Speed Dating in SPED 6201

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

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4 Responses to Speed Dating in SPED 6201

  1. Joan Kester says:

    Very thoughtful reflection! You are doing an excellent job connecting your learning to research and practice. How might this learning apply to providing online learning instructors skills to utilize UDL in this online setting?

  2. eliz28806 says:

    Nice compilation of intertwining all three networks and how the third affective network can be affective if not strategic planning occurs first for some.. This can affect motivation if the student doesn’t feel they have the necessary supports to succeed in achieving their goal.

  3. I think you did a good job teasing out that setting personal goals and setting learning goals are different — kinda. But that when we set UDL goals (learning goals) we have to have the flexibility in our thinking to know that everyone will have their own personal goal plan in the classroom because those learning goals are not our personal goals as teachers, which we sometimes think, and so we don’t have to design the methods for reaching them — we just facilitate.

    Thinking about how you mention “affective influence can derail the work done by the recognition and strategic networks,” what are things your team has designed to motivate and engage K – 12 online learners that may be choosing on line learning because of their disenfranchisement, exclusion or disengagement in “brick and mortar” K – 12 environments?

  4. cnace08 says:

    Hah! I love the title of this post… I think you did a great job addressing what we learning in class. I firmly agree that learner variability is best addressed through setting meaningful goals in the classroom that are specific to the student’s needs and make considerations on how best to ensure that all students are getting what they need from the class. Again, I also think that we should think of UDL as more than an instructional strategy and instead as a way of life…

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