Choice and Control: When One Leads to the Loss of the Other
When Carrie and others who design and teach using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) talk about choice, they are referring to the variety of options presented to learners throughout the lesson and the choices that are built into the environment. When they talk about control, they mean they are stepping back and allowing their learners to make those choices. Carrie Preston talked about the unit she created using choice and control in this way:
It was open ended. They could get and do things the way they needed to and the products were so superior to anything that they produced when I had 95% of the control in the past and I said this is what we’re going to do, this is how you’re going to do it.
During the podcast, I promised to talk about the alignment of the unit to UDL because we didn’t get to it during the interview, but I want to weave in specifics about choice and control, too.
Beginning with the standard and identifying the goal
“…the standard that we worked on was a writing standard and it was writing for a specific audience.” Carrie did what UDL asks us to do – begin with the standard, establish the goal of (in this case) your unit, and begin designing.
Knowing how you will assess their work
She then identified six overarching questions that drove their self-assessment and her overall assessment: What is your topic? Who is your target audience? What do they already know? What do they need to know? What method of communication would be most appropriate? These were the questions that guided her daily check-ins with the students and ensured she didn’t have to create a rubric for each of the specific products. This type of assessment provided students with an optimal level of choice and decision-making which lead to their superior products.
The interrelationship of the principles
While I normally dissect a lesson or unit into the different guidelines during podcasts, I’d like to talk about the interconnectivity of the principals for this example. Carrie shares:
I wanted to keep it simple, but I wanted to give students a lot of choices and I wanted to make sure that we got that engagement piece in. That they were interested in what they were working on and that they would work with the people that they wanted to work with and produce a product that suited their skills and their audience needs.
While this example is clearly linked to the principle of Engagement (e.g., recruiting interest as well as sustaining effort and persistence), she also supported the students’ executive functioning (the principle of Action and Expression). She shared this when she explained:
I did have to help them with a little time management or some maybe functioning as a group. Sometimes I wouldn’t support some groups. There I couldn’t just say hands off, you know, that’s, that’s for you to figure out. I did provide some guidance, there were some students so there were still some supports and scaffolding in those areas, too.
And to help them maintain that movement forward throughout the process, she guided how they processed their information by consistently reminding them of the six overarching questions (Comprehension under Representation), provided that information in a variety of ways (Perception under Representation), and sustained their effort and persistence (the principle of Engagement):
They were on the board all the time. I would always ask them as I did our group checks, and they were on Schoology, we used Schoology to post materials and sometimes I would post tips or things that they could check out or different apps or things that they could use to create their end products for their projects, and we talked about them all the time.
Throughout the unit, students were able to access the tools they wanted to use: “…students could use browser readers to access the content, they could look at videos to research their topic or to come up with ideas. They could use text if they wanted to. They could read text or magazine articles or research about their topics.” This type of choice aligned with both language and symbols and perception under the principle of Representation because students had access to materials that not only offered them clarity about the language, they used multiple media representations and they could manipulate those representations.
Finally, as the students created their final products, Carrie involved guidelines from across the framework. By checking in with the students, she helped them self-regulate and sustain their effort and persistence (principle of Engagement), identify the best way to communicate with their audience (principle of Action & Expression) and move through this long-term project at the end of the year with graduation approaching (executive functions under the principle of Action & Expression).
Carrie showed her own expertise by using the framework to design and implement a unit that allowed all of her learners to show their best work: “I just got such a better product from such a greater percentage of students.” And the ultimate proof of engagement? Student voice: “They said it was the most fun they had all year in class.” These learners got to experience being expert learners. The best type of learner.