Eureka and Middle School Math · UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Choices, options, structure

As vacation winds down and I attempt to get ahead on blog post drafts before re-entering the fray, I’ve been looking at notes I’ve jotted down in the past year and have fleshed some of them out for this blog post.

Misconceptions around choice and options

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is not options…it’s options done in a world of self-reflection and teacher-provided data-gathering opportunities that drive instruction.  It’s not just open-ended choose-what-you-want as instruction.  That thinking leads to “fake UDL” and also leads to non-standards-based choices, to not having “equal” options (because they are not based on the standards but on the glitz factor).  Possibly above all else, UDL needs to build independence on the part of the students.  Choice?  Options?  That’s a start, a first step, but UDL takes us far beyond.


For more thoughts about choice, from the expert herself, see this blog post by Dr. Katie Novak (January 2019).

Bringing UDL to bear on Math Workshop

We can bring a UDL lens to lots of different structures, even ones that perhaps begin on the “emerging” end of the UDL Progression Rubric.  For example, if I am required to teach with Math Workshop in its standard form, I struggle with the fact that students are expected to move on a schedule, to complete all the work in 12 minutes (or whatever the allotted time is for that day), not one minute more or less.  There is no choice, no options, no self-evaluation, no self-reflection.


Instead, I might still call it Math Workshop, but I might think about organizing it with a three-prong approach:

  • As the core teacher, I teach the Eureka or Illustrative lesson (more challenging and possibly above the standard) to a small group of 8-10 students.  I complete two rotations of this core lesson in the class period.
  • At the same time, I would prepare my support teacher and/or co-teacher to work with a teacher-created options, one that is more focused/straightforward but still standards-based.  This teacher has more like 5-8 students and the work is designed to be shorter in length, so maybe two groups of students can rotate through in the time it takes for the core teacher to present the lesson to one group.
  • The remainder of the students (up to ~25) are working independently (or in the bathroom, of course).  I think planning for this “third activity” that kids do on their own, so that they can rotate in and out when the other two groups don’t end at the same time, which they frequently don’t, is critical.  Without that, students are left waiting for the teacher, which is wasted class time.

Students choose if they come in first group (“wow, I am totally confused and need teacher support just to get started”) or in second group (“I think I can get started on this on my own”).  They also might be able to choose if they can stay for a second round of the lesson if it moved too quickly or if they just know that they need more repetition.  While working independently, students can choose the material they work on, the format of the instruction (videos, notes, etc.), if they start with the other teacher or working on their own, etc.  In doing so, we can build the tenets of UDL back into a more structured approach.


As always, my thanks to Irene for challenging me to deepen my thinking and put in words what I am struggling to explain.


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