Posted in English escapades, teaching, Tech-ventures

Universal Design

Today’s classrooms look very different than they did 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Today we have access to a million different resources on a daily basis, which can enhance learning (whether it does or not… well, we’ll talk about about in a paragraph or two!). We also need every bit of those resources. Unlike the classrooms of our forefathers, our classrooms are diverse.

Diversity is more than race. Diversity is ethnicity, culture, economic status, ability, life experiences, home life, home diet, technology experiences. Diversity literally means “all the things that make us different from one another”. Personality counts too!


*Image used with permission under a Creative Commons License 3 -CC BY-SA 3.0. Created by, original image URL:

Despite our best intentions and greatest hopes, technology is not the long awaited savior of education, nor it is the “great equalizer” we once hoped for. In fact, a great article I read this week, though “old” by academic standards, still had nuggets of valid insight, like this one: “The level of effectiveness of educational technology is influenced by the specific student population, the software design, the educator’s role, and the level of student access to the technology” (page 5).

We must constantly approach technology as a tool for our trade. Everyone is passing out hammers (technology), but some kids have screws and not nails. The educator’s role in determining what a student needs to move to the next stage of learning is vital. We will never be replaced in this way. 

Universal Design For Learning

Before reading about Universal Design for Learning, it never occurred to me that I might already be doing it–but I am (most days)! The basic premise behind it is that in our age of diversity, in classrooms of mixed ability levels, with access to thousands and millions of tools for learning each day, there is a way to help every student move forward in learning every day.

Essentially, lessons should be designed to give students options and access to learning that is relevant and on their level, in three main ways: (1) multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning), (2) multiple means of presentation (what knowledge is presented to various learners) , and (3) multiple means of action or presentation (how they show what they know).

I am teaching high school English classes right now with students on a 2nd grade reading level in the same room as students on a college reading level, the average being about 6th grade. And somehow I need to help every kid move forward in learning. Somehow I need to engage every learner, teach every learner, and get a product out of every. single. kid.

It is a tough task, but it is much more difficult to pretend that the issues and challenges do not exist. So, I press on–as do most teachers. And I believe Universal Design is a great way to do that.

How does technology fit in to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)?

It is pretty simple, really. An iPad does not fix everything. Bringing students all to the same website does not fix learning. During a literature lesson last week, I wanted to introduce Edgar Allen Poe with a biography, to help the students better understand his dark writing. Rather than choose one, I chose 3. (Multiple means of presentation)

If I want students to present information, I can provide multiple tools for doing that. Can students with a fear of public speaking make a video ahead of time to show to the class? Can students use an infographic instead of a powerpoint? (Multiple means of expression).

If I want students to write a research paper, can I have students choose topics they are passionate about? Can I work with each student to choose what an appropriate way to cite sources would be based on their project choice? Can I allow students to collaborate using a variety of tools of their choosing?

I am working on a UDL unit right now, and I am very excited to see how it turns out. I am even more excited to see it in practice come April 2017!  Stay tuned…


**Featured Image used with permission under a Creative Commons 2.0 License. Created by Justin Baeder. Original URL:


Posted in teaching

my biggest success so far

there is always more to tell. as i wrote in my last post, i didn’t apply for this job–They called me.

not only did i not apply… but i actually said that i would NEVER, EVER ever apply for a job in the area where my school is. why? because it is about 5 miles from my childhood home and it is in the worst area of the dallas metroplex. put it this way: i work where 2/3 of the evening news takes place.

the reality is that when a person says “never”, it becomes destiny.

I say that to say this: the student population is extremely diverse both in race and in socio-economic status.

with all of this, what could my biggest success be?

My kids don’t know what color I am. I don’t have any white students in my room. My students are either Black, or some variety of Hispanic, or some mix between various other cultures.

I am…. white. Talking with some of the other teachers on my hall, their “whiteness” has become the elephant in the room. The kids notice. When they do compare and contrast T-Charts, the kids can only come up with one thing: they are black or caramel and the teacher is white.

But my kids, they don’t know what exactly I am. There isn’t any difference between what I am and what they can be. They know I’m not black. Most of them have figured out I’m not Hispanic… but for some reason, I just don’t fit into their cookie cutter idea of white. I’m like that square block that won’t go in the triangle hole in the toddler toy.

I’m not one of those guilty white people, I don’t have anything to apologize for. I don’t think I owe anyone a special “leg up” because of who they are or who I happen to be. I think that we need to recognize and embrace differences, but that we also need to teach our kids that “self-separation” is not a positive component of that.

I love that my kids can’t figure me out. I don’t want them to feel different than me–I want them know they can get whatever they want in life.