mitra, D., & Serriere, S. (2012). Student Voice in Elementary School Reform: Examining Youth Development in Fifth Graders. American Educational Research Journal, 49(4), 743-774.
Ng, C. (2018). Using student voice to promote reading engagement for economically disadvantaged students. Journal of Research in Reading, 41(4), 700-715.
We have to teach executive function skills, even to high school students
After asking Amanda, a high school English Language Arts (ELA) teacher, to share why she focuses on executive functions, she said this:
“…, I found that there’s this myth that high schoolers don’t need support in that area anymore because they’re older, but we know that’s not true and their brains still developing.”
I could not have been more excited! It was an unequivocal statement about how we should be thinking about executive functions (EF) for all of our K-12 learners. These are not skills our students gain automatically. You cannot assume they will have picked up these skills in other environments. The phrase, “they should know this by now” does not apply here! Why? Because their brains, and especially this part of their brains, are still developing. Not to put down our brains, but would you ever pull a cake out of the oven at 45 minutes when the recipe says to bake it for one hour and then say, “Why is it not done?” We need to give the time and skill practice necessary for EF skills to emerge. Here’s what you can do.
Amanda shared some awesome resources during our conversation. For example, to help make the point about brain development, she uses this New York Times interactive brain slider (you will need to enable Flash). I love the versatility of this tool. There’s text, there’s color to emphasize the change, and the user interacts with the tool to see the changes in the brain. Just as Amanda shares, it’s a way to point out to learners (and us) that their brains are still developing and they need to practice skills so they can create those pathways in their brains! I’ve put the rest of her list here.
But what if you and your learners are new to this stuff about the brain? Fortunately, there are tons of other valuable and reliable resources out there. One of the first places I always go for this kind of information is the Kennedy Krieger Institute website. To get you started in your understanding of EF, go to this interview with Lisa Jacobson on executive function and executive dysfunction. She shares what schools can do to improve the development of EF. Next, you’ll find this interview with Alexis Reed of the Boston Child Study Center which shares ideas on how to scaffold for EF. If you want to get subject specific and think about math, you can read this interview with Taylor Koriakin. My favorite quote from this blog is, “Attention: Students can only solve problems if they are able to attend to them. This entails paying attention to directions, sorting out which pieces of information are important to the problem at hand, and sustaining focus on the problem. In order to support attention in the classroom as an educator:” That first sentence gets to the point quickly! A fabulous list of ideas follows.
Next are tools that come from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child. This activities guide is part of a larger guide on EF. Once you go to this part of the site, you can easily access other areas such as Executive Function 101, and The Science of Executive Function.
Finally, Understood.org is one of my go-to sites. Built as a tool for parents, it also includes information for educators (there is a fabulous video about UDL from a teacher’s perspective). But I see this site as an excellent tool for communication. Imagine you’ve noticed a student is challenged with EF skills. How do you talk to parents about that? This site not only talks about EF without jargon, it is visually appealing, well organized, and easy to navigate. Obviously, there are plenty of other resources out there about EF, but these are ones I trust for their connection to current research and their interpretation of that research (it’s really important that we push neuromyths out of education!).
When you look at the UDL Guidelines, you see that the guideline for Executive Functions is in the lower righthand corner. It’s in the row labeled, “internalize.” It is placed there because we need to support our learners through the use of Physical Action and Expression and Communication so they can use those EF skills. There’s no reason why you can’t use the information in the above tools right away, but UDL (and I) encourage you to get into the other guidelines to see what they enhance and how they support that bottom right hand corner. After all, it takes the entire framework to guide our learners to become expert learners.
This week’s episode with Melanie Acevedo focuses on the use of UDL outside of the core content. Melanie is one of four digital literacy teachers in her school district of about 4,000 students. Having identified that number of digital literacy teachers speaks to the Melrose Public School’s commitment to guiding learners toward thriving in our digital age. Melanie and her colleagues use books, videos, and online tools to help their learners gain these skills and they also turn to resources like CommonSense.org/education/ as a source for lessons, assessments, and ideas. The lessons are research-backed, aligned with standards, and created by an organization that wants to create a digital world where children can thrive. Common Sense carries this out by informing parents, teachers, and the general public through videos, articles, books, recommendations for apps, lesson plans, and more. Melanie and her colleagues, though, take that additional step of viewing all of it through the UDL lens.
The analogy of the lens is very popular in the UDL community, but I want to add an additional component. Very early on in my position as the UDL Coordinator in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, I was asked to provide a training to the staff of the Northside Middle School. I remember using the analogy of a 3-legged magnifying glass.
Just as the magnifier is balanced on all three legs, as we look through the lens of UDL we need to balance our environments and lesson via the three principles. When we do that, we are moving toward providing greater access, flexibility, and equity. When we do that, we are more likely going to provide our learners with opportunities to move toward becoming expert learners. But, what does expert learning look like when students are putting into action digital literacy? Here are just few examples:
Purposeful – learners choose the digital tools and information they need to reach their learning goal.
Motivated – learners challenge themselves to continue learning about a digital topic (e.g., coding) even when it challenges them.
Resourceful – learners actively and consciously use evidence-based decision-making skills and steps to seek out reliable digital sources.
Knowledgeable – learners connect prior learning about privacy and security when choosing apps they believe will help them meet a goal.
Strategic – learners utilize digital tools to improve the quality of their products rather than using them as a distractor to accomplishing a goal.
Goal-directed – learners identify what they want to accomplish through the use of digital tools and continue working toward that goal.
We are in the midst of the digital age and our learners need support to move through it. We must remember, though, that not all learners will gravitate toward digital tools or sources. Not all learners will want to use them as a primary source. This is why UDL is invaluable to us as we design our digital literacy lessons and environments. UDL reminds us that all learners are variable and we need to provide different types of opportunities and options so our learners can gain these skills and all learners can become expert learners.