Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Changing and Building Culture

School culture shifts when teacher and learner roles change. Yet, this doesn't happen right away. Teachers only know what they know or were taught as learners themselves. There was a suggestion that the first few weeks of school can be the time to build relationships based on trust and respect. 
Then several participants came right back with the importance of building those relationships throughout the year, not just the first two weeks. The tweets were flying by so fast so that's why we make sure we archive the chat.

We used the Q1, A1 format with these questions.

Participants shared projects and strategies to encourage choice, that change culture and allow risk-taking. Here are a few examples:

Lee Araoz ‏@LeeAraoz
I assign this ALL About Me Project that offers student CHOICE. My kids LOVE it!!
Deb Caywood ‏@DebCaywood
You can't change culture w/o changing hearts & minds. My own beliefs & values are a great place to begin
Laurie Meston ‏@lauriemeston
Try a "Failure Wake" where risk taking celebrated. Participants tell why something failed & what they learned.
Minakshi Patel ‏@1925MP
Be the change to bring the change, let my S's shine with the strengths they bring 2 make our classroom community
During the chat, we encouraged participants to share resources, ideas, pictures, and examples.  Here are a few resources we shared during the chat:

    Congratulations to Janet Chow for winning our book, Make Learning Personal.
    Janet (@beyondtech1) works as a District Learning Technologies Helping Teacher and District Fast ForWord Coordinator in the Burnaby School District, BC Canada. Latest passion projects include creating collaborative online environments to share story and  connectedness and coordinating conversations in reflective learning

    Check out Janet's website: digisandbox.wordpress.com
    Next #plearnchat is in 2 weeks on Mon. August 3rd at 7pm ET: 
    Topic is Leadership, Change and Personalized Learning
    Here is the archive of the #plearnchat on Changing and Building Culture

    Monday, July 6, 2015

    Universal Design for Learning and Personalized Learning

    The #plearnchat about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Personalized Learning rocked! 

    We decided to focus on how UDL is the framework of personalized learning. We received multiple questions about UDL so realized that this topic was not only popular but very controversial. We asked our friends to help us come up with questions, to find resources, and were so lucky that Bill McGrath @wlmcgrath3 from Montgomery County Public Schools, MD wrote a post about Expert Learners. 

    After our fun times at #ISTE2015 in Philadelphia, we talked to so many amazing educators who talked about UDL and the connection to Personalized Learning. So we decided to put the learning on you! The big question framed the conversations: 

    "Why is Universal Design for Learning the framework for Personalized Learning?"

    Some excerpts from our chat on Universal Design for Learning and Personalized Learning:

    Luis Perez, Ph. D.@luisfperez
    "I think by nature we are creative and creators. Let’s remove the barriers to that for all learners."

    Kaitlyn Smith ‏@Kaitlynsmith97  
    "I think it's also crucial to view the learner as an individual; each person learns, grows and organizes in a unique way."

    Lynn Spady ‏@lynnspady 
    "I being given choices for my learning...I don't think the age of the learner matters. Voice & choice are great for any age."

    Rik Rowe ‏@WHSRowe
    "Personalized Learning with UDL is the SHIFT we need to make education meaningful and relevant."

    The tweets were pretty similar and consistent throughout the chat with teachers ready for change.  So we created a wordle on the right with Tagxedo from most of the tweets. Tagxedo lets you create different shapes like a handprint. 

    Here are a few resources from our chat:


    We would like to congratulate Pam Hubler, @@specialtechie who won our book, Make Learning Personal

    Pam has a Bachelors Degree in Specific Learning Disabilities for K-12 and a Masters Degree in Elementary Education. She taught Special Education in Florida for 9 years then moved to 1st grade in an inclusion class for 5 years. She since moved to South Carolina where she is the Personalized Learning Coach at A.C Corcoran Elementary in Charleston.

    "Currently I coach teachers to implement Personalized learning in their classrooms and integrate technology. I'm still enjoying this new challenge." 

    Contact info for Pam


    Next #plearnchat is in 2 weeks on Mon. July 20th at 7pm ET:
    Topic is Changing and Building Culture

    Here is the archive of the #plearnchat on UDL and Personalized Learning:

    Friday, July 3, 2015

    Where are all the Expert Learners?

    Guest post by Bill McGrath, Instructional Specialist, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD 

    I work on a district-level team called HIAT (High Incident Accessible Technology) where we advocate the use of Universal Design for Learning as a critical framework to respond to the great diversity in our county. It has been a consistent and deliberate patchwork of seeding and growing UDL implementation projects with teachers, schools, and curriculum offices, never been a top-down district initiative. 

    Why is UDL important for teaching and learning for all learners?

    When you see the various levels of UDL implemented in the classroom, right away you can see the benefits to learners. Impressive changes happen with levels of student engagement. Student on-task behavior improves. Students with more persistent and complicated learning barriers can have greater and more routine access to rigorous academic content. Teachers seem happier and better resourced to respond to diversity. UDL can look like a magic bullet.  

    As you walk into a classroom designed more along the UDL principles, almost every observer notes a change in control. Students are driving more of the decisions in how learning takes place. There are varied pathways to instructional goals. These new routes are intended to be more efficient and avoid barriers to success. Our best teachers try to anticipate learners’ preferences and needs, watch the varied learning that is taking place, and measure success towards learning goals in innovative ways. They adjust their subsequent learning designs based on new insights on the interaction of their learners with the more flexible design of learning.

    By itself, giving students greater control to drive on roads that we think will be more engaging and accessible is not UDL. Students need hints on which routes may work for them and instruction to understand the road signs. Students may need to watch how we drive and hear us talk about our own driving so that they can understand effective thinking and problem solving on the road. Students need time to share their experiences on the road with their peers and teachers to get fresh perspectives on new routes that may work better. Setting a goal that students learn to drive through active planning, reflection and feedback is essential.   

    Free for commercial use / No attribution required

    After a decade of watching UDL go from theory to practice in hundreds of classrooms, I have very little confidence that this learning to drive takes place in what we may describe as “UDL classrooms”.  We can get trapped in excitement by watching all the new driving by students. I worry that we are settling for just getting students behind the wheel. We need to ask ourselves if students are being taught to navigate independently and efficiently. We can lose sight of the goal for UDL: that each and every student becomes an expert learner. 

    The UDL framework gives us guidelines and a vision to build expert learners:
    • Learners who can navigate flexible learning opportunities with great skill.  
    • Learners who do not just navigate but are active partners and innovators in the design of future learning.  
    UDL tells us how to do this so it can work for each and every learner.  

    So if the UDL framework gives us a vision and path towards the development 
     of expert learners, how can our implementation efforts be changed to ensure this happens?

    My perception from watching UDL implementation unfold is that we have figured out much of the complicated work of implementing UDL. With a lot of effort, persistence and thoughtful planning, we can get the adults to give up some control over the learning process. We can change their perception of students’ diversity not as problems but as opportunities to create deeper and more varied learning for everyone.  

    So what do we need to do differently to reach the goal of expert learning by all of our students?  

    Reaching the goal of expert learners requires sharper intention and greater clarity of vision throughout the implementation process.  I have ten suggestions that I think may be helpful.

    Teachers can:

    1.   Make their intentions clear.  Tell students you expect them to be expert learners.  Explain what that means.  Talk to teachers, parents and district leaders of what this will look like.  Set a clear expectation.  Tell them to hold the UDL implementation process accountable for getting there.

    2.   Be more curious than diagnostic with students.  Stop trying to figure out your students.  Not forever but at least for a bit.  Expect to be surprised at how your students learn best. Remember that this can vary significantly across environments and tasks. Know that the job of UDL implementation is not for you to figure out your students. It is for the students to figure out themselves and act on that new self knowledge effectively.

    3.   Teach the language of expert learners.  Your students don’t know the language of being an expert learner, so teach it explicitly. Recognize that this is a language that can be adjusted for each learner at every age. It should include speech, writing, symbols and non-verbal means of communication.

    4.   Model metacognition constantly. Expect teachers to routinely make their thinking behind UDL design transparent. Give them sentence starters to help them, such as framing choices with phrases like, “so for me as a learner, I would…”.

    5.   Use UDL to teach UDL. Your design for helping students become expert learners by modeling, active learning, reflection and feedback is like all other learning design.  It includes each and every learner.  No one is left out.

    Implementation leaders can...

    6.   Make it easy.  Facilitating the growth of expert learners and metacognition can seem overwhelming and more than a little mysterious to teachers.  It doesn’t need to be that way. If there are simple ways to have students reflect on how they learn best in a UDL classroom, just give teachers examples from day one of implementation. If a simple exit ticket works for students to reflect on how they learn best after a lesson, give it to the teachers and tell them to use it at least once week. Simply have students start talking about how they best learn. This can be an area ripe for implementation paralysis by analysis.  Don’t over-think it.

    7.   Ensure that students have a “voice” in implementation. Use the student self-reflection data from exit tickets, surveys, group discussions, interviews or other means to monitor that real UDL implementation is happening and to document the impact. Make sure teachers are using this student voice data to adjust their learning designs.

    8.   Tell stories of more than engagement, access and academic achievement. Use videos, audio, quotes and other ways of storytelling to craft a narrative of wonderfully diverse expert learners effectively navigating through a world of learning that is flexible and accessible.

    9.   Be patient.  Help teachers create systems to make this learning part of daily routines. Let it get a little messy. Recognize that since they are designing for greater flexibility and access there is going to be more engagement, access and learning than before even as this expert learner piece is given some space to develop.

    10. Relentlessly ask: Where are the expert learners?  Everyone who cares about UDL should find opportunities to walk into schools, observe teaching and learning, and ask this question. Students should be told to ask it of their teachers.  Parents and other community stakeholders need be be asking this at the school and district levels. Researchers need to be asking this as they continue to explore ways to document that UDL is being implemented and why it matters. Everyone who asks this question should be deeply dissatisfied with the answer right now.  This dissatisfaction should drive our communities of teaching and learning to seek solutions to this problem. 

    So where are all the expert learners?     

    Free for commercial use / No attribution required

    UDL is a critical element of how we can respond with confidence and clarity. This needs to be a big part of our work right now and into the coming decade if we want to see the true potential of Universal Design for Learning.  

    “UDL is just how we need to do the business of teaching and learning.”    

    Both photos located on Pixabay.com


    Bill McGrath, MS, OTR/L

    Instructional Specialist

    Bill works supporting assistive technology consideration, school and district level UDL implementation, and school-based therapy services in a large school district in Maryland adjacent to Washington, DC.  Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has over 200 schools, 150,000 students, and 10,000 teachers and professional staff.  Over 15,000 students receive special education services and 20,000 do not speak English as their first language.