How Do I Teach Social Justice When I Haven’t Experienced Injustice? My PD Confession

How Do I Teach Social Justice When I Haven’t Experienced Injustice? My PD Confession

Last summer, I had the privilege to speak to a room full of teachers about social justice, as the keynote speaker for the CAST Annual Symposium. The conference was focused on the themes of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework now endorsed by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and social justice: a perfect match. However, I struggled preparing for the presentation. I have always been on the more favorable side of opportunity and privilege. While I wasn’t raised wealthy, I am white, well-educated, and was born into a family that taught me how to be resourceful, gritty,

Feedback is Critical to Professional Growth [Video]

Feedback is Critical to Professional Growth [Video]

Even the thickest skinned of us can feel like crawling into a cave when we hear a piece of negative feedback. But mastery-oriented feedback is necessary for growth and improvement. When I present, I sometimes pause the session after 20-30 minutes to ask my audience for feedback on my presenting style. I tell them to give me the most negative piece of feedback possible (even if they love me!). I have done this enough times to know what will be coming my way. “You talk waaaay too fast! Can you slow down?” “Your transitions are pretty abrupt. Can you be

A Universally Designed Ride on the Polar Express?

A Universally Designed Ride on the Polar Express?

I experienced something with my six-year-old son last weekend. The incident made me realize that it’s possible… just maybe…that I am nailing this parenting thing. Last weekend, we headed up to North Conway, New Hampshire with my parents, my sister and her family, my husband, and our four kids. In typical Novak fashion, we all purchased matching pajamas, rented a beautiful home called the Tin Mine Lodge lodge and spent hours eating popcorn, M&Ms, and having an epic Christmas movie marathon. On Saturday night, we had tickets to go the Polar Express. On the train car, Christmas music blared through

UDL is a Standards-Based Curriculum Design

UDL is a Standards-Based Curriculum Design

All too often, when I speak with teachers about integrating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their classrooms, I get feedback that it simply isn’t possible. “I can’t provide options; I teach math.” “I have standards I need to meet, so options are off the table!”  UDL is a standards-based curriculum design. This means it can be incorporated into any learning environment, regardless of subject, content, or standards. Let me explain. When creating a UDL lesson plan, you need to start with the standard. First, determine if your standard is a content standard or a method standard. Content standards are

Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

What Does UDL Look Like? I really struggle when someone asks me, “What does UDL look like?” It is not because I don’t know the answer, in theory. It’s because I don’t know what it looks like for YOU. As the brilliant Dr. Liz Berquist explains in UDL: Moving from Exploration to Integration, “Because the implementation of UDL is variable and unique-in this sense it is a model of UDL itself. UDL looks different in every learning environment, just as it looks different in every school, district, and state. Although there are patterns to be found in this variability, there

Growth Mindset: Teaching Your Students to Be Expert Learners

Growth Mindset: Teaching Your Students to Be Expert Learners

When I taught English years ago, I was dealing out tattered paperbacks of the classics like it was my life’s calling. The whole class read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and then the whole class read Old Man and the Sea. I excitedly circulated the books, week after week, to groaning middle-schoolers slumped in their chairs. After we read, I gave a test and some students got As and others earned Fs and they were all left feeling like being a good student was a prize. Good grades were bestowed upon those students who either a) were proficient readers or b) were creative

Why UDL?

Why UDL?

I often am asked the question, “Why UDL?” and my answer is simple. We are preparing students for their future. We are not preparing them for our past. The way that we have been teaching students for decades will no longer meet their needs because we are preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet and technology that is replaced daily. In this new world, we have to teach our students how to be thinkers, love challenge, and commit to innovation. We can not do this when we, as educators, are in charge of their learning. When I first

Fighting the Anti-Guidelines: Bringing Your PD to the Next Level

Fighting the Anti-Guidelines: Bringing Your PD to the Next Level

Alanis Morrissette penned the song, “Isn’t it ironic?” Not to date myself, but when I was in high school, my friends and I rocked out to that song. If I could go back in time, I would tell Alanis to add a line about UDL professional development. It would go something like this, “It’s like rain, on your wedding day.  It’s a free ride, when you already paid.  It’s the sit-and-get of UDL PD. Who would have thought? It figuuuuures.” (It’s catchy, isn’t it?) Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is best practice for all students because it focuses on providing

Inclusive Education: It’s Not the Students Who Are Disabled

Inclusive Education: It’s Not the Students Who Are Disabled

The first organization to address the personalization of instruction for all students was the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). CAST is still going strong today. Their research on increasing outcomes for students with disabilities began in 1984, when they explored benefits of using emerging technology to make traditional education more accessible for all students. Working in classrooms with students, researchers at CAST quickly observed that these technology-based learning supports not only fostered inclusion and allowed students with disabilities to be educated with their peers, but the supports benefited the other students as well. In the early 1990’s, they began

UDL vs DI: The Dinner Party Analogy

UDL vs DI: The Dinner Party Analogy

When I am presenting on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an education framework routed in offering options to students to help them take control of their own education, teachers often tell me they have been doing it already for years. I ask them to explain. What follows is often a description of Differentiated Instruction (DI). Like UDL, DI is also an education framework based on providing options to students. However, there are some critical differences that differentiate (pardon the pun!) the two frameworks from one another. The Dinner Party Analogy I like to explain the differences by asking teachers think