Focus on the What
I sat down earlier this week with the specific task and goal of writing a brief paragraph or so about UDL in the classroom. Truthfully, I had over a dozen ideas jotted on a note page – ideas that described my own experiences with UDL and its application in the classroom. As I worked to encapsulate my classroom experiences into a few short paragraphs, nothing seemed specific enough to be useful or general enough to be applicable. I put my notes aside for a few days and, like all of us, became so entrenched in my daily teaching that I didn’t have much time to think about the paragraph during the week. Then on Friday, during my classroom activity, I heard myself say to a student exactly the words that I was trying to put down on paper, “Try not to get so focused on HOW you reach your goal, and focus more on WHAT your goal is.” I was trying to get a student to stop focusing so much on memorizing the steps and focus more on the goal itself. When my students focus on the goal, the steps come much more naturally and the learning is so much more meaningful. The same is true for UDL.
When building a UDL classroom, stay focused on what you want your students to learn instead of how you want them to learn it. Write goals that stay focused on the WHAT of the learning. Our students will have a variety of ways that they are able to meet the goal (if we’re lucky!) and we can make learning more accessible if we clearly define the goal for our students and ourselves instead of a list of how they must meet that goal.
Consider this learning goal: Students will compare the causes of World War I and World War II by creating a Venn diagram. So what is the goal here? Are we trying to teach students how to use a Venn diagram? If so, then great, let the learning begin. But if you’re really trying to get students to understand the similarities and differences between the causes of the two wars, then why limit them to a Venn diagram? Why not allow students to create a collage that illustrates the causes of each war? Or write a poem? Or maybe a short story about a fictional character who was a young man during World War I and then watches his son enlist and fight in World War II some thirty years later? When we focus on the WHAT, we give room for UDL to shape the how.