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Loui Lord Nelson, Ph.D.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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UDL in 15 Minutes with Dan Marsh

The Reciprocal Classroom During COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

High energy    
Low energy    
  Unpleasant feelings Pleasant feelings

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

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

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

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