A Book Review of:
Grant & Perez (2022), Dive Into UDL: Immersive Practices to Develop Expert Learners. 2nd edition. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). ISBN: 978-1-56484-933-5.
“Dive Into UDL (Universal Design for Learning)” is one of my new favorite go to books for inspiration when it comes to professional learning to improve the learning outcomes of K-12 students or in teacher preparation courses of any discipline which makes it very versatile. Most importantly, the authors Kendra Grant and Luis Perez integrate the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) educator standards which is vital after the U.S. Department of Education and ISTE launched the initiative this year (2022) to improve technology proficiency of new teachers to increase digital equity. The Educator Preparation Program (EPP) for Digital Equity and Transformation Pledge was announced on June 7, 2022 to help increase the digital skills teachers need to support learning and student progress in the classroom for students. Currently more than a dozen EPPs have committed to the pledge through revamping their EPPs to include the ISTE standards and integrate innovative instructional practices for themselves and for their future teachers.
So what is UDL?
I recently took an online poll on Facebook in the AR Educators page (about 1700 members) just to see if educators knew what UDL was in Arkansas (where I teach). As you can see below, as a very rough estimate (not official research, but as a general indicator) 58% of Arkansas educators voted they have “no clue” what UDL is so I am on a mission to help any educator better understand the positive impact UDL can have on their classroom.
So before we get into the book and with this information in mind, I wanted to give a brief overview for those who may not be familiar with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). There is a short video about UDL below, but in summary, it is “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (CAST, 2022).
UDL is based on 3 primary components within the framework. The ability of the educator (K-12 or in higher education) to be able to:
- Provide multiple means of Engagement.
- Provide multiple means of Representation.
- Provide multiple means of Action & Expression.
UDL in Public Policy
Periodically throughout the book the authors reference UDL in public policy. To help out your reading process while you “dive” into the book, I created a short timeline below to give you a little perspective of the growth of UDL in public policy as it relates to education.
Now Let’s “Dive into UDL”
It would be near impossible to highlight all the resources, tools, and information that led to my growth as an educator through this book, but there are a few of my favorite highlights I want to personally touch on that connected with me based on my personal experiences as both a student and as an educator; which after re-reading this post, I feel like doesn’t even do the book justice. As you read the book, which I hope you get a chance to read soon, I am sure you will find even more connections that will tailor to your personal educational story.
Far From the Moon
A quote early on that I wanted to note, which should be highlighted in every K-12 classroom to students, is “Today, the smartphone most of us carry in our pocket has more raw computing power than the computer that once took astronauts to the moon.” Just think about what we can do as a society and in the future of education if all it took to get to the moon in 1969 was probably comparative to the first original iPhone 1 that came out in 2007? For some reason, many schools and teachers still continue to ban cell phones from classrooms 15 years later instead of integrating them as learning tools. There is power in technology and we have to harness it, but safely and responsibly. As teachers we can do that with the right mindset, access, and supports in place. Dive Into UDL can help you learn how to comfortably integrate and access multiple levels of technology into the classroom that students and educators use daily without “sinking.”
Professional Learning vs. Professional Development
Yes. The dreaded professional development (aka PD). Just another meeting the first few weeks of school where they tell about a new tech tool we will be using that the district purchased (without asking the educators who have to use it), tell us to figure it out (in 4-7 days), use it for a few months (kids and teachers hate it), pay for it for a few years (contracts required), then change our minds 6 months later to a new tool that was either worse than the first one or has already been phased out by something newer. That is probably an over exaggeration in some cases, but I have a feeling a few of you this may resonate with this scenario in part. Prior to reading Dive Into UDL, my personal view or opinion about PD is definitely not the best and it is most likely not the same for every educator. I do remember as a first year educator I was on point with PD notes, following through with watching videos, and asked lots of questions. I have even actually recently been to some very informative PD sessions, but most of them were through personal choice. After 11 years into teaching, I had the bloodborne pathogens, ethics videos, and fire hazard videos practically ingrained into my memory making engagement slightly limited.
It wasn’t until I read Dive Into UDL that I really was able to differentiate between professional development and professional learning, although at times they are used interchangeably. Professional Learning vs. Professional Development is now permanently ingrained in my vocabulary bank of teaching of future educators and in writing educational research. Chapter 2 really “hits the nail on the head” on not only the importance of both, but why we as educators need to constantly seek professional learning. By definition, professional development is what our administration or district plans or mandates (requires) for us to attend, a noun (place or thing). “We may have the option to choose from a menu of sessions, but we are rarely afforded the choice to drive our own professional learning. Perhaps you’ve been attending PD for years and you’ve enjoyed it. There is nothing inherently wrong with PD, but it rarely brings about deep and sustained change” (page 11). Professional learning on the other hand is the “application of an iterative cycle of inquiry that teachers engage in daily, within a collaborative and supportive environment; with the intent to change practice” (Hannay, Wideman, & Seller, 2006). This is an actual behavior, or action, not a noun. It is an ongoing process and a habit that physically occurs in the classroom and is refined through reflection and discussions with others. In professional learning we want to get better for not only ourselves, but for our students.
Personal note: As educators, we must strive to be what is sometimes called a “life-long learner,” but we need to remember that every day is precious. We may not have 5, 10, or 50 more years here on Earth or as an educator. What are you doing today to improve outcomes from yesterday?
Integrated Tech Tools
The text is also a perfect representation of UDL in practice by implementing a combination of resources that meet the varying needs of readers’ interest and accessibility features. It is the first book I have seen that integrate “tweets” from Twitter and Quick Response (QR) codes every few pages that gave you immediate access to connected videos, articles, websites, and activities on the book’s companion website www.diveintoudl.com. It was such a fun read and it is a one-of-the-kind! For example, in chapter 4 there is this QR code The Game of School vs. The Game of Life (page 35) that takes you to a personal life story of the “playing the game.”
The Game of School Rules: Make the adults at school happy, and the adults at home will be happy. I just want to point out that I definitely played the game of school. Many of us have. There are, however, a lot of students who have given up on the game of school and even hate the game of school. You can probably look out into your classroom and categorize your students in one of these areas. This is where our internal bias as educators, whether known or known, comes into play. The text will bring out your biases to self-reflect to improve your teaching practices. How can you, whether today, tomorrow, next month, or next year, move students to no longer “play the game?” Sometimes as educators we are “blind to the fact that our students are not only playing the game of school, but that they are also watching the adults (us) in their lives play the game too.” That one hit the heartstrings.
On a side note, although the QR code took me on a little rabbit trail (which I do often and enjoy anyways), I absolutely loved it. It made the text that much more connective to the reader (me). I was able to take the text and immediately connect it to another learning opportunity or resource.
One important quote that I want to pull from Chapter 3 that personally stood out to me is:
“When we introduce the term UDL to educators, we sometimes hear “I’m already doing that” or “It’s just good teaching.” Although it’s true that good teachers often include aspects of UDL in their practices, UDL isn’t just good teaching. It’s the intentional application of UDL principles to your practice, challenging what you currently think and do, so that all learners succeed (page 23).”
I have to admit (if I am being brutally honest) I thought the exact same thing 2 years ago when I learned about UDL. I was a National Board Teacher, my students and parents loved me, my scores increased every year, and I never had 1 special education paperwork folder flagged. I was an “good teacher.” In the past 2 years of my doctoral program I have learned that I was majorly wrong. There was so much more to offer my students and my professional learning as an educator that I just wasn’t aware of. I have learned more in the past 2 years in educational research than in 11 years as a teacher. Although my overall general pedagogy increased over time, there is so much more available to teachers, including UDL, that is underutilized in schools. I integrated some the UDL practices, but wasn’t intentional about them in my lesson planning as I should have been, but I can now use the practices within the book and apply them to my students in the teacher preparation program.
Chapter 5: Be Ready to Recognize Your Biases and Become a Better Person and Educator
I am just going to leave this here, because there is no better way to say it. All I can say is read chapter 5.
“Our assumptions and beliefs are a combination of what we’ve learned, and what we’ve experienced, that ultimately determine what our classrooms look and sound like. They can, just like our clothes, be outdated and ill-fitting, but difficult to throw away. We must also be open to having our assumptions and beliefs challenged, not just by colleagues with whom we agree, but also by those who may see things differently. Like individuals, systems also hold assumptions and beliefs. Although we often recognize policies, procedures, and programs are outdated and in need of change, we fail to recognize that the underlying assumptions and beliefs, firmly embedded and interconnected in the daily routines of the system, are also in need of repair and replacement” (page 50).
Levels of Practice
Throughout the book you find sections to best fit your current expertise. These are organized by “Wade Ins, Shallow Swims, and Deep Dives.” Depending on your current depth, or knowledge of UDL and/or pedagogical practices, you can choose your reading path across multiple areas within the text. It kind of reminds me of the books where you get to “choose you ending” but it is chapter by chapter. This feature within the book was very beneficial personally for I was able to skip to the Deep Dive in some sections, but also start with the “Wade In” sections where I was less familiar. For example, in chapter 6, the authors talk about the UDL guidelines and how to translate the theory into practice. The sections for each of the areas include:
- Wade in: Brain Networks and Related Guidelines (learn the research behind UDL)
- Shallow Swim: The UDL Guidelines and Principles (learn all the components of UDL)
- Deep Dive: UDL and today’s learner (learn how to meet the needs of individual learners through UDL)
So where do you fall? It may vary as you read, but it makes for a fun multi-tiered experience that can be easily integrated into an educator book club or study. It would be so interesting to read with my colleagues to support with each other as we vary across the levels to see where we all need support and where our strengths are to support each and our our professional learning.
Chapter 8: A Must Read Chapter for All Educators
Every educator, whether new and experienced, or in K-12 schools or higher education, needs to ready Chapter 8: Flexible Instructional Design. We all can probably pinpoint a teacher at some point in our educational career that was “flexible” in one or more of the areas of UDL, and then pick a teacher that was not. The flexible teacher wanted you to learn the material in the way that was best for you. The non-flexible teacher wanted you to learn the way they did or what worked best for them.
Depending on your technology savviness, this chapter is also broken down into the levels “wade in, shallow swim, and deep dive.” It highlights the fact that not every resource or tool is perfect, how to spot them, and how to support students in these gaps. Everything has a barrier or limitation and it is impossible to know them all, but as educators it is imperative that we actively look for them as we teach. Interactives, books, videos, ebooks, audio, printed materials, digital materials, websites, everything has a limit to to someone. You may not know it and the student may not tell you, but it exists, and changes based on each individual student your classroom. One wonderful aspect of this chapter is that it also teaches educators how to better support and develop self-determination and self-advocacy skills in students when it comes to accessibility (e.g., closed captions, transcripts, keyboard accessibility, translations). As educators, it is important that we first introduce students to the concept and purpose of accessibility in both virtual and physical spaces (which is emphasized in this chapter), teach them how to use and implement the accessibility tools, encourage metacognition as they trial or execute the tools, then encourage independent and sustained use over time (short and long term) if successful. It is also important to have students identify what doesn’t work for them.
Towards the End
There is so much more to this book and I have not even scratched the surface, but I don’t want to give it all away. Chapters 9 and 10 focuses on classroom resources and practices you can implement tomorrow such as actual tools, practices, frameworks, models, and technology across multiple devices, grade levels, and content areas to best fit your students. You will also find an abundance of new, innovative, and up to date tools and resources for your classroom in the text, through QR codes, graphic organizers, and much more. It also touches on personal goal setting leading into chapter 11 where it encourages sharing UDL practices with administrators and colleagues locally, statewide, or nationally and how to become a teacher leader through in UDL creating “ripples” in the educational environment that benefits not only students, but families and schools. These chapters are where you can take what you learn, pick your tools, and start implementing in your classroom.
…and remember“Just keep swimming.”
UDL is your life vest that will always keep you afloat, CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology) will be your boat of resources, and ISTE standards for educators is your paddles that will push you further against the waves of education.