UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Talking to kids: a route to self-reflection

As practitioners striving to implement Universal Design for Learning, we return again and again to the UDL Progression Rubric to guide and inspire our teaching choices.  One area I think about a lot is about having reflective conversations with students.  How to do that?  What I have come to think, more and more, is that it requires time to talk with kids.  My kids are the reason I get up and go to work every day–I think they are hilarious.  And I also l love watching them learn how to learn and learn how to learn from their mistakes.  Without conversations, I think we are left with just failures, not failures with learning attached.


I am thinking of two students in particular who recently did quite well, on their own personal scale, on a recent assessment (unit test).  It was the third of three tests in the unit, the first on the skills of solving algebraic equations, the second on writing and solving algebraic equations to solve word problems, and the third on doing all of that same work, but with inequalities.

These students struggled, but they both made the same change in their practice–they opted to spend more time working with me in small group, both when required and when optional.  Although their levels of participation varied, as they are very different students in two dramatically different classes, both of them saw improvement.  Their scores improved, their independence on the assessment went up to 100%, and their confidence increased.  Why?  I truly believe that the combination of their failures (on quizzes, on the first and/or second unit tests) with opportunities to have individual conversations with me, not about the content, but about their choices, got them to this place.  It’s easier to sit quietly in the corner of the classroom and there are always other students happy to speak up and catch the teacher’s eye.  The hard work is in stepping up and taking a place at the table for yourself.


Another aspect of these conversations, for me, comes from the exam wrappers we use on most of our Module Assessments (unit tests).  I read every one and I often follow up with students, both to get clarity about their feedback for me and to make sure that they understand the implications of statements they make.  I have found that kids don’t always know the full range of resources available to them, or that they aren’t using them even if they know the resources exist.  I have also worked with some classes to figure out how to help the class, as a whole, do a better job taking advantage of time with me as a resource–if I am offering time to work with students, why are students saying they wanted more time but they aren’t coming when there is time to work?  What is the barrier (often social, sometimes that they didn’t know that they needed to come until too late)?  How can the students help me overcome that barrier?  And when do students need to hear that they are not turning enough of a critical eye on their own practice?


The other value I see in the conversations, whether driven by exam wrappers or any other piece of work, is in the conversations about what worked.  I think students often feel that they do well by accident or miracle or an infusion of fairy dust.  Having students reflect on what specifically they did, whether it’s something new or something that they have done before, is critical so they can identify habits that serve them well and that they may want to consider recreating.  Do you start studying a week in advance, even if the homework is not specifically to review that night?  Do the Exit Tickets help?  How do you use them?  Do you use them as a review or a self-check?  The how is the key, both for replication of success and also to demystify the whole experience of generating success.

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