Universal Design for Learning: From Theory to Practice
December 16, 2014
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>> Hello, everyone. It's great to see so many folks here on this wintry afternoon in December. We're thrilled to have you all. I'm Allison Posey. I'm at CAST in Wakefield, Massachusetts. I want to welcome you to our holiday webinar series. We're asking the question, have you been captivated by the theory behind UDL, but haven't gotten implemented in your practice? We have two fabulous contributors that will be with us today in this part two of the UDL from Theory to Practice conversation from the new book. In this part of the webinar, we're really going to focus on how UDL comes to life in the practice of two of our UDL cadre.
In an earlier webinar, we spoke with authors Anne Meyer, David Rose and Dan Gordon about the most ‑‑ [no sound] ‑‑ ‑‑ captions going on. This'll be recorded, if you need to leave in the middle, no worries, you can listen to it, we'll let you know that link very soon. Welcome to those of you who are hear live, we've gotten to see some fabulous locations from Florida to Alberta, Indiana, this is always so fun for us to see where you're calling in from. Thank you for taking time out of the crazy hectic holiday time to listen and be with us today. We also want to welcome those of you who are listening remotely, who you know, might be at home in their PJs, couple weeks from now, maybe there'll be snow on the ground and so, thank you for taking time to listen to the recording. So, I also want to just, at the beginning here, take a moment and introduce Mindy Johnson who is here in the room with us. Mindy works with CAST social media and there are lots of different ways to contribute to the conversation, so, I guess you'll see Mindy typing in the chat box there. We have Twitter, Facebook, Google plus, LinkedIn in, YouTube and one of my favorite things that happens that I haven't been good about joining is on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, from 9:00 to 9:30. Eastern Standard Time, there's a UDL chat and folks from all over the world now. There's some, oh, good, Mindy's even putting up my Twitter. Conversations about UDL. They're short, they're actually, I love the questions, I do always read them afterwards. There are questions about what you want in your UDL stocking, just great conversation that happens there. First and third ways of the month from 9:00 to 9:30. So there, are some other options to contribute to the conversation, so, Mindy, thank you for being with us today and thank you for helping. If there are links or resources as we discuss and talk about things, Mindy's going to keep us connected to those resources.
So...I'm going to pause for a minute and just take a breath and see if there are any questions before we get started.
All right...great. Well, with us today, I'm so excited to introduce Jon Mundorf, who is from sunny Florida. I actually saw that it's like in the mid‑70s today, just looks lovely, his picture is like radiantly glowing, so he's calling in from Florida, Alexis, I'm sorry you have to be in cold Boston with us today, but we're really happy to have you here and David Gordon is in the room with us, he's always here at CAST with us. Little sigh, but no, it's wonderful to be here. We have Leslie and Ally to help keep things running smoothly. David, I'm going to start with a question for you. You were part of the unbelievable undertaking to write the UDL theory and practice books. I wanted to, I know we're going to focus on that today, but I wanted to turn to you, first and ask why that was so important.
>> Yes, thank you, Alliso and welcome, everybody, it's great to be here and to join Jon and Alexis also. So, the book, when we set out to conceive it, really was meant to be a follow‑up to the 2002 book Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age which was published in 2002 by ASCD. That book was really the first complete expression of the theory. It, it had a lot of the neuroscience behind the UDL principles. It laid out the three principles with the neuroscience and educational practice and research behind it as well. And...that book was at the time it was published in 2002, UDL was really still a new field, still in its infancy. The book highlighted the three principles and also had a lot about practice in it with helpful narratives of what UDL might look like in certain situations, but it really was limited to hypothetical cases and then a few early adopters of UDL that we could really point at and say, those folks are trying to implement these three principles consciously, in a way that we would call a UDL.
Of course, you know, the three principles have been practiced going back to the time of Aristotle in one form or another and even farther back, so...but, but UDL, as an articulated framework, really is relatively new. But practice has always been a key part of defining and articulating UDL. That was true in the first book. When the guidelines were first published in 2008, so that was sort of halfway to this next book, CAST immediately asked practitioners, researchers, policymakers from across the education field to comment on and even correct us on those guidelines. And the result was a new version of the guidelines in 2011. For the latest book, we, from the outset, said there's got to be a lot of practitioner input and we had dozens of practitioners weigh in, we did, spent a lot of time and effort and money recording those practitioners and those of you who have used the web‑based book at UDLtheory.practice.org can access those materials right away. If you have the print version of UDL theory and practice, you have QRL codes or tiny URLs you can use to get to those videos. We literally, wanted to have the voices of practitioners built right into the book. And that was extremely important for us.
I have to say that I mentioned the first version of the guidelines and the second version, there's a third version in the book, which is the version that puts engagement first and takes the numbering system out of the presentation and the guidelines and that, too, was in response to practitioners saying, you know, they're not really hierarchical, they're not really linear and we said, yeah, you know, we're right. We never intended to convey that impression. And...you can flip them around, you can jumble them and practice them in any order you wish and so, that, again, was a reflection of what practitioners had told us.
So...two of the outstanding educators that were featured in the book are with us today. Jon Mundorf and Alexis Reid to talk about their practice. There are a lot of their videos and others throughout the book and I want to say, also, that we're really delighted, UDL theory and practice was the first ever book published by CAST professional publishing, we since published a terrific book by Katie Novak called UDL Now. But we have another book and several other books, actually, in the works, but we're pleased to announce today that Jon Mundorf will be publishing a new book with us in 2015 called Together We Are Better. How teaching reading to a student with blindness using UDL made me a better teacher. So, I just wanted to share that news as well.
So...with that, that's a little background in terms of the book and how important practitioners are, now let's hear from the practitioners.
>> Thank you so much for that. You know, the, recently I was presenting with a group of educators and I put up the new guidelines and you almost heard this collective gasp of they've changed it and we really tried to say, no, no, no, it's all still there, just looks a little different and it's really just another representation of the information and so, I think in a lot of ways, it's modeled very nicely, how the guidelines are not meant to be hierarchical, you don't have to do every single run of them, but it was a great opportunity for conversation.
>> Thank you.
>> So, I'd like to transition and turn the conversation over to our two, I mean, absolutely fantastic practitioners features in the UDL Theory and Practice book, they're part of our CAST cadre. They do presentations around the country, talking about UDL and what's even more exciting to us, they model it everyday in their classrooms. So...Alexis and Jon, welcome. Let's see, Jon, can you go ahead and say something, so we can make sure we can hear you.
>> Yes, I'm right here, I'm happy to be here, winter weather in Florida, about 77 degrees today.
>> Oh man.
>> So, Alexis, where do you teach and how did you learn about UDL?
>> Hi, everyone, welcome, thank you so much for having me. I have to say first and foremost, there are hundreds of thousands of amazing teachers out in the field teaching and using UDL everyday. I'm just honored to be part of this conversation. I have taught in the past 12 years in different classrooms from Baltimore to Boston, in really high need schools, up to where I am right now. I'm teaching at a Montessori score in Boston teaching fourth through sixth‑grade students.
My journey through UDL kind of started in my own educational journey when I was really young. I was kind of brought up this way to explore, be curious and learn how I best learn, but my official realization and introduction to UDL as a construct for teaching came when I was in grad school at Boston college and my advisor said, you have to come and see this presenter talk, they're a guest speaker in my class, they talk the way you talk. You need to hear this. Lo and behold, it was David Rose who came in. A few months later, I was an intern at CAST, I'm so honored to continue on this work and work in collaboration with such amazing people who really get what teaching and learning is about. I'm honored to continue to learn and grow and also teach and work with teachers and students across the board, across age groups and I continue my own practice.
>> Excellent, thank you. Jon, just a brief introduction, so, we already know you're in a beautiful place, but how did you learn about UDL and if you could give us just a little more background? That'd be great.
>> Sure, again, I agree with Alexis. There are so many great teachers out there, one of the nice things about Universal Design for Learning, especially from a practitioner standpoint, there's no one proper way to do it. It's all about exploring the different ways we can give students access and so, again, I feel really honored to be here as part of this conversation. I'm a teacher in South Florida. I've been in the Collier County public schools for the last 12 years. It was a problem of practice that led me to Universal Design for Learning.
I was struggling with meeting the challenges of individual differences in my classroom. And...a flyer for a Harvard program, somehow or another ended up in my mailbox. At the time, I never heard of Universal Design for Learning before, but it was at subtitle for the program. Reaching all learners that caught my attention. I knew, as a teacher, that's what I wanted. I wanted to know how to be better at reaching all learners, but teaching all the kids that were in my classroom. That was, I guess the summer of 2006 and we're coming up on the 10th Harvard UDL Institute coming up this summer. It's been quite a journey for sure. I'm really excited to be here. My classroom experience is at the intermediate level. National Board Certified teacher teaching fourth and fifth grade students.
>> Fabulous, thank you for that. It is always interesting to hear people's UDL stories and how they came to it and I would say, for me, it took a couple years of being in the classroom before all of the theory of what I'd been reading clicked. I was kind of hooked from that.
So...Jon, you made a comment, in a conversation that, that teachers have always known that engagement comes first. And the most recent UDL guidelines have flip flopped, as we were describing and we put the affect of networks, the why of learning and engagement for learning, we put that first. So the research is finally catching up to what teachers have long‑known and, and [indiscernible] into their classrooms. How do you design for engagement in your classroom? What tips do you have? What barriers have you had to try to think about the UDL perspective of engagement and how have you surmounted some of those?
>> Yeah, you know, it's, you bring up a great point. When we first learned about UDL, there weren't guidelines, it was just principles at the beginning. I can remember being in a conversation with a group of teachers from around the United States talking about the three principles. We were looking at each other wondering why they don't put engagement first. Anyone that's in a classroom knows that's where it all begins. Students have to feel engaged. For me, my understanding of engagement related to UDL has evolved over the last ten years. For me, it's a beginning. I was, you know, my core teacher training came as a summer camp counselor. I always felt like I had good skills with keeping kids interested in what was going on from a fun standpoint, but one of the things, through UDL I've learned and have developed as a teacher is how to move beyond summer camp as it relates to engagement. The guidelines were helpful for me as a practitioner in making that, developing my understanding further. You know, really seeing engagement as more than just are the kids having fun or is this interesting, to, to moving into this idea of how do we make learning meaningful to students? And...making something meaningful is challenging, especially in a rigid standardized environment, you know? We're in a, I'm a public school teacher, we have state standards and we have a state assessment that assesses the students understanding of those standards. It can be really challenging, not only with rigid standards, but also with the variability that's present in the room to be able to make everything meaningful to all students. So, for me as a teacher, the first thing I'd always try to do is try to make some sort of personal connection between the content we're learning, what students ‑‑ how students might be engaged in that. And that personal connection could be something like a student that likes baseball, let's read something about baseball. It's also an opportunity to embed cultural responsiveness into the classroom. Trying to help students feel connected to the content that's being taught in the classroom.
And the challenge though, like I said, because of so many standards, especially rigid standards that might be out there, it's tough to do that. So...so, the other evolution that I've had, related to engagement, sometimes we can't make personal connections to the standard that's happening in the classroom, but...I've learned through interacting with my students, progress is meaningful. And so, helping students to understand the goal of what they're learning, helping students to understand where they are in relationship to that goal, and then celebrating that progress as each individual student makes it, is incredibly meaningful. So even if it's a subject that's really hard to make a personal connection to, I think about, you know, advanced mathematics is a tricky one to make connections to. Progress itself is meaningful. And so, as a teacher, it was real important for me to develop and accentuate that growth mindset with my students, but then not only that I needed to have that, but my students needed to have that as well too. For me, it's all about having clear goals and really being able to say, this is what we're doing and why we're doing it. Once you have those clear goals, then you have all kinds of options for flexibility and that flexibility and those options lead to an additional engagement.
>> Absolutely, Jon, and you know, I always say that if you don't have that hook with your classroom and your students, you don't connect with them, then any way you present any material really isn't going to matter. You lost them before you even got started.
I like to borrow a phrase that a colleague of mine used to say, we're in the business of edutainment. Likewise to what you were saying, thinking about why what we're doing and learning is meaningful, it's at the forefront of everything I do.
Take math for instance, I have the students brainstorm anything that comes to mind about the topic that we're about to cover. We think about the who, what, where, when, why, how? How is it used in ways that you know about already and how can we make those connections before we even start learning the content or presenting new information or experiences. Starting where the kids are, but also make the connection where they see that this is more than learning a mathematical concept, it's about engaging in something bigger than themselves that they might interact with every single day in their daily lives.
So, thinking about previous experiences, when you're trying to engage students, what you really want to think about too is what barriers have they already put up for themselves before they sit down in front of you? Because a lot of times, students have had a negative experience in a classroom that no matter what you do or say, they're automatically going to disengage. How do you find that connection and that peace you were mentioning to get down to students level and talk about what they're interested in and show them the connection to what you're going to be teaching is more powerful than anything, sometimes. And showing them you care about them being engaged in that process, really goes beyond any barriers that may exist. You'll see that one student in the room that has already shut down anything that you or anyone else is going to say, you see them coming alive as they see that you care about what they're interested in and how what you're teaching them is going to relate to them later in life, if you think about positive youth development and how we really activate that purposeful life for these children and these students, what you really want to do is make sure that they know that this is, this is something real and this is purposeful and it's purposeful learning that leads to something they'll engage in and do outside of your classroom, outside of the walls when they're not with you.
>> So engagement, back to Allison. It's more about bringing in candy and tickets and I think you ‑‑ though it is nice, actually, we have some candy in the room today, but really, it's about helping kids to see the value and the purpose and the process and knowing their goals and being able to break down some of the barriers that they've already had through their own experiences and so, with engagement, starting with the engagement process, you pay attention in a new way when you're engaged. That brings us nicely to thinking about the recognition network. You start having that information in your brain because it's made it through the engagement network. Alexis, in terms of representation in your classroom, this will almost feel easier compared to the challenges of deep level of engagement for learning, but it presents its own barriers for implementation. So what are some of the ways that you design and then, surmount some of the barriers that you find for representation?
>> Yes, for sure. When you think about how you're going to present material to students, is this where the guidelines come in most handy for me. I use a check to keep myself accountable for how I present and plan for my lessons and my activities and experiences that I have with my students.
So, what I like to do, I try to think about, what potential barriers might come if I'm giving my students coins to use or paper text versus digital text. How are they accessing the information we're going to be exploring together? I like to use the guidelines as a focal point or a touch point for me to go back to, constantly, as I'm planning anything and I continue to remember what my goals are. Because I can provide a multitude of options and a lot of different modalities to reach the needs of, the potential learning styles of that day for my learners. And...it could be a lot of different things, which gets overwhelming as a teacher, so much time and so many resources.
But what I like to do is to think about the reality of what tools are going to best help me to meet my goals and help my students to feel comfortable to independently meet their goals. Sometimes it takes a few scaffold to get into place to get them to that level, but how am I providing things to help them?
Just the past few weeks, I introduced a kindle reader to one of my students who had some language‑based struggles. Not a diagnosed disability, but struggles. They magnified the text and are no longer looking at a page full of lots of words and text, but they're able to chunk down just certain parts at a time to really think about their learning and think about their reading and understanding to have those meta cognitive processes to say well, what is this really saying? Do I have questions still? Do I need to look back or ask other questions of people around me to make sure I'm understanding what I'm reading. There's little nuances and little tools. Kindle was just one example. There's many I use, anywhere from post‑it notes to graphic organizers to embedding checklists in the work I give to students to practice to make sure they're self‑monitoring and really figuring out how to best access the information.
>> Perfect, so it's not at all about having different expectations, but it's having that clear goal and then offering all those different ways for them to be able to build that understanding. Jon, do you want to contribute to this here in terms of thinking about the recognition networks and strategies for designing and building them and barriers to that and how you've surrounding them.
>> Absolutely, your last point there about the importance of multiple paths is so, so crucial in this whole process. It goes back to the importance of having real clear goals. But when I think about representation and the recognition networks, that's where my UDL journey began. When I first learned about UDL, that next school year, I had a student in my classroom who had a pretty significant print disability. I'm going to call it dyslexia. He really, genuinely struggled with printed text. It was his big barrier. It was fortunate for me that I learned about UDL and looked at the disability within the curriculum and I went back to the classroom and made that my first step in learning about UDL. It's an important aspect about UDL implementation, we can't try to do it all at once. We have to focus on what are the big barriers and the places we can make an impact. This boy needed access to printed text. I worked with our assistive technology specialist in the district, we were able to come up with a way, we used a software to give him access to text. The nice thing was though, that software was available to all students and so, while it gave this particular student access to text, we also made available to everybody else, and as a result of that access, the student had unbelievable growth that year, you know, stuff that we could, you know, qualify and quantify. But...we made school work for him. And instead of him existing in an environment that was obviously not designed for him, he felt this was his place. He belonged there.
So, what happened as a result, he had access, but that wasn't a huge surprise. We know with assistive technology, that's what happens, but what was surprising to me, which I wasn't expecting was how many other students use that same accommodation to access text in different ways. It improved outcomes for the student we originally targeted, but by including it in the design for all students, it improved outcomes for all kids.
Now that was at the very beginning of my UDL journey. Most recently, last year, I had a student in my classroom who is visually impaired. Blind since birth and so, this was a whole different experience in how do we provide access to text? Access to content. One of the things I learned, especially after a few years of doing this, we have so many things in place within the classroom, things that were part of the design, materials that were just available to all students. Sure we had to sprinkle in a little bit of braille here and there, but we had access, things were flexible and it really helped me to see how crucial design is in this whole process. And if you design environments from the beginning to be flexible, it really doesn't matter what students come into your room, you have an environment that's ready to adjust based on their variability.
>> That's very exciting, Jon, when I was teaching, I often wondered how the design of my classroom would hold up to an extreme, as you know, completely, complete visual impairment. And I was never in a sense, put to the test. And it's very exciting to hear, to hear that perspective on it, were there moments where you had, is there a moment where you thought "ah hah, this is something I can't believe I didn't incorporate this more" that came up for you?
>> A big ah hah for me was, we were in a situation, we were getting ready, we were working on a writing activity, engaged in writer's workshop and time to do peer editing. The student who is visually impaired said "how am I supposed to do this?" She looks at me with a smirk on her face and says "remember, I'm blind, I can't do this" and I said "you're going to find a partner and you're going to edit each other's papers." She said "how am I supposed to do that?" The other student typed their response, it was already flexible. The student with the visual impairment, she had a screen‑reading software on her computer. We had to open it up on her computer. What was great, the student with the visual impairment typed hers up, the other student was able to edit her paper. So...they worked together and I have you know, a picture that will forever be in my mind of these two kids together, they're kids, and they have different learning needs, but there they were, engaged in writer's workshop in a fifth grade classroom. And it just, it, for me, it was that moment of, this is why flexibility is so important. This is why design matters.
>> You know, Jon, I'm just constantly reminded of how lucky we are to be in this day and age where access to technology is so readily available. That opportunity existed, was even an option and it's just so beautiful to see things like that happen. It's a great example.
>> And it makes me also, this is Allison, it makes me think of Katie Novak, one time described how people, a supervisor observing her class couldn't tell who the students with IEPs were because they were all engaged in meaningful ways towards the goal. This sounds exactly like the same situation.
So, in terms of, this actually is going to be a beautiful segue for me and I'm going to take advantage of it. So, I think we transitioned from access for representation and perception, but what you were describing, Jon, in the classroom with these students working on each other's, editing each other's papers, starts to turn into action and expression and how options for designing options for action and expression can be helpful to a wide range, to the variability that we have in our classroom. So...in terms of, to make that leap, what tips do you have for educators wanted to design more for options for action and expression? And Jon will just, in the spirit of flip‑flopping, we'll start with you.
>> So, I think with all of the guidelines, just, the importance of mindfulness as it relates to variability is so important. Because once you're mindful of the variability, then you start to design for it. Once you start to design for it, then it becomes almost like, I feel like it's a little competition I have with myself of how flexible can I design this environment? And your example, Katie Novak's example of not being able to tell who the student with the disability in the classroom was, that was one of my personal challenges everyday. When people walk in my room, I'd describe the variability in the classroom and look at them with a smirk on my face and say "I bet you can't figure out which is which." It becomes, it's an active pursuit. It's not something that just happens passively, you're working at it. This is especially true as it relates to action and expression, you know, again, so important in this principle is what is the goal? Because, once we identify the goal, a clear goal, then we can allow for lots of options to accomplish the goal.
Now...this is one of, you know, one of the very first lessons on UDL I learned, how important it is to separate the goal from the means and an example of this just happened the other day. I was spending time in a classroom and I was in this classroom, a middle school science classroom. I walked into the room, the teacher was talking about how she wanted the students to write an essay about the science experiment they'd just done. A boy was sitting in his chair, blank piece of paper and not doing anything. I walked over and said, what's going on? He said, I have nothing to write about. I said, tell me about your science project, he looked at me like, who is this guy? I said, tell me about the project. He looked at me and started talking and talking and talked for ten minutes about all these intricate deals of this science project. When he was all done, he slouched back down, threw his pen down and said "but I ain't got nothing to write about." It reminds me again, the goal of the activity, assessment, assignment was to understand if they understood the science concepts, that's one thing. But what had happened, the teacher had kind of squished everything together, really it was a writing assignment.
So, just for me, it helped, it reminded me again, of why it's so important to have a clear goal about what we're trying to accomplish, then that allows us to give kids options. If this student had the option of telling somebody about what he had learned in the science class, he'd have been an A + student. The problem is, the teacher was grading it as a writing activity so probably the student would get a zero or low grade, which doesn't allow us to give these students what they need if our assessments aren't accurate.
So...that's one piece of the expression part, the other part for me, as far as tips, a lot of times, especially in this era of accountability where everything is already late before it's even assigned and we're go, go, go, go, how crucial it is to provide students with opportunities for guided practice and that guided practice is a great place to give students options for how they are going to show what they've learned. And so, that guided practice piece, combined with the guidelines really lends itself well to a nice model of gradual release instruction and by that, the teacher does something and we all do it together, and in the end, the student's able to do it on their own. Something I liked about guidelines 2.0 was the guidelines were set up in a very gradual release sort of framework, you know, you started with things that the teacher was mostly responsible for, and then it rolled into teacher and student do this together, opportunities for guided practice and then that rolled into that, that almost expert learner level of understanding where the teacher, of course, was still involved, but it was a little bit more student responsibility there.
But it's that, that guided practice piece that's oftentimes overlooked in, in, because we're so overwhelmed with all the things we have to do as teachers.
>> And, this is Allison, and then I'll transition here to Alexis, it really makes me think, it's not that we don't want students to learn to write, we absolutely do, but when that's the goal, all of a sudden, we start to use the guidelines differently to think about options to get to the writing or options to get to a standardized test. So it really, again, I think you hit on this a number of times, I just wanted to emphasize the clear goal and separating that from the mean. So, Alexis, some of your thoughts either in response to Jon or just completely independently from your own classroom experience.
>> Yeah, with the interest of time at hand, I'm going to kind of build on what you said, Jon, I think it's so important to think about the goals and the guided practice piece. I just wanted to mention guided practice in terms of executive functioning, especially for younger children. As we know, the brain doesn't actually fully develop with the prefrontal cortex until we're into our 20s and we have these expectations for kids to be able to monitor their progress, to be able to pace themselves, to be able to understand what the different components of learning actually are to accomplish a task or a goal. What we really need to do is think about how we can scaffold that for all learners, to be exposed to a lot of different strategies and supports to help them along the way. As adults, we kind of take for granted the checklist that we create or the calendars that we use. These are all things we've learned over time that help us accomplish our goals. These are things that a lot of young kids or kids with higher support needs really need explicit teaching about and around.
So, thinking about that guided practice to leading towards gradual release, this is something that has helped you in one area, why don't we try it in this, for this project or assignment and making that transfer from one experience to the next. To have that continuity and repetition is really powerful, to go back and say, I remember when you were so successful using this tool, why don't we try it in this different context? Oftentimes, those are things that go into a student or learner's tool box as something they can pull from to use over and over again in their academic and professional careers.
So, I just wanted to also mention too, Jon, you had me reminded of Sandra Bullock's Blind Side. The student she helped had so much to offer, but he was failing because he didn't have the ways to process his thoughts and get them out on paper. There are so many students all around the world that are struggling to let out their ideas and provide different options. It's so powerful. Not to use it as a crutch that every time you're going to present what you are learning, it's going to be through a comic strip or a song or a picture, but to give them a lot of different options and show them different ways of expressing their thoughts. Again, depending on the goal, and what you're trying to teach and what you're trying to see that they're able to learn and utilize.
>> And along those lines too, just a quick little point on that, as far as options, giving them those choices, one of the things that was an ah hah for me as a teacher, as I looked at language arts and math standards, nowhere in there do they have words like PowerPoint or diorama or comic strip or whatever. It was an opportunity, I thought, as a teacher, when we would talk about the goal of a lesson, the goal of the lesson was never to see can the student make a cool PowerPoint? I'm sure there's a standard somewhere for PowerPoint, but it's definitely now in the English language arts standards. PowerPoint became a way to accomplish a goal. Instead of even grading PowerPoints anymore, I'd create a basic expectation of what you'd need to have if you chose PowerPoint, but I wasn't grading PowerPoints, I was grading the way the student was able to explain or demonstrate their understanding of the standard. And, in getting that out of my mind, I realized how much time I spent as a teacher, especially as a newer teacher grading stuff that really wasn't even aligned to a learning goal.
>> Right, I wanted to hit on that really quickly too. I think it's really important to mention how long it takes us teachers to provide meaningful and constructive feedback to our students. That's typically what guides their learnings. If they're just getting kind of these blanket statements that good job, good work, it doesn't actually help them to improve upon what they're doing. So providing something as simple as a rubric or checklist of what you're looking for and how they demonstrate, I use that word all the time. How do you demonstrate what you're learning and what you're able to express or take that knowledge and make a connection to something outside of what we're talking about. It's really the most powerful thing, for me, at least to see what students are learning and to see how they're meeting the goals.
>> Yeah, because it can really become exciting, then, the process of learning is, I mean it is absolutely incredible. It's, you know, when kids are, are infants, we just spend hours watching them learn the most simple task of you know, maybe getting the food to their mouth or taking first steps and it continues into adulthood. It's maybe not quite as cute when someone, when we're working with the adults, but it certainly is an absolutely fabulous process and something that we know, I mean, part of the brain research that's so exciting is how plastic and malleable the brain is, that we know that that learning is still possible at all ages and so, I think that's, that's fabulous. So...in terms of your own learning, Alexis and Jon, what motivates you to continue to build UDL into your practice? It certainly can be a lot of work as you're saying, to grade papers, to give feedback, to design with this kind of flexibility. What motivates you to continue to build that? And Jon, we'll turn to you for this one.
>> I'll be honest, the first time I considered this question I laughed and thought, why wouldn't you continue it in your practice? I've been doing professional learning with CAST now for I think five or six years now, I've never, ever, ever had an opportunity to talk with a group of teachers about Universal Design for Learning and hear from them "yeah, you know, that doesn't really sound good to me, I'd rather not give kids access." Once you hear about UDL, it's hard to escape it. It's the curse of UDL. You're stuck with it. As much as you try to take the UDL lens off, you can't. The pains of educational malpractice every time you design something that's not accessible. That's on me, not really the kid.
I think a lot about the premise of this webinar today is that UDL develops in practice. And...for those of us that have been talking about UDL for awhile now, we've seen that development from the movement from just three principles to guidelines and then the, the main textbooks on UDL and the evolution of how we understand the learner and variability. Even this, just the switch of engagement becoming the "first principle." UDL continues to grow, my understanding of UDL continues to grow. And the more I know about it, the better I'm able to respond to learner variability in the classroom.
And as anyone that's a teacher knows, there are very few kids that wake up in the morning saying, I want to be miserable at school today or I want to be an absolute failure or I want to embarrass myself in front of my classmates. Sure there are a couple every once in awhile, but by and large, kids come to us everyday being the best individual kid they can be that day. It's our job to design environments that work for them. So...why, what continues to motivate me is there are a lot of kids out there that need access, but there are also a lot of teachers out there that need to know how to design to provide access to their students.
>> That's right, you know, I say all the time, I'm in the business of non‑only teaching content, that's part of my job, of course, but what I really want to do when my students leave me at the end of the year, is to instill in them the confidence and resources and tools to be able to go out beyond the walls of my classroom to learn. We live in a day and age that information is constantly just coming at us and how do we decipher what information is good and what do we do with it next? In the moments where it is challenging or they are disengaged, how do you fight through that? We all have to be productive citizens, we should, at least, to participate in the social experience, but...what you do in those challenging moments? I teach a lot of mindfulness and breathing and figuring out strategies. I model that in my own practice. When I'm teaching things, sometimes I'll purposely make mistakes and show my own challenge and frustration, let's figure this out. Teaching students strategies, I call them tricks or cheats, sometimes, you want them to feel like it's something that can be easy when it feels so hard. So if you can help to relate and connect to them in that way and show them that there is a light at the end of that challenge, not a tunnel, because it's continuous and never actually ends, but there's an end at the end of the challenge to feel it and go from an arg moment to an ah hah moment is a powerful moment. To know what to do to get to that point without me is what it's all about. It's expert and meaningful learning. That's what we're all working towards and continues to inspire me.
>> There's a question here, from Sonya, it really leads to our next question and that is almost, how do you get started? So what's core to UDL implementation in your mind, Alexis? Just a quick, what is core to UDL implementation?
>> Not to make assumptions. Not to assume that what you're giving to your students and providing in your classroom is going to be something that's going to work for everybody. You need to take a step outside of yourself and, and to think about what other options might be presented in a meaningful way, not to just throw options at students and in your classroom, but in a meaningful way that will help provide greater access. There'll be barriers to all of us at different points in our lives. We need to take a step outside of what feels comfortable to us and be vulnerable and willing to try something different and new. I think that really is the core of UDL to push yourselves even further than what you're currently doing.
>> Jon, what are your thoughts to that?
>> I agree with Alexis. I think mindset is so important. It's, it's how, what, how are we thinking about this? How are we thinking about school and students and the purpose of what we're all doing there. And just remembering that we're, we're in this, because of students and so, we have to design environments that are student‑centered and as we have conversations with our peers and with parents and with administrators, and whomever it might be, we always want to be thinking, are we talking about the students as being the core part of this? That's what it's ultimately all about. And, and it's with variability because of variability it just leads naturally into we need to design environments that are flexible if we're really going to meet all the needs. And another really important piece that is something that I learned over the last few years is how crucial it is to be a reflective educator.
To, to, nobody has this perfectly figured out. Alexis and I will probably tell you all kinds of horror stories about times when this didn't go as planned, but it's that reflective process that's so crucial in this, in our profession is you know, you teach and you ask yourself at the end of the day, did they learn? Hopefully most of them learned. If they didn't all learn, then you have to think, what could I do differently? There's really no finish line and we have this false, there's this false narrative in our field that we're on some sort of race, you know, whether it be, you know, race to some sort of finish line or race to be the very best at something, teaching is not a race. Because it's not like at the end of the year, it's all over and done with and you can just kind of hit rewind and play again the next year, every year will be different. It all goes back to what's your mindset about teaching.
>> You just read my mind. So, so important and reflecting in a safe space, either with yourself or with colleagues or with experts. I mean, UDL Connect is named Connect for a reason. I believe so whole‑heartedly in coming together with like‑minded professionals and talking through what works for you, what's a challenge for you, how can we improve upon this? And continue the conversation. That's personally what I admire so much about CAST. Everybody is so open to conversations about how to continually improve and that's what I do in my practice and that's what I admire most from teachers willing to take on this mission to help children, to help learners, to help students to learn and grow.
>> It'd be so boring if it was the same thing year and year.
>> Well, that, that leads us really to our final question, what do you recommend to novice or experts, as steps to build or encourage UDL practice? And certainly, having a support group, and whether it's in your classroom, okay, now I'm answering the question, so I'm going to back off, whether it's you know, in your classroom or in your school or through you know, through CAST or just come to our Twitter sessions, our UDL chats, but Alexis, what are your thoughts, just quickly for recommending to build UDL?
>> Yeah, in addition to what I just mentioned before, the other piece is to talk to your students, talk to your learners who are presenting struggles and showing real frustration and disengagement. Often they have answers beyond what we can imagine and just giving them that opportunity to have a voice in the process is more powerful than anything you can try to contrive on your own.
>> Fabulous, Jon, thank you, I know we're starting to go even faster now.
>> Well, I think there's, there's two things, the first has to do with curiosity. There was a talk a few years back where the speaker talked about the importance of being relentlessly curious. That phrase sticks out in my mind with what do I do next? The best thing to do next is ask more questions. Be curious. Seek to discover more about it. You know, this summer will be ten years, ten summers ago that I first learned about UDL and I feel like I'm asking more questions now than I was ten years ago, so, we, by asking questions, we are able to refine our practice and do, do a better job for our students and then the other piece is, as far as next steps or what I would recommend, don't wait for the perfect time to start. There's a phrase that's used out there within the school improvement world. We spend too much time with this idea of ready, aim, fire and instead what we need to do, we need to ready, fire, aim. And you everybody's ready, there's a need for this now, there's a barrier that, and we need to meet the needs of kids, but we can't wait for the perfect scenario or perfect situation to start helping students. We have to figure that out as we go along. So...you're ready, so let's fire, and then, while you're doing it, as you're reflecting and asking questions and, and talking to your students, that's when we refine our practice.
>> Perfect and it really can be in the moment when you go ah hah, that's it, I captured it.
So, we want to encourage you to continue to add questions and comments and to contribute to the conversation. So this, again, we hope is just a starting point for additional conversations that we have with you all in this growing UDL community of practice. So we have an e‑mail that you can e‑mail at any point. UDLtheorypractice@CAST.org. We have a community, community.udl.sonnetcenter.org. We also have a 40% discount code on the hard back versions of the Universal Design for Learning theory and practice book. David, do you want to say more about this?
>> Well, just that, actually, it's paperback.
>> That's right.
>> In a few years, that particular URL, you can get to this book, but there's a continue button you can go to by Katie Novak as well. You can use this discount code, the same code for both books. If you'd like to pay by check or just do your purchase directly through CAST, you can e‑mail us as publishing@CAST.org. We can do that, we can handle bulk orders and purchase orders as well.
But I really want to encourage you, also, to share your stories, best practices, questions, opinions, your aspirations with us by e‑mail or through UDL connect as Allison said. Because we have promised and we will, based on our history, really rely on your comments, questions, concerns, stories, input in the continued development of, of these materials and the UDL framework, generally. So...please, we have a long history of responding to practitioners, we love having this kind of conversation and really, think of UDL as something that is owned by the field. It's not a CAST thing, it's something we're learning about together and developing together as a community of practice. We encourage you to participate that way.
>> Perfect yes, so the 40% discount code is good through the end of the month and again, you can purchase bulk items or pay by check. DNRKT4LY is the discount code that you can use for that. And with that, we wish you a happy holidays, thank you for working with us. We have a CAST professional learning website where you can learn more about our institutes, our online options, more free webinars, customize options that we have, again, CAST Publishing has its website, a new one, that's out, which is fantastic to check out. I want to thank our captioner, Anne, thank you so much, people were commenting that we were speaking so quickly and you kept right up with us, so thank you for that, and thank you all so much for joining us today. Mindy for doing the back channel, Jon and Alexis, thank you so much for sharing with us your experiences and please feel free to reach out to us or to them at any point, and just have a wonderful holiday, we can't wait to have 2015 with you all. Take good care.
[Presentation concluded at 4:27 p.m. ET].
"This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings."