UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Evolution: the use of templates on assessments

In the course of writing this blog over the past year, I have published more than one post about creating and using templates to support students in class and on assessments (Making Structure Visible, Creation of a Template, and The Power of Templates).  Ironically, the time has come to reflect on a movement in the opposite direction, to removing embedded/required templates from assessments to replace them with choice.


When I first looked at the UDL Progression Rubric, the word “empower” jumped out at me.  Almost every descriptor in the “Progressing towards expert practice” column began with “empower.”  How was I supposed to “empower” students to do anything?

While I was struggling with that question, my colleague, Irene Witt, was pushing me as well (as always!!!).  We had designed all sorts of templates–often at student request–and had then incorporated them directly into our assessments, usually even grading student responses on the templates.  The more students struggled, the more we inserted templates and graded each part, so that students would use them.

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 4.55.58 PM.jpgThis is not “empowering.”

This isn’t even offering choice.

Removing the “required” and making it optional

Thanks to Irene sticking to her guns on our final Module Assessment of the year, after significant and somewhat heated debate on a Friday afternoon, we changed things.  The topic we were assessing was identifying and calculating a meaningful difference.  We had created a step-by-step, fill-in-the-blanks approach based on how this topic is taught in Eureka:

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 5.02.25 PM.jpg

Like I said, the harder the students struggled, the more structure we required.

When I gave in and agreed to revise the assessment, we literally pulled the entire piece pictured above out of the test and made it into a template (pictured below).  Students could opt to use the template on the assessment or not, just like they could choose to use it during class or not.

Screen Shot 2018-08-09 at 5.12.25 PM.jpg

The results gave us all the data we needed to know that the change was good.  We saw that students had much better accuracy in answering the question and a measurably increased engagement with the material.  Removing the template allowed students to approach the problem from different perspectives, such as adding to the Mean Absolute Deviation versus just dividing.  The template version that we had inserted last year took away that option.

Evolution in Teacher Thinking to Empowering

Changing our thinking about the use of templates seems to be part of the evolution for us as teachers as well.  For example, as Irene and I revised our assessments throughout this year, we had been changing how we used the percent template.  We still believe that template is effective, but we have removed points that were required to fill in certain parts of the template (as you can see in the first image above).  Irene is always very good about reminding me that we are not grading “filling out boxes.”  If the student can generate an equation that is correct and represents the mathematical relationships in the problem, then he/she shouldn’t get points off for not filling in a box on a template.

As we think about the Progressions Rubric and we think about “empowering,” we should make templates available and we should model how to use them, but we also should let students not use them if students identify that the templates are not effective or necessary.  Of course, we also have to continue to give students lots of low-stakes opportunities to see what happens when they don’t use a template so that they know how to make an informed decision about whether this tool is working for them or not.

I believe this is where we see the power of Universal Design for Learning, not only for our students, but also for us as teachers.  If I as a teacher am constantly returning to my practice and am constantly rethinking how to best meet the needs of my students, then I think that’s Universal Design for Learning at its best.


As always, my sincere thanks to Irene for holding her ground in the face of my resistance to change!


2 thoughts on “Evolution: the use of templates on assessments

  1. “Empowerment” is definitely a key component of UDL. Your template adaptation reminded me of graphic organizers. Sometimes they are overused and not needed. Sometimes they are so complicated, they can’t be recreated by students. Thea, your journey has brought to light the fact that the goal is empowerment, but to get there is work and commitment on the part of the teacher and student. Equitable choices are critical, as is the patience to watch students as they falter in making the choices that are best for them. However, in the long run, when they make the choice, they become “empowered” even if it is not quite what they need at the time. They are taking charge of their learning. UDL fosters that teachers facilitate so that students are “empowered” to direct their learning.
    Thank you, Thea for sharing your journey. I look forward to hearing more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s