Just kidding. Well, sorta. Today, SPED 6201 (Universal Design for Learning and Teaching) students spent some time discussing their teaching practice in a set-up similar to speed dating. Students sat across from one another at tables in a large room. One of the teachers had 5 minutes to discuss their own work in terms of Goals, Materials, Methods, and Assessment, and after 5 minutes the other teacher had a turn. After 10 minutes, the tables swapped partners, so the students had a chance to tell another classmate about their work. Super fun activity, and it raises a valid question–in teaching, why should the Goals of a lesson or activity or practice be separated from the Materials, Methods, and Assessment? At first blush, it seems that Goals should be closely coupled to the Materials, Methods, and Assessment, doesn’t it? It seems that most of the goal-setting methodologies I’ve worked with (7 Habits (Covey, 1989), Getting Things Done (Allen, 2002), Organizing from the Inside Out (Morgenstern, 2004)) have me setting milestones and methods for reaching goals that are pretty specific and tied directly to the goal.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) supports separating learning Goals from the Material, Methods, and Assessment used in their pursuit because of learner variability, which “impacts and is impacted by the way we teach” (Meyer, Rose, and Gordon, 2014, pg 38). Variability is the idea that learners are the same in that they are completely different from one another. In other words, there is infinite variety of their neurological functioning. In the UDL Guidelines for Teaching, it is useful to think of learning in terms of our use of three neurological networks: recognition, strategic, and affective. Recognition networks represent a learner’s understanding of specialized patterns (like smell, taste, etc.). Strategic networks represent a learner’s ability to plan, execute plans, and initiate purposeful actions. Affective networks support motivation, emotion, and engagement. Recognition networks are the least variable from of the three networks, but they still feel the effects of variability, and separating learning goals from the materials, methods, and assessment can help learning processes because they can present undesirable demands on the learner, which are not related to the goal of the learning task. Parts of the recognition network are specialized to process one type of input at a time and too many inputs over-complicate the process. Strategic networks reflect the variability of individuals over time, exposure to outside influences, education, experiences, and context. As one might expect, great variation occurs in individual experiences, which can be seen in the wide variety of skills individuals have mastered. Affective influence can derail the work done by the recognition and strategic networks because they affect performance tremendously and are highly variable by context, physical health and feelings, and they change moment-by-moment and classroom-by-classroom.
Variability in the classroom can be managed by separating Goals from Materials, Methods, and Assessment. For example, providing calculators while teaching science that includes math helps students focus on the science instead of taxing their recognition networks by adding in the requirements for a certain level of recognition of math symbols. Separating out the learning goals supports the natural variability in neurological networks of recognition, strategy and affect that can be seen in all students.
Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST