Oct. 25, 2022

Learner Variability and UDL - E105

Learner Variability and UDL - E105

This week, we are chatting about learner variability in the context of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Learner variability is not just simply learning styles; we'll define what learner variability is as well as the various strategies that we can use in the classroom to support all of our learners.

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Featured Content
**For detailed show notes, please visit our website at https://edugals.com/105**

  • Learner variability is not the same thing as learning styles!
  • Learner variability is holistic and flexible to meet the needs of our students as their needs ebb and flow
  • Learner Variability Navigator by Digital Promise
  • Four key factors for learner variability: content, cognition, social-emotional learning, and student background
  • UDL framework principles:
    • Variability is the rule, not the exception
    • All students can work towards the same firm goals and grade level standards when provided with conditions of nurture and adequate support
    • All learners can become expert learners if barriers are removed
  • UDL and CRRP go together! 
  • UDL Rising to Equity Initiative
  • Factors are all interconnected, research-based, lots of strategies provided with each one
  • Advice for getting started:
    • Get to know your students to learn their strengths and needs
    • Focus on one pillar or area of need
    • Try some of the instructional strategies
    • Be flexible - students needs will ebb and flow depending on many other factors
    • Start small, try 1 strategy and see how it goes
    • Focus on developing your mindset
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[00:00:40] Rachel: In this episode, we are exploring the idea of learner variability in the context of Universal Design for Learning.

[00:00:47] Katie: We are going to tell you what it is and then share some different strategies and resources for how you can support all learners.

[00:00:54] Rachel: let's get started.

[00:01:02] Rachel: This week Katie and I are gonna start talking a little bit more about Universal Design for Learning, because we wanted to kind of dig into the model. So this week our focus is on learner variability.

[00:01:15] Katie: Yes. And so before we even dive into this topic I think it's important that we explain. What it is and is not. So oftentimes when we say learner variability, a lot of teachers and educators automatically go to learning styles or preferences. We want to say really quickly, this is not what that is.

learning styles is like your kin, aesthetic, auditory, et cetera, et cetera. But what we're doing here is we actually wanna look at the whole student. We're not looking to silo them into just one little style. We're actually looking at whole student and classroom strategies we can use to reach our students.

[00:01:52] Rachel: and kind of going on that too, it's like variability is is the key in that the word variability means that. , [00:02:02] Each learner is not going to have the same needs every single minute of every single day. It's going to change and fluctuate depending on what else is going on in their life, what else is, you know, affecting their ability to learn.

And so, thinking about learner variability is actually much more sort of, I don't know, I feel like it's more holistic, more. In tune with what our students need and what kind of barriers they're facing in the classroom. Then learning styles, cuz learning styles tends to silo students into boxes and that is not what we wanna do.

[00:02:39] Katie: no, not at all. And so for anybody who's interested there's actually like this workspace or work center that you can create through Digital Promise. And what it has you do is it kind of breaks up content area into like some very general areas. But you can choose a content area. input your email address so it saves it.

And then what it does is it just has you [00:03:02] go through and think of a few of your students, what are some factors that you know about your students, and then it comes up with some strategies. So this website is amazing. We will be sure to link that in along with that workspace link. Just to kind of help you get started.

[00:03:17] Rachel: So I think one of the first things I wanna kind of talk about with learner variability is that the learner variability itself. So the four factors are content, cognition, social emotional learning, and student background.

 when you, when you look at any of the resources, they are broken down into kind of form main categories of factors that affect the So those content factors are the ones that are related to your curriculum, obviously. Right? So for like literacy could be things like decoding, foundational writing skills, vocabulary, those sort of things. For math, it's maybe arithmetic, fact retrieval, mathematical flexibility. , those sort of pieces.

Cognition is more about like [00:04:02] the brain, so attention, cognitive flexibility, working memory those sort of things. And then social emotional learning is, I think that one's kind of self-explanatory, but looking at our emotions and how they affect our ability to learn our motivation. And finally like the student background.

So factors like their home learning environment, their sleep, their socioeconomic status. So it really is like taking the learner and looking at them at a whole.

[00:04:31] Katie: Yeah, and I think that's, you know, particularly important because our classrooms are not the same as they were 20, 25 years ago. We have students coming from all around the world from a very wide range of lived experiences. I know right now in my classroom, I have a lot more students coming from areas of the world that are in war.

So for me it's particularly important because, you know, we talk about how our learners can be ready to learn in a classroom when they're thinking [00:05:02] about family back home. Or the home that they no longer have, or the friends that they've been separated from, and perhaps they're not even here with all of their family, so maybe one parent is still back home.

This is going to impact their ability to learn your content. And we need to keep these things in mind because we want to be able to educate all of our student.

[00:05:21] Rachel: And learner variability is kind of at that center of universal design for learning. So I'm kind of, I'm just taking a look here at what every UDL practitioner believes what the framework is set on. And I really like this, so I wanna read this. It says, number one, variability is the rule, not the exception.

So learners might need to learn in different ways using different materials to reach their the same goals. Two. All students can work towards the same firm goals and grade level standards when provided with conditions of nurture and adequate support. And three, all learners can become expert learners if barriers are removed.

[00:06:00] Katie: Yeah. And I think that's,[00:06:02] you know, that's what makes UDL and this learner variability, such a promising model and, and, and promising kind of information for, for teachers to seek out and learn more about.

[00:06:13] Rachel: and I really think like this is where the foundation of UDL comes from. So we can't really talk about all of the other pieces of the framework of UDL before we really fully understand and embrace learner variability.

[00:06:28] Katie: And to be honest, this also makes me think a lot about C R R P. And, and how connected everything is. And, and I know we've said before that a lot of times UDL and C R P are so finally connected that if you're doing one, you're kind of doing the other as well, because it's all about whole student, a sense of belonging, seeing yourself in the classroom, and seeing, you know, different ways of learning that meet your needs.

[00:06:52] Rachel: Yeah, and there is an initiative right now it's called UDL Rising to Equity Initiative, and they are working on rewriting the framework [00:07:02] for UDL with the C R P lens to it. So I'm really looking forward to that coming out because you're right, they, they are very married to each other in terms of what they do, and so I think that's gonna be a really nice.

Iteration of the current framework that we have

[00:07:20] Katie: I agree. That's amazing.

[00:07:22] Rachel: soon. It's coming soon, hopefully.

[00:07:25] Katie: Yep. we'll let you know when it does. Oh. Finally get released.

[00:07:28] Rachel: So why don't we dive into each of those main categories and like, let's talk a little bit more about each one. Cuz I think it's important to understand not only what they are, but then also what sort of barriers might exist and how you can start thinking about how you can bring down, like either eliminate or minimize those barriers for your student.

[00:07:51] Katie: So the neat part about this model is that if you were to choose a factor, so it doesn't really matter where you start, just choose one. So for example, I could look at one [00:08:02] factor of student background and perhaps it's going to be safety. If I were to use this website and hover on safety, It actually shows me a whole lot of different factors that research has indicated are impacted by a student's sense of safety.

So it could be physical wellbeing, sleep, social supports, sense of belonging, emotion, because all of these are very closely tied to that sense of safety and how a student feels. So there are lots of other things. that are impacted by that one factor alone. And it could be cognitive, it could be literacy related, math related, et cetera.

Social, emotional, and student background. So everything is so closely tied.

[00:08:47] Rachel: Yeah, I really like this learner variability navigator from Digital Promise. It is so fantastic. And what's kind of neat too is, you know, if you hover over say safety and you take a look, it's got the four sort of main [00:09:02] pillars that we're looking at in terms of the factors that .

Contribute to learner variability. But if you hover over safety, it also then highlights all of the other ones that could be interconnected with that. So when I hover over safety, like adverse experiences are highlighted physical wellbeings highlighted, and you could see how those things would be tied together or sleep or sense of belonging in the social emotional learning.

even working memory, like if you're not feeling safe, then your working memory could be affected because your brain is kind of in that survival mode, right? And, and not being able to focus on, on the work that you're doing. And so I really like those interconnections. It's really neat, like as you kind of hover over each one, that it's highlighting all of the other different ones that are related to it 

[00:09:55] Katie: Yeah. And it is research based, so it's not like they've just kind of willing ni made decisions about these connections. A [00:10:02] lot of research has been put into looking how these factors are connected to one another and how they impact student learning

From there. Like, so one of the things I did. Was I actually created a workspace and I put in a few factors and followed their prompts. What I love about this is that it then kind of gives you some suggested strategies on how you can reach these students, and there's strategies that I can actually take into my classroom and it's, I, I kind of love it.

So I put in thinking about some of my English language learners in. Lived experiences in their previous countries or experiences here in Canada. And like it talks about collaborative writing as a strategy to reach. It talks about book clubs. It talks about making vocab accessible. And I teach English language learners.

It's bang on, right, audiobooks because maybe their literacy in English isn't up there. So the use of that, like they [00:11:02] really do give you specific instructional strategies that you may already be doing. But if not, try something out.

[00:11:11] Rachel: Yeah, and when you click on any of those strategies too, that gives you a lot more information as well. So, you know, I just came across equitable grading as a strategy and I'm like, Ooh, let's click on that one to see what it is, and kind of gives you a little bit of an overview of what it is. It gives you classroom examples.

There's even an ed tech example in here. There's additional resources and then it also connects back to supporting factors. And so again, you're seeing those connections between the factors because none of these work in isolation.

[00:11:46] Katie: No,

[00:11:47] Rachel: And trans languaging, which I don't even know what that is.

[00:11:52] Katie: It's using a variety of languages in 

[00:11:54] Rachel: Ah, I, I never knew that that's what the term was, but yeah, it's, it's, it's really kind of interesting to see [00:12:02] what these connections are between different finally at the bottom, like there's even more culturally responsive strategies.

So if you click on a strategy and you're like, Yes, I, I really like that one, it actually links back then to all of the other strategies that are related. So for equitable grading, for example, building empathy in there, developing your cultural awareness, family engagement. Student led conferences different factors and then the strategies as well. And so you, you can explore all the factors, You can explore all the strategies like it, It's almost a little overwhelming in terms of the information in there, but if you kind of narrow down your search in terms of like what you really wanna target, then that's gonna help you find some of those strategies.

[00:12:49] Katie: And it also like gives you videos and, and additional resources that you can use, which I actually kind of love. Sometimes I'm like, Okay, so yeah, I need to, you know, explicitly teach vocab what are some ways I can do it. And it's nice to see [00:13:02] how other people do it. So like I love it, like there's so much there for examples videos that you can watch and kind of listen to and see how it works.

This is a very powerful website.

[00:13:12] Rachel: And there's things as well, like if, for example, sometimes motivation can be like a huge struggle in a classroom for your students. So I'm just kind of looking at the motivation one here right now and talks a lot about what it is. And then some of those strategies, like the strategies are great in terms of building in.

Some of those motivational skills. So it gives you a lot of options to, and, and a lot of power, I think, to go, okay, well I have learners who are experiencing barriers in this certain area. How can I support them? And you don't have to then reinvent the wheel. You can go to this website, click on one and go explore all of the different strategies and see, you know, what's gonna work for [00:14:02] you and, and student.

[00:14:04] Katie: and even the motivation. So I actually have a student right now that is struggling with motivation. And I know there's a lot to unpack with that because of their, their life and, and things they've experienced, but it even like says , when you click on the motivation and it kind of describes it and explains it better, it, it even stresses that there are other important concepts that impact motivation.

And it's important that we don't just say motivation. Oh, they just don't wanna learn it. Why? What is the reason behind it, and can we unpack that with that student so that we can actually get through to that? And I love that it does that because oftentimes we're just like, Oh, they're not motivated.

Piece out, yo, I'm done. But it it, we can't do that. We need to figure out why. And I like that.

[00:14:47] Rachel: Yeah, no, it's really cool because it, Yeah, I'm looking at this too. So it's, it's breaking down important concepts that impact motivation includes self-efficacy, so their confidence in their ability, if they're not confident, Yeah. Maybe the [00:15:02] motivation's not there, and that, that makes a lot of sense. Their interest or value in what we're doing, their goals, like their reasons for wanting to do that task, and then also their self-regulation.

So maybe their motivation is not even coming from a place of them being motivated or not, but are they able to organize and manage their thinking, their behavior, their emotions, in order to be able to do the task that you've given them?

[00:15:27] Katie: And like when we say interest and value, it's also interest and value to their life.

And so what we are asking them, do they see the purpose of it? And do they see, how it incorporates into their long-term goals as well. And I guess that kind of goes with goals, but I think it's important that we make sure that students see that connection and that reason why we're doing things.

Because they sometimes need.

[00:15:50] Rachel: I'm of course, like super interested in all the cognition ones and so I, I have a lot of fun clicking on those and reading about those cuz you know, it's uh, I, I love the brain science and the learning [00:16:02] sciences kind of side of things.

[00:16:03] Katie: I am obviously more of a student background because I teach English language learners, and so I always wanna kind of think about how their lives are impacting their ability to learn and how I can support them. . But I think it's so fascinating because even within program areas or areas of the school, you can see how one factor might be more prominent, at least at first, especially as they're first arriving to a school than others, and it's really getting to know your students.

So we talk community building all the time. Like this is that next step. Like what do you really know about? what do you know about their lives? Have you created that trusting relationship where they can actually share some of this? It's, it's fascinating.

[00:16:42] Rachel: Yeah, and I think that's like, that's key in order to be able to use a tool like this and to be able to use it for designing your learning experiences in your classroom. Because if you don't know your learners, you won't really know kind of what things you wanna target.

[00:17:00] Katie: And it's also being [00:17:02] open. I'm doing this professional development opportunity, which is more of like a self development, I would think, but we're reading the text and being white supremacy by Lela sad. And um, it's really making me think about my actions and the things I say and do and how perhaps my privilege and, and my white privilege specifically could impact others.

And so I've been trying to reflect on what are some things that I say or do that maybe are making me less approachable to students. That are not white, cuz I teach multilingual learners from all around the world. Like I, I have these kids in my classroom and how am I unintentionally causing harm or shutting down that trust at times because I know I probably do it unintentionally, but it's, it's this awareness and being open and.

not just pushing my values and the way I live my life and the culture of North America onto [00:18:02] my students. It's probably a little bit off topic, but I, I've become so much more aware of the things I do in say, and I wanna make sure I'm open to celebrate who they.

[00:18:12] Rachel: Yeah. And learner variability really does celebrate 

the student for who they are.

[00:18:16] Katie: It's very interesting. It's very, everything is so connected. It's, it's kind 

of intriguing.

[00:18:22] Rachel: I guess my, my big advice then, if you're using a tool like this or you're, you're wanting to start to incorporate the idea of learner variability in your planning and your thinking is to maybe focus on just one of these pillars or, or one of these sort of areas where you're noticing that maybe you have a lot of students that are struggling with one particular. and that, That's kind of then a great place to explore, to explore the factor, to like learn a little bit deeper about how it might be affecting your students, how it might be creating barriers to their learning, and also then some strategies [00:19:02] that you could try in your classroom that will not only benefit those students but will benefit all of your student.

[00:19:09] Katie: And it's also just a good way to like hover over, like even if it's a literacy thing, and see what else is connected because then it gives you that next step of what are some questions I can ask? Like how can I follow up with this student to figure out how I can support them? And then, Being able to then go back to them and say, Hey, I've noticed this in your writing or your reading skills.

Let's chat. What's going on? And, and then it's that opening of, so there's a whole bunch of other things that are connected to this. Which ones impact my student and how can I use that to support.

[00:19:42] Rachel: I think one of the other things I kind of wanna, I like, we, we sort of mentioned it at the beginning, but I really, really wanna touch on this again, is that you might have a student who. You know, one day is maybe struggling in one of these areas, but another day is not. And I think that's really sort of key when you're thinking about your [00:20:02] student in your classroom is that the variability can change from day to day, and that's why it's called learner variability and not anything else.

So for example, Maybe you have a student who usually likes to read text out of a book, but maybe something's happened that particular night. Maybe they didn't get enough sleep. And so that's gonna affect their ability to be able to focus and read that text. So maybe that day their preference might be for an audio book or it might be for watching a video or something about that particular topic.

I. I think it's just, it's really kind of key to think about that your students are not siloed into these little silos that that variability is going to change. It's gonna ebb and flow depending on what else is going on at home in their learning environment, in their lives.

[00:20:58] Katie: And a lot of these strategies and these, these [00:21:02] things that we can incorporate into our classroom are also gonna move that along because if they don't have a sense of belonging and now all of a sudden they feel like they do belong in your classroom, you've now eliminated that factor as something that is negatively impacting their ability to learn.

So it's, kind of looking to see how we can support them. Long term and different strategies that we can continue to use so that we're reaching kids, even if we're not sure, like maybe like we're not gonna know everything about students and so maybe there's something going on at home and they're not sharing it.

These strategies are still gonna help them. So it's just that idea of what are some things that we can intentionally do in our classroom that. Should our students be experiencing this is still going to help them feel safe and able to learn.

It's really just good practice.

[00:21:52] Rachel: Yes. It really is just good practice and it can feel pretty overwhelming I think so I think it's like, keep that in mind too, that you do wanna incorporate some [00:22:02] of these strategies, but you, you don't need to do it all

[00:22:05] Katie: no, no, no, 

[00:22:05] Rachel: like that. That's not what we're saying here.

[00:22:08] Katie: No, choose one. Try it out, see how it goes, and then as you're feeling more comfortable, if you wanna try something else, go for it. Like you don't have to do them all. That would be very overwhelming. I know,

[00:22:19] Rachel: And impossible

[00:22:20] Katie: it's impossible. Yeah, they, they honestly, they give you such a huge range of strategies and it's, I think they do.

It's that you can say, Okay, what works for my classroom and what is something that I have the ability to kind of, implement.

[00:22:33] Rachel: Yeah. And it's, it's really just about developing that mindset, right? And that awareness of, Oh, okay, like Johnny is maybe, you know, struggling in this one area or on one particular day, like, how can I support him? And so just kind of thinking that we need to be flexible in our approaches, I 

guess is, is kind of where I'm going.

[00:22:55] Katie: think that's what this model is all about.

So as you explore this website and as you think about your [00:23:02] classrooms, just, you know, keep in mind that all of our students are different, and just try your best to reach them where they're at and support them with whatever lives look like in and out of the c.

[00:23:13] Rachel: Yeah, and so on that note, we'll wrap up our conversation here today and we'll include any of the links or resources we talked about here today in our show notes. You can access our show notes for this episode@edgygals.com slash 1 0 5. That's edu G A l s.com/ 1 0 5.

[00:23:33] Katie: And if you like what you heard today, then feel free to share this with a colleague or a friend. And don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don't miss out on any future content.

[00:23:43] Rachel: And as always, we love hearing from you. So if you've got any feedback for us, if you have any topics or suggestions that you would love to see on the podcast, feel free to go onto our flip edu gals.com/flipgrid. And. A video message there, or you can go onto our website@edugals.com and leave [00:24:02] us a written response.

[00:24:03] Katie: Thanks for listening and see you next week.