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Universal Design for Learning: Needed by Some, but Beneficial to All (2 of 2)

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Dr. Jim Patton from the Department of Special Education tells us how a Universal Design for Learning approach leads him to leverage teaching strategies that can accommodate the special needs of some students, but these same strategies can be useful to other learners.  Using specific examples taken from his large-format Applied Learning and Development course, Dr. Patton groups these techniques into three categories – access, expression, and engagement.
(Part 2 of 2)

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Karen French: Today we return for the second half of my conversation with Dr. Jim Patton. I’m Karen French and this is Learning From Texas Education Innovators.

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Jim Patton: In terms of engagement, let me just say some things I do. There’s a couple of things that I wanted to talk about, number one is I do a lot of group responding and I use Poll Everywhere, currently through, you know this office has helped me get that established.

Karen: That’s the classroom response system that they can use on their phones or their computers.

Jim: Yes and it’s so wonderful, it really is good. But I also, sometimes even I’ll mix it up, I also, in a smaller class I have little whiteboards and I mean it’s old school, but it still works.

Karen: If it works, why not?

Jim: It does. And I can do some things with that, too, that are fine. And so I’ll do the whiteboards in a small– I only have 30, so it has to be a class with 30, but it’s the same idea. I want group responding, but I also, what’s nice is that the whole idea of what I– the reason I thought it was good teaching is I think you want to keep students engaged and it gives me a chance to do that. And it also allows me to control processing, too, which is, you know, when I say by processing what I’ll do is I’ll often as a question– and I tend to do this a little bit more in some of my smaller classes. I’ll ask a question and then I’ll put my hand up and that means I don’t want anybody to respond until my hand goes down. Now this is something I used to use, you know when I was a special ed teacher as well, but the whole idea of it is I want to give students processing time. This doesn’t hurt the student that knows the answer right away.

Karen: I love that idea.

Jim: The idea is to, that I want engagement so everybody has to respond but I also want to make sure that everybody has a chance to have thought through the question well enough.

Karen: Rather than the fastest kid having their answer out there first.

Jim: Yeah and the fastest kid isn’t– I don’t find them inhibited greatly by the fact that they have to wait a couple seconds.

Karen: Right.

Jim: And they’ll get their chance to respond, too, but some students really do need to process the question and formulate an answer and I want to make sure everybody has a chance to do that. But I like the group responding because, you know, lot of times in a larger class you’re going to get certain people that respond pretty regularly and some that don’t. I don’t point people out in any way, but I do like group responding a lot and that’s why a Poll Everywhere works nicely, too, yeah.

Karen: Do you see a difference between the electronic responses and the whiteboards? Or is it the same?

Jim: I would say, well I guess there are ways, I may not be sophisticated enough to do it. On Poll Everywhere I’m not guaranteed that everybody has done it, well I can watch numbers, right? But I can’t tell who’s doing it, exactly, I’m not monitoring that. When I do whiteboards, I know who’s doing it and everybody is.

Karen: Okay, everybody sees the boards go up.

Jim: So I basically have more of a monitoring, a visual, visceral monitoring process with the whiteboards, but I do like Poll Everywhere and I use it in every class.

Karen: Okay, yeah well its size and context. We’ll com e back to that.

Jim: Yeah, exactly. So those are some things and then we do in-class activities all the time which is just another way of kind of engaging students. There’s something else I wanted to say in terms of engagement and that is note taking services. One of the most common accommodations that students need here at UT are note taking. Now in the old days when I first came here, UT, I think it was in the earlier days, we used to actually pay for “professional note takers.”

Karen: Really?

Jim: Yeah, our office would actually provide, a note taker would come to class and they were paid by the University in some sense to take notes and those notes were then given to the person that needed them. I don’t exactly know when that changed, but that is no longer. Now students who need note taking are encouraged, I mean their encouraged to kind of try to find their own note taker, but they do, the instructor needs to help them find a note taker. Well when that, because that accommodation has been so common, I just…

Jim: So I try to get two or three and they’re volunteers. Now, all I can guarantee, you know I make a big play that I’ll take you on some fancy trip, but when it really comes down to it, basically I take them to lunch at the end of the semester, I write a letter to them thanking them for what their service is, and that’s about it. So I do pay a little bit for their services, but what they do– now, their note taking services are extremely helpful for the folks that need them.

Karen: Right.

Jim: But they’re helpful to everybody.

Karen: Right!

Jim: Now, the only– and so I make them, I truthfully make them available to anybody in class, but I do make them, they have to jump through a little hoop. For the students that don’t have the letter from SSD office, those students just have to request it. Now they could have– there’s a lot of students, I have student athletes in the class who miss class because of events, there’s other students that have other kinds of things that require them not to be there. You always want to make sure that they have access to notes, well now I’ve got them. Some people, this is where not everybody is going to be on board, but– because I think if you do screencasts, like I said, and you provide notes some folks would say, “Well there’s no incentive for somebody to go to class.” And so I think that argument could be made, but I just don’t have that as an issue because I have enough other incentives in the class, in-class activities, other things they have to do they have to be in class to do it, they get points for doing it. So there’s a little bit of a, kind of a system for them to be here. And I’d like to think the class is useful enough and I think they realize there’s things that happen in class that they’re going to be tested on that is another incentive.
So the point is I have volunteer note takers and I usually, as I said, have two or three and that’s a really, really great great piece. Now the reason that’s also helpful is that there’s some students here at UT that should never take a note in their life.

Karen: That should never take a note in their life?

Jim: Should never take a note. The amount of time, they can’t focus well enough on what’s being said than the time it takes to process what’s being said and then get it on paper, they’ve lost all sorts of things that have gone on in between. They’re best thing is to just listen.

Karen: Just listen.

Jim: So if they have somebody that’s giving them notes, I think that’s great.

Karen: Right so they can focus on what they need to.

Jim: So, anyway, I put it as engagement because I think it’s a way for them to engage what’s going on and they don’t have to worry. I, you know, I have a system for teaching notes, I mean I can teach note taking and I think it’s good for people to know how, but I do think there’s some that should never take one. But for those, I have this system because we know some students have real trouble with that. But I’ve built it in so that others can benefit from this as well.

Karen: Exactly.

Jim: So that’s the engagement part, so now the other one is expression.

Jim: On expression, so this is the ability to show what they know, right? So in this particular class I do three, I call them knowledge assessments, I don’t call them tests, I don’t call them… I just call them knowledge assessments. And I do three of them. Each one of those can be taken in one of three formats, they can choose. The default option is multiple choice, but they can also choose to take a short answer written or they can choose oral. And so they have three– and everybody, that’s available to everyone and that has, I think that has been a really useful tool. Now I will be honest with you, I hope not everybody chooses oral because if I’ve got 80 people that’s a lot of time, but at first people are not inclined to do oral unless someone really knows that that may be their real strength. This is built on strength or may avoiding a deficit, but it’s built on strength and I think there’s some folks that can show me that they’ve learned, they’ve acquired information and they can express it in a way that best fits their needs. So…

Karen: So do you have some that actually do the oral?

Jim: Oh yeah, yeah. Not very many, I’ll tell you to be honest with you, not many first time out. On second and third time, I will definitely have some and sometimes I can’t– I do not force anybody into a format, but I will encourage. (laughs) I just think for some folks this is a better way to go, but they have a choice. So every knowledge assessment there’s three formats. Now, it does take a little more of my time, meaning I’ll have to set up, but the orals go pretty quickly and so it’s just not a big deal and I just feel it’s useful. Another part of this kind of expression piece is that I have a whole set of post-test procedures. When I was a student as an undergraduate, I’d take multiple choice tests and I felt like my answer had merit– this was back in the day where, first of all they’d publish your name and the score on the boards.

Karen: Yep.

Jim: This is a long time ago. And they’d also, they’d put the test on a bulletin board and have the answers. And I just thought sometimes my answer was as good as the one that was there, but you had no recourse. So I’ve, I decided I’m going to give students a chance to argue their answers. Now here’s the thing, so what they have to do is, first of all they have to do what I call kind of a post-mortem, they have to kind of look, they have to go and look at their test. Then what they do is if they feel like their– they can argue one of their answers. Phase 1 is they have to write that up, they have to write it up.

Karen: Write their argument.

Jim: I look at it and I make a decision whether their response is worthy. And occasionally, it’s not a high hit thing, but there are students that are able to show me why they chose the answer they did, I still have to kind of balance it off, I still think mine’s better, but the thing is, but I will sometimes give credit for another way of looking at that or why they got there. Or I might not have seen how they could get to that point because that’s not the way I was thinking when I wrote the question.
So I give them that opportunity, now I give that back to them, if they’re not happy then we spar. Then they can come in and we’ll have a, we’ll verbally discuss it but it really, I think students love the idea that– particularly when they’re taking a test and that they’ve narrowed it down, a multiple choice question to two and they can’t quite figure out which one and they’re worried about it, they’ve got basically a due process procedure here where they can go and they can take their best shot. We give them paper while they’re taking their test that they can write down why they chose what they did, we collect those things.

Karen: Right.

Jim: And we give it back to them when they’re looking at their test results, but the point is that they now know that they have a chance to be able to argue an answer and if they– and some of them have some really good takes that, hey, I give them credit for. I can see why you went with that, but you’ve got to– it’s got to be a reasoned response and it has to be in writing the first time, you know. I don’t really get to face too very often, it’s very seldom that somebody will come in and verbally, they usually are good after phase one.

So I do that, the other thing, in this class I do something every semester called an individual project and the whole idea is I try to differentiate because I have teachers that elementary oriented, I’ve got teachers that are secondary, there’s differences between those teachers and then I have non-teachers. So I have a whole lot of, there’s a lot of choice on what people can choose to do in the class and I think that also goes with UDL where, if you look at the literature on it, it’s a lot about giving people choices and so I try to build that in as well for students.
And then I do one other thing, well last thing I’ll say and then you can maybe come back and ask the other questions that you may have is that I’ve started this, and this is just because I’m, you know, reading up on iGen students and etc., I now, in a three hour class I have, I build in what I call text checks. So that, I set my alarm and when my alarm goes off– class starts at 5 and the alarm goes off at 6, at 6 o’clock I stop whatever I’m doing or whoever’s there in the class if they’re, even if there’s a guest speaker and I give everybody one minute to check their text messages. And then we go right back into it and then they have a break and then we do it again, so they get three chances through this class to check their phones. We know that there’s an addiction to these, the social media.

Karen: Right.

Jim: So you can fight it by saying, “You can’t look at your phones at all until the break.”

Karen: Correct.

Jim: I have chosen not to fight it, I’ve just chosen to, “Hey, I get it, I think I can hold off on my social media issues,” but, you know there’s folks there that they really need to look and now, it doesn’t completely eliminate it and I can pull those folks aside and say, “You know am I not giving you enough time?” But the amount of folks that do not check their phones has been reduced greatly in the class.

Karen: And that’s in a three hour class?

Jim: Yeah.

Karen: What about your shorter classes?

Jim: Don’t do it, if I have a class that’s an hour and fifteen minutes I don’t do. No, no, take that back, I have. I do a 30 second one. I just do it–

Karen: A 30 second check?

Jim: Yeah, I just–

Karen: And that reduces?

Jim: It does, it does, yeah, it does. Now I think for an hour and fifteen minutes most of the time they can manage that, but…

Karen: But you’re channeling it in a different way because most people, from what I hear is they fight it.

Jim: Yeah I think they do, they’ll hide it and you can kind of tell.

Karen: Because the professor’s trying to control it and you see the light on their glasses.

Jim: Yeah, right, there’s a lot of things you can tell. I just, so I’ve decided, “Well let me just, I understand their needs, let’s just built that in.” I don’t give up that much class time in doing this. And a lot of times I can, well it doesn’t always work, but it could be also as I’m transitioning from one activity to another.

Karen: Right, you’ve built it into your transition.

Jim: So just as I’m transitioning from showing that video to something else, it’s perfect, you know?

Karen: Well it seems like a lot of what you’re approach is, what you’re describing is maximizing their strengths and making the most of channeling places where there might be a weak spot for them.

Jim: Yeah.

Karen: Everything that you’ve just described has been, “How do we make the most of what you can do? And if you’ve got a place where you’re not good at something, let’s move that into something that you can do.” Even down to the text messages. It’s fascinating.

Jim: Well I think that is true, I think that’s the idea is– well first of all they’re adults so I want to treat them as adults and yet I know some of them still are, you know, they still have some challenges that, well they’re going to wrestle with even into adulthood, later adulthood as well. And some of them are real significant challenges when you’re in an institution like the University of Texas and so I just think that my idea of UDL is that, I think as I’ve shared some of the stuff, I think some of it just as I think, I just think that’s what good teachers should be doing.
But on the other hand, I think some of the things that I’ve done are, like the volunteer note taker that is promulgated by the fact that some people really need that but it can be really helpful to others as well. So the idea is just, why not? And those are easy to build in, they are for the most part. I’d say the thing that I do that’s the most time consuming would be the screencasts and even that’s not, I try to– that’s usually no more than five to seven minutes and it’s a one take so it’s really not bad. I’ll tell you what it, on the screencast, I do have to cut down my slides, so there’s a little bit of a prep work before I do the screencast.

Karen: Okay.

Jim: So there is a little bit of prep on that, so, but it’s still not an overwhelming thing, but I could see where somebody says, “Well, I don’t think I need to do that.” But I just think that’s a really valuable piece. So a lot of these elements are not necessarily things that everybody would want to do or would do, I just think that they benefit students and that’s… I want them to be successful and I want them to leave the class with some new knowledge and some new attitudes and a way of thinking and that they feel like they’ve been treated fairly, too.

Karen: So I guess that brings up my next question, do you think every professor can use UDL? Is it a one size fits all? How does it, so if you made a recommendation for everyone else teaching the class, what would your recommendation be? Can everybody use it?

Jim: If you leave it as, Can everybody use it? The answer is yes. Would everybody want to use it the way I do? No. And I don’t know that they need to, but I think all the things I do could be done in other classes. I mean we would have to think about it a little bit and I, here’s the other thing, I think there’s some other practices that people do that I don’t use that are probably worth, very worthwhile knowing about as well. And that’s why I think, you know, having forums where people who kind of have embraced the UDL idea that share what they do. When I’ve gone to those they’re marvelous because you hear of other things that people are doing that, to me, would fall under the umbrella of UDL.

Karen: And you also seem to be really good at, sort of, shifting around like the way you teach this semester is different than you taught three semesters ago, will be different than you teach two semesters from now, it sort of shifts around depending on where you think the students are.

Jim: Yeah. Well it shifts, well and another– well like and for instance, there’s something I’ve added, I don’t know that this is a UDL, I don’t know that this is really UDL, this is more in reaction to iGen kind of group of students.

Jim: I now do office hours at like 10 o’clock at night online.

Karen: Nice, oh that’s the Zoom that you do!

Jim: That’s the Zoom, I use Zoom.

Karen: Zoom video conference at 10.

Jim: I do it at 10.

Karen: Okay.

Jim: Now there’s people that go to bed at 8:30, so this doesn’t, you know, and I mean faculty members or whatever and that’s wonderful, that’s great. I now try to go to bed at 11 to get my seven hours, at least seven hours, but from 10-10:30, I’m still working on stuff a little bit and so I will, I don’t do it every night, but I do it once a week, I’ll have office hours at 10 because a lot of times that’s when students are actually engaging stuff.

Karen: Okay.

Jim: They’re not doing it at 7:30 in the evenings. They’re with organizations, they’re doing other things, they start– a lot of these students aren’t studying until 9:30, 10, or whatever, that’s when sometimes they have questions. And I just started it for the first time this semester, but it goes back to your point of, every semester I probably incorporate some new dimension that I’ve learned about or either you guys have put me onto or got me going or I’ve heard from other ones. I do, constantly, try to engage new elements.

Karen: Always trying to meet them where they’re at, aren’t you?

Jim: Well I try to understand, I think it’s real important that we understand our clientele, that’s what started this all off is that I’ve had students with disabilities and to understand that clientele, I needed to know what their needs are, what their accommodations. SSD has, over the years been able to help me understand what those are. (laughs)

Karen: Right.

Jim: Although I kind of understood them from my early days as being a special-ed teacher, but…

Karen: Exactly.

Jim: And then I just started trying to address those naturally, not, “Okay, well alright, you need extended time on a test.” But see, and I didn’t say it before, I give everybody in my class extended time. This is one of those factors, there’s some caveats. For instance, the class I teach goes from 5 to 8, I teach it in UTC, there is almost never– I can’t say it’s always, almost always there’s no one coming in after class, meaning using that room.

Jim: It’s very easy for me to do extended time on tests for a student that needs that has the mandate for it, or anybody in class because no one’s pushing us out. If you’re teaching during the middle of the day, in a building where there’s turnover and the bell rings, you’re going to have to think through extended time differently. You may have to use the services of SSD or I realize there’s some logistical issues sometimes in some of these things that could be problematic for some faculty in some places. But I think the element that the question you asked me, can elements of UDL be put into every class, I think they can.

Karen: Are there other caveats that you can think of?

Jim: Well the, you know, sometimes the size of the class can be, or how often you meet, like I mentioned, I may have mentioned to you before, sometimes if you’ve got a class that’s meeting three times a week, that’s a lot of screencasts.

Karen: Okay.

Jim: So maybe I don’t do, you know, or if you meet twice a week, maybe I don’t do 28, maybe I still do 14, I do one for the week or, you know, there’s different ways to get around it. So, you know, because screencasts do take a little time, so you know if you meet once a week it’s not quite as overwhelming. If you meet multiple times a week, that’s a lot of screencasts, so maybe–

Karen: So you’re not killing yourself to teach this class.

Jim: Yeah and I think you have to find a balance because we know there’s a lot going on, but once you start doing it– I mean another thing I didn’t mention before is I, and this is not really a new idea, I do a study guide for the textbook that we use. And the study guide is primarily just to help them. Alright, in a book that I use, in any chapter, there might be 20 tables or figures in there, not all of them are as important as some.

Karen: Right.

Jim: And so I’ll just tell them, “Here are the ones you need to really look at.” (laughs)

Karen: Yeah.

Jim: “Look at the others if you want to, but I’m not going to mess with those much, read the text, but yeah, but these are the tables and figures of the ones you want to focus on.” That helps for a student that’s overwhelmed by a textbook and we guide them. That’s helpful just to narrow that down, but it’s helpful to everybody kind of thing.

Karen: Exactly.

Jim: So I guess that’s– but yeah, it takes me a little while to create the study guide because it’s a personalized study guide for my class and that book. But once I’ve done it, as long as I don’t change adoptions and that book doesn’t get revised, which they do, you know, every couple of years–

Karen: I was just going to say, that’ll last you every two semesters maybe.

Jim: It’ll work for a couple years, you know? I don’t have to make changes to anything, so…

Karen: It takes a lot of energy to teach like that, but you seem like you really love it.

Jim: Well I think there’s some of us that enjoy the challenge of doing these things and I know that not all the time– I was trying to think, have I tried something that hasn’t worked well?

Karen: Yeah.

Jim: I’m sure I have, I can’t quite remember, probably because if it didn’t work well, I didn’t stay with it long so I don’t remember.

Karen: I seem to remember the first time you tried– what was it? We tried a couple years ago, you tried it for about a week and then you were like, “That’s really nice, we’ll try that again sometime.”

Jim: Yeah, there are some things that I have tried… Oh yeah, yeah, there are probably some things, like I have not been able– I really think like, PlayPosit has some real possibilities and I haven’t, I just haven’t been able to master that quite yet. So, and part of that is just my not getting enough time to do it. I will say that I think on one of the things that, I was trying to think, oh on the screencast. When I first started doing it, if I screwed up, I’d stop and do it again.

Karen: Right.

Jim: No more. It’s one. If there’s an interruption, the phone rings or somebody comes in, that’s, I just say, “I’m so sorry.” I deal with that and then we get back to it, it’s still running, I just do one take. Back in the days when I was videotaping those things, I’d have a cat jump up on the desk, it doesn’t matter, we’ll just keep going. One take, because I don’t have time to do multiple takes and these are not professionally done, but I want to have a good mic, I want to make sure that the video works and that there’s a good mic that they can hear my comments.

Karen: They can hear you.

Jim: Yeah. On the test rebuttal stuff, meaning that a student can argue their answer, at first I handled that just as a verbal, they could come in and talk to me. Having them write, doing it as a writing phase one, basically eliminates that kind of verbal–

Karen: Yes.

Jim: I’m not opposed to it, but it’s not necessary.

Karen: Right, right.

Jim: Because the folks that really have a good argument, they usually can put it in writing and if they can’t, they won’t be happy with the way I probably responded and then they come in and see me verbally anyway. But it just, that has cut down on that. So I’ve learned some things, I’ve made changes to some of these UDL practices.

Karen: That sounds great. Is there anything we haven’t covered?

Jim: You know I know that there’s some really good resources that people may want to get and I know you guys are usually pretty good about providing some links and things.

Karen: Yeah we’ll put the links to the resources that you have on the website.

Jim: And I’d be happy, you know, if somebody ever wanted to ask me about some of these things, I’d be happy to tell them.

Karen: Your invoice on the website, too?

Jim: Yeah, that’ll be there and I think most of it is pretty straightforward. I didn’t get to everything we do, but I think I got to some of the ones I thought would be more interesting.

Karen: Thank you for the time today, I appreciate it.

Jim: You’re welcome, Karen, thanks for asking me.

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