Happy Friday, everyone!

I’ve been sitting here for 45 minutes trying to decide what to write about, so I’m overthinking it again.



OK! I'm relaxing! I'm gazing out the window. That means I'm relaxed.

OK! I’m relaxing! I’m gazing out the window. That means I’m relaxed.

Now that you’ve worked through 4 days of the UDL institute, reflect back on that growth and understanding. Consider one goal in your curriculum/practice and reflect across the 9 UDL guidelines. Explain why you need multiple methods and materials to reach that goal.

One of the goals for post-secondary writers in ENG 271W is that students should be able to demonstrate the ability to be understood by their supervisors and peers through their written words. The students in ENG 271W Technical Communication at Minnesota State University, Mankato are pursuing majors in Construction Management, Nursing, Environmental Science, Landscape Architecture, and other technical paths of study. When they take ENG 271W, they are usually in the 3rd or 4th year of their program, and many students are also working in their field by that point (it’s a very practical program). The ENG 271W class meets synchronously with audio/video once a week for 90 minutes, and we use a discussion board for communication during the week. Some topics covered in the course are audience/purpose, visual rhetoric, critical thinking in research, formal reporting, technical presentation, creating technical instructions, or other comprehensive genres.

Much of the variability in these students comes from their ability to generate workplace-related content. Students have already been through a Freshman Composition course, so they should have mastered creative expression, but we need to work with career content in this course. Some of the students know enough about their chosen field and the work world to be able to write about it, but others are just not there yet. As well, English language learners struggle with cultural relevance–they have often not worked in a career-type job in this country. I need to find a reliable way to separate out content generation, but I don’t want to use a lorem ipsum generator (even if it’s a cupcake lorem ipsum generator or a zombie lorem ipsum generator) because I want students to complete the course with a small portfolio of error-free usable documents (like a cover letter for a job and other useful stuff). Also, this is an online course, and many students struggle with engagement. The students often want assignments clearly spelled out for them–just tell me what to write, and I’ll write it (or ask my roommate to write it). So, I need to keep them accountable for the executive skills they need in order to take an online course because they will need those skills in the workplace.

When I rework the curriculum for this course, I will focus on UDL Guidelines 5, 6, and 8. I think I will find some success in using graduated levels of support for students and varying demands and resources. I also think need to re-think content generation in order to alleviate the stress that less experienced students feel because that type of stress in online learning leads to missed assignments and disengagement (we call it “thrive or dive,” a term coined by the researchers Sapp and Simon (2005)).

My perspective has changed since Monday in the areas of separating Goals from Means/Materials/Assessment and learner variability. Even though separating goals is probably the most important part of the course, learner variability was my biggest AHA(!!!) moment. In my work as a researcher, I’ve written a lot about personalized learning which is an idea that I’ve always liked, but it seems like a misuse of resources. Personalized learning, according to the National Education Technology Plan, “refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization)” (2010, pg. 12). I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like 700 different curriculum plans for a school of 700 students, though I could be taking that a little too literally. At any rate, that’s why I like the idea of planning for variability so much. I think it’s a brilliant way to reach all students and still ensure a standard of mastery. Learner variability is a concept I’ll bring to my own teaching as well as my work with the GWUOHS and other research projects.

I enjoyed getting to know you all this week. Thanks for sharing your expertise and stories. I have learned a lot from all of you.


Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST

Sapp, Dale Alan, & Simon, James (2005). Comparing grades in online and face-to-face writing courses: Interpersonal accountability and institutional commitment . Computers and Composition , 22, 471-489.

U.S. Department of Education. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology . U.S. National Technology Plan, Department of Education Technology, Washington, DC.

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Assessment in Writing Instruction


This is the first time I’m completely tapped out for things to write about, so my example might be a little lame. The learner I am thinking about reads well above grade level but struggles mightily with writing. The writing produced by the student reads like a movie script and is poorly punctuated. The student is excellent at reproducing writing in the genre he knows well–the dramatic movie or documentary script.

All!!! the student’s writing!!!! contains a lot of exclamation marks!! with no capitalization or punctuation and sometimes run-on sentences that go for entire paragraphs.

For creative writing, the student may benefit from working through ideas verbally with a partner taking notes (typed notes). For expository writing, the student would benefit greatly from help with planning and strategy development (learning guide 6.2), perhaps from graphic organizers to structure the thesis and supporting paragraphs. The student could also organize ideas on post-it-notes, so they can be moved around without needed to rewrite. This may facilitate information management (learning guide 6.2). Punctuation can be considered construct-irrelevant at this point. The writing is not about grammar mechanics, it is about either creative expression or organizing ideas. The learner would greatly benefit from examples of completed work. He is adept at mimicry, but struggles to convert verbal instruction into actual action.

I think the student could self-assess by asking him to read aloud his work after he writes it. I think hearing the story or report aloud might help him understand where the deficits are. As the student develops, he may benefit from peer review; however, peer review at the student’s current skill level would likely be more intimidating and frustrating that helpful. Participating in peer review should be a future goal (learning guide 9.1, 9.2, and 9.3).


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


Brain Networks & Universal Design for Learning

I’ve written quite a bit about emotion and online education because I am interested in its role in expression and engagement (here, here, and here). From the perspective of the connection between cognition and emotion (Meyer, Rose, and Gordon, 2014), specific improvements in both delivery mechanisms and curriculum in online education following the Principles of UDL and the Learning Guidelines of UDL could improve access for full-time online students in special education. I think many people would be surprised to find out that the number of special education students in fully-online schools is quite likely understated, and I’ll tell you why I think it is. According to counselors, teachers, and administrators I’ve spoken to in many fully-online (meaning, not blended) schools, it sometimes happens that parents enroll their children in an online school because they have grown unhappy with the special education experience the student was having in their brick-and-mortar school. Oftentimes, the student was responding well to therapy and cognitive behavior modeling, so the parents thought the child was “fixed,” or no longer needed special interventions. Despite this positive development, the parents were unhappy with the student’s experience because they perceived that their child would be held back socially by the child’s history of getting extra help or being in “special” classes. Sometimes, the parents simply switched schools. Sometimes, however, the parents addressed this issue by hiring a tutor and sending the child to an online school where perceptible information (UDL Principle #4) is inherently low. That way, they can enroll the child without noting his/her learning disabilities because they think this “labels” the student. This isn’t an epidemic or anything, but it happens enough among middle and high-income families to be notable. The UDL Principle #4 is manifest in the design of nearly all online education programs because non-verbal communication is limited or completely unavailable. In these programs, there is really only one mode of communication—exchange of text. In these text-only programs, learning difficulties can go undetected for some time. As well, learning difficulties can easily be misdiagnosed as motivation issues or a lack of parental support. Fully-online schools also have challenges in the bottom layer of the UDL learning guidelines, especially those pertaining to executive skills and self-regulation. Unfortunately, a student must have well-developed executive and self-regulation skills to perform well in expert learning as part of online education. However, if an instructor knows of a student’s challenges in this area, they can offer support as the student develops. If the trend of not reporting learning challenges when a student transfers to an online school continues, however, the student can easily be encouraged and quickly de-motivated in fully-online schools


Meyer, A., Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning: Theory and practice, Wakefield MA: CAST


Learning Gets Personal

I am taking a summer course on Universal Design for Learning, and I’ve been asked to share a personal story about my experience as a learner. I am not huge on sharing personal stories, but I think this will be fun to write:

When I was working on my graduate certificate in the Mind, Brain, and Teaching, we were asked to read about learning styles and take a stand on a controversial topic relating to neuroscience and education. Many topics in education and neuroscience are controversial because of the looooooooooong bridge linking the two disciplines.

As may be expected, this ambiguity creates a space for lively debate on the relationship between neuroscience and education.

According to the assignment, we would study the topics during class and debate the issue the following week. During class time, students were allowed to discuss the issue with one another and read several academic articles (as well as our text) in order to solidify our points of view. I’m more of an observer than an active participant, so I listened to the discussion. To my dismay, it seemed that everyone in the class was taking the opposite side from me on the topic. As a result, I dreaded the thought of attending class the next week when the live debate would commence, and it would be ME against the entire class.

The “what” of my learning: Since the neuroscience material was completely new, I reviewed it carefully in order to form a coherent argument supporting my [very unpopular] opinion. I looked for other credible material that supported my thoughts, and formed what I thought was a credible argument for my side of the story. The material was interesting, but it was written for scientists, not for educators, so I could not weave it into my current base of knowledge. I felt that I understood my own point of view, but I could not convey it to others—much less debate it with others! I felt pressured to learn the neuroscience “language” in the span of a couple of days, just so I could convey my point of view.

The “how” of my learning: The material for this assignment engaged me and encouraged active learning, but only from the perspective of survival, lol. I was not offered choices in delivery options for the material—it was academic article or textbook. I thought many times that it would have been a lot easier for me to just take the side of my other classmates.

The “depth” of my learning: I was certainly encouraged to seek more and raise questions in this experience. But it wasn’t clear to me until after the experience that the instructor would have been a valuable source of information.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Universal Design for Learning (and any learning design) can be stymied by students who lack agency. If a student does not call for help, how can an instructor know they need it?
  2. Learning in a different nomenclature and style might be comparable to learning in a different language altogether, which research has demonstrated to be a barrier to student learning (Meyer and Rose, 2005).
  3. Debate is an effective way to learn a topic thoroughly and get students emotionally involved (Kanuka, 2004; Kanuka, Roarke, and LaFlamme, 2007; Meyer and Rose, 2005). The fact that I have a story to tell is because this was a debate—not a test (easy) or a paper (easier).

In the end, the debate was pretty theatrical with me and two other students against the whole class. The instructor took our side and provided the bridge between the neuroscience arguments we tried to make and the education discipline. We could not have been coherent without teacher support.


Kanuka, Heather (2011). Interaction and the online distance classroom: Do instructional methods effect the quality of interaction? Journal of Computing in Higher Education , 23 (2), 143-156.

Kanuka, Heather, Roarke, Liam, & Laflamme, Elaine (2007). e The Influence of Instructional Methods on the Quality of Online Discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology , 38 (2), 260-271.

Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (2005). The future is in the margins: The role of technology and disability in educational reform. In D. H. Rose, A. Meyer & C. Hitchcock (Eds.), The universally designed classroom: Accessible curriculum and digital

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How About Something New? (book recommendations)

So far, I’ve recommended only fiction books, but I like a little variety. Don’t you? These books are especially for girls 9+. Pretty sure boys won’t be interested in some of these, but it’s always good to try new things. How about non-fiction? Here are two non-fiction books for girls 9+:

Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists
Gutsy Girls: Young Women Wh... Gutsy Girls: Young Women Who Dare by Tina Schwager, Elizabeth Verdick, and Michelle Schuerger

In addition to non-fiction, books written in prose-style feel quite different from regular fiction books. The following books are written in prose, which tends to dance along at a different rate from straight reading. They are supah quick reads:

May B. May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
Inside Out and Back Again Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

See how I figured out how to get the links on there? I’m pretty excited about that.

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Book List

The books on this list were well-liked by girls age 9+, but some boys age 12+ read and enjoyed them as well. The Y.S. Ling mysteries have been described as an “edgier” Nancy Drew mystery series. I read the first one, The Spy in the House, and I agree. Plus, they are totally absorbing. With punchy dialog. And great character development. Good stuff. I was a big Nancy Drew fan for awhile as a kid. I loved those books, but the reader hears so much about Nancy’s hair, her clothes, her house, her car, and her boyfriend that it can feel claustrophobic after awhile–especially with all the active identity-seeking we see in young readers. I think the Y.S. Ling mysteries may be more relatable because the main character is less defined. We mostly hear about her courage and curiosity, which I feel are excellent traits to encourage in young readers. Don’t be put-off by the first couple of pages. They are graphic, but realistic. Plus, that’s probably the most graphic part. The rest is pretty tame. Here’s the list:

  • Pirates! The True and Remarkable Adventures of Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington, Female Pirates by Celia Rees
  • The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston (many students said this was the best book they ever read)
  • I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
  • A Spy in the House by Y.S. Ling
  • The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Ling
  • The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Ling

We listened to the audio version of Pirates!. I highly recommend the audio version. It was a great way to relax between activities, and it gave everyone something to look forward to the next day.

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