Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What do Katie Novak and Universal Design for Learning have to do with Mindsets and Personalized Learning?

Often large scale professional development sessions can seem arbitrary and disconnected from the building-based or classroom-level work at hand. The truth is that conceptually there usually is alignment, but often the connections are less evident to participants and the purpose can remain unclear. This brief overview is an effort to improve the experience of all participants for our September 4th inservice by showing the connections between the various “initiatives” underway and why we believe Katie’s presentation will be a good fit.
With the passing of ACT 77 our WWSU schools must redefine teaching and learning to include the components emphasized by the new law.

  • Flexible Pathways to Graduation
  • Personalization
  • Work-based Learning
  • Virtual-blended Learning
  • Dual Enrollment 
  • Early College
At the heart of the legislation is a belief that all students must reap the maximum benefits of their educational experience to prepare them for the 21st Century expectations of college or career. As such, we asked all WWSU faculty and staff to read the book “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck over the summer. Dweck’s work emphasizes how we must empower students with a growth mindset so as to maximize their potential and help students respond more productively to setbacks. Like a solid foundation of a house- these fundamental beliefs and principles will be an important underpinning to the transformed school system we are working collaboratively to create.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offers us high quality “building materials” and “tools in the tool belt” as we remodel our structure. Planning for student learning to occur in a classroom where individualization/personalization is emphasized is no small feat, but when instruction is planned with each learner in mind, students spend more time engaged in learning and less time confused and unfocused. In these learning environments classroom rigor is augmented and productivity increases. Whether your school has been working toward proficiency-based teaching and learning for years or if you’re just starting out these essential elements are critical to the success of your endeavor.

We all have to believe at our core that we can engage and challenge all students to learn in our classrooms. We can’t prevent all the challenges students will face, but we can alleviate them by designing a learning environment that leaves no room for failure. To do this, we need to be surrounded by people who have that same belief in the power of teaching.  This group mentality is called “collective efficacy”. Teachers with [this mindset] have better outcomes than those who believe they will not succeed.                                                                                 
Dr. Katie Novak

Katie’s work in UDL is an excellent complement to the work in Math Best Practices, Brain-based teaching and learning (w/ Bill Rich), and the work of the Tarrant Institute. As we continue to improve our Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and data-team efforts across schools, this emphasis on high-quality “Tier 1” instruction is essential to improving student outcomes. All of these professional development pathways have one thing in common; they put a focus on students in the center of the learning experience. Broadly defined, student-centered learning  shifts the focus from teachers teaching to the learner learning. The goal of all of our professional learning this year will keep that singular focus in the forefront.