UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

“Progressing Towards Expert Practice”

One of the things I most appreciate about having the opportunity to teach, co-teach or be an assistant for a course on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that my (adult) students ALWAYS push me to go further in my own practice with my 7th graders.  This week, when I was reading student work on the the first assignment of the course we just started, I am already starting to get that itch to do some major revamping of my own practice.  When Dr. Novak and I first met to talk about designing the course, I asked her how we do some of the things listed as “Progressing towards Expert Practice” on the UDL Progression Rubric when we have a set curriculum and we give standardized tests.  Dr. Novak described to me a scenario in which students design the entire unit themselves, given the curriculum standards (fixed) and the expectations (set by the teacher).  The idea was mind-blowing.


And it’s the idea one of the students, a HS English teacher, is pursuing in her first project of our current UDL Design Lab course.  I am so excited to follow along and learn from her, cribbing lots of ideas and also getting to basically “co-plan” with her, across distance and the computer.  I am still at the “mulling things over” stage, especially as I am not entirely sure how I translate some of her ideas, such as identifying theme in any book, into my 7th grade math class.  In 7th grade math, the content can be more skill-driven, such as solving equations algebraically, which follows a set of conventions that simply need to be taught, whether from a video or a live teacher or practice and feedback or whatever, and followed.  I’m still mulling this over….and I’m also trying to push myself out of the “yeah, but” stage I find I always start in.

I’m also thinking, in the long term, about trying this sort of deconstructed (exploded!!) unit at the end of this school year with my Extended (above grade-level) students, the ones who end the year doing a unit of 8th grade math content (solving systems of equations).  I’m feeling okay about giving it a try there, even though I don’t have much detail to my vision yet, because students will see the content again in 8th grade, so the overall unit has a flavor of exploration to it, rather than an expectation of mastery.

Of course, that’s a bit of cheating.  I really want to be able to create this sort of choice-driven, challenging work with all of my students, not just the ones who are already identified as working at above-grade level, both in terms of content and habits.  I believe that my most challenging and most challenged students are the ones who most benefit from UDL and from choice, so how can I begin to imagine bringing this sort of experience to all of my students?

I was just reading (again!) Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn by Mike Anderson and I’m writing down quotes from pretty much every page.  He describes a social studies unit where “[a]ll students had chosen a topic within the theme of Conflict in U.S. History….I helped each student create a personally specific set of goals and requirements that complemented the whole-class learning objectives for which everyone was responsible” (pg. 9).  Now I feel like I am getting somewhere.  In fact, here are some of the ideas I’m now starting to play with:

Deconstructing Review Days

We always build in one or two review days prior to the Module Assessment (unit test) at the end of each Eureka Module.  This year, I have had a few students take on some homework options where they created activities for classmates, such as a Kahoot, a class-wide scavenger hunt, etc.  I honestly haven’t done much with these activities, but now I wonder whether I could have students work together to build a review experience that covers the material identified in our study guides for each Module Assessment.  For example, the next Module Assessment coming up is on percent.  Percent has some general concepts, such as correctly identifying part-percent-whole and accurately using the percent equation, and also some specific applications, such as tip, tax, markup/markdown, etc. identified in our curriculum standards and assessed on the Module Assessment.  How could I structure the review day(s) so that students were doing work that “complemented the whole-class learning objectives” of preparing all students to be successful on the same module assessment?  This feels like a small bit of a big bite that I might be able to try out and chew on for a bit.  It also allows me to try it multiple times, refining each round, as we give at least three Module Assessments per quarter, which means at least three review opportunities to try out this idea.

Deconstructing Year-End Review

I was also thinking about a similar idea on a larger scale, where I am now wondering if it might be more challenging to make meaningful.  At the end of the year, we give our Standard (grade-level) students almost three weeks to prepare for a final exam, a cumulative test on all material except the final Module (which we assess just prior).  We have done some work towards making this meaningful, including providing lots of opportunities for extension work, providing lots of teacher-created quizzes to give students feedback, etc., but it’s still pretty teacher-driven, even in my room, where students choose if they need direct instruction with me as part of the preparation process.  I had been thinking about how to blow this up, but I was stymied by how to do that successfully given the number of standards involved; it’s a different animal than the English project described earlier which is looking at one core set of standards, not content from an entire year.  But I would really like to make this more student-driven, based on both observation and student feedback.  Students have said that they wanted to move through the review more quickly….and to have opportunities to take more time.  (Variability at work!)  Can I make this more student-created and student-driven while also moving all students towards the goal of being successful on the year-end test?


Deconstructing Next Year

If I can have a few practice runs and can work out some of the kinks, I really want to think about how to create these deconstructed units during the regular school year of curriculum and for all my students.  How can I move my practice to the “Progressing towards Expert Practice” side of the UDL Progression Rubric?  I know I need time to process and think and say no and reflect and imagine and imagine failure before I’m ready to give something a try, but it gets to a point where I’m excited enough about the possibilities that I’m ready to dive in!

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