All learners matter

At the end of each chapter in Katie Novak‘s book, UDL Now!, she asks quality questions that make you reflect on your practice and push your thinking. This blog post is an organization of my thoughts on a question from the book’s very first chapter:

Think of all the teaching initiatives you have been encouraged to try in your career. Which ones do you continue to implement and which ones were phased out? Why do you think some strategies remained in your practice while others did not? (Novak, 11)

Deep, right?

Knowing I have been exposed to MANY initiatives, curriculums, strategies, tools, and resources, I was curious about the trends Katie asked about, and I toyed with this question for weeks.

equity-300x225Phased Out: I realized that most instructional strategies that were intended for the entire class have been chucked out (some more graciously than others). I remember hearing the phrase, “Fair doesn’t mean equal,” years ago; it has stuck with me and continues to drive me to change my practice. Each individual in my class has different strengths, experiences, weaknesses, worries, and struggles. Why should everyone have to learn the same spelling words or read the same book or do the same project or work on the same grammar skills or get the same homework or have the same consequences? Because they are all the same age and put in my classroom? That’s bologna.

Another thing I noticed is that the strategies that tend to crush students (generalized homework for all, timed tests, traditional grading system, etc.) were removed. It took other educators who shared their innovative thinking on those topics, new initiatives, and/or hundreds of parents telling me their honest stories to change my ways. I’m here as a teacher to help students learn, not to make them feel they aren’t good enough or can’t do something. I’m here to let them realize they ARE good enough and CAN do anything.

Below you’ll see my initial brainstorm list of what has been phased out of my teaching practice over the past 15 years:

  • whole-class novel studies
  • behavior charts
  • whole-class spelling lists
  • daily grammar worksheets
  • writing grades on student work
  • percentages as grades
  • Mad Minute
  • book reports
  • daily reading logs
  • homework assignments
  • writing prompts

CLICK ME (1).pngKept for the Long-Run: This was shocking. When I tried to think of what has stuck with me, there was not much there. At all. Considering all the “next best things” that I’ve gone through, there are maybe four things that stuck with me. They all had something in common, though: they were ALL student-centered and based on getting to know each student by listening to them and their families. A daily morning meeting where each child is seen and heard; quiet time because they have busy days and need 10 minutes to just chill out alone; lunches to talk about what is important to them; phone calls/texts/emails/meetings with individual families to find out how things are at home and celebrate the good, as well as problem solve as a team; and meetings to discuss issues the students bring up and work through as a group. At the heart of all these is the student.

  • Responsive Classroom: Morning Meeting, Quiet Time, Apology of Action
  • lunches with students
  • regular contact home with families
  • class meetings

I understand why Katie posed these questions at the start of her book. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) “provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (National Center for UDL) Please note: UDL is not a new name for differentiation where we modify lessons; UDL is designing our lessons and curriculum with every learner in mind.

Stay tuned for my UDL journey…

Thanks, Katie – I’m hooked.



Novak, Katie. UDL Now!: a Teacher’s Monday Morning Guide to Implementing the Common Core Standards Using Universal Design for Learning. CAST Professional Publishing, 2015.

“What is Universal Design for Learning.” National Center On Universal Design for Learning, CAST,

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