Wax-On, Wax-Off: Mr Miyagi and Mastery-Oriented Feedback

A still from the movie, The karate Kid, where Mr Miyagi teaches Daniel the 'wax-on, wax-off' routine.
“Wax-on, wax-off.” Working towards mastery. A still from the movie, The Karate Kid. Source: Movieclips on Youtube

“Wax-on, wax off,” the famous explicit instruction began the Karate Kid’s training towards karate mastery. In the film, The Karate Kid, Mr Miyagi, a martial arts master, guides Daniel, his teenage protege, to mastery through instruction and feedback. This feedback ensures Daniel’s karate moves become almost instinctive, enabling him to transfer his skills to new situations. The power of Mr Miyagi’s training and feedback came to the fore in the final scenes of the movie.  Daniel is forced to draw upon all of his skill to face his nemesis in a high-stakes karate tournament. Explicit feedback that developed his ‘wax-on, wax-off’ move pays off!

So what strategies can help every educator be a master teacher when it comes to providing feedback?  Just as Mr Miyagi provided for Daniel, high-quality instruction and specific, regular, timely feedback are crucial to develop our learners to achieve mastery. In his book, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfilment, George Leonard wrote, “… if you intend to take the journey of mastery, the best thing you can do is to arrange for first-rate instruction. For mastering most skills, there’s nothing better than being in the hands of a master teacher.” 

Recommendations for mastery-orientated feedback

CAST, the home of UDL, recommends the following key steps towards feedback that supports mastery:

    • Impart feedback that encourages perseverance, focuses on the development of efficacy and self-awareness, and encourages the use of specific supports and strategies in the face of challenge
    • Provide feedback that emphasises effort, improvement, and achieving a standard rather than on relative performance
    • Offer feedback that is frequent, timely, and specific
    • Ensure feedback is substantive and informative rather than comparative or competitive
    • Include feedback that models how to incorporate evaluation, including identifying patterns of errors and wrong answers, into positive strategies for future success

Find other practical, easy-to-implement strategies for incorporating UDL strategies into learning engagements on the CUDA website.

Collaboration and Community

“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

Young adult students collaborating around a paper-based work task.
Collaboration and Community are key to human development.

Darwin celebrates the power of collaboration in this quote. He notes its value in the development of humanity and the animal kingdom. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework also celebrates collaboration as a key to success in supporting learning variability.

Checkpoint 8.3 in the UDL framework focuses on collaboration and community. Whilst communication is more difficult for some, it remains a goal for all learners. Working with peers in a community of learners provides opportunities to learn how to work effectively with others.


CAST, the home of UDL, recommends the following strategies to create opportunities to build community and foster collaboration:

    • Create cooperative learning groups with clear goals, roles, and responsibilities
    • Create school-wide programs of positive behaviour support with differentiated objectives and supports
    • Provide prompts that guide learners in when and how to ask peers and/or teachers for help
    • Encourage and support opportunities for peer interactions and supports (e.g., peer-tutors)
    • Construct communities of learners engaged in common interests or activities
    • Create expectations for group work (e.g., rubrics, norms, etc.)

Specific strategies, adaptable to all levels of education, include carousel brainstorming, cogenerative dialogue and the visible thinking routine called Give One, Take One.

Carousel Brainstorming

Conversation, movement and reflection are hallmarks of carousel brainstorming. The strategy provides the opportunity for new learning and consolidation and review. In this strategy, small groups of students rotate through the learning space. They stop at different learning zones for a short time. At each rotation, students activate their prior knowledge related to a given concept. They share their ideas with their peers. Each group records their ideas and understanding at the rotation, which allows subsequent groups to build onto those ideas and reflect further.

This strategy can be adapted easily for online learning, using shareable documents, such as Google docs or breakout rooms in Zoom, for example.

Cogenerative Dialogue

Cogenerative dialogue serves a goal to improve community between learners. The dialogue occurs in small groups, usually between four and six students. Ideally, the groups are composed of a diverse learner group. The students meet, often outside set class times, to discuss and explore opportunities for improvements in the class. This strategy fosters students’ agency and ownership of their learning environments. In schools, cogenerative dialogue may be given alternate names, such as a Student Action Group.

Working together with a common goal to improve the learning experience fosters a positive class culture, building community through collaboration.

Give One, Take One

A scaffolded task promoting collaboration through give-and-take. Students reflect upon and respond to a prompt. They then share one understanding with a peer and take one of their peer’s understanding. This procedure can repeat as much as desired so students can collaboratively build their knowledge and understanding of a concept.

Interested in other practical, easy-to-implement strategies for incorporating UDL strategies into learning engagements? You will find them on the CUDA website.

The ’80s Mix-Tape and UDL

A grey coloured music cassette tape with a yellow label marked, '1983 Mix Tape #3.'
The ’80s mix-tape provided variety to keep listeners engaged. Variety is key to keeping our learners engaged, too.

Who remembers the classic mix-tape? Originating in the ’80s, the mix-tape was a compilation of music usually recorded on a cassette tape. An essential for lovers and road-trips, the mix-tape provided variety, keeping listeners engaged! Taking the mix-tape approach and applying it to learning is the theme of this week’s post. We focus on Checkpoint 8 in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework. It is about engaging and supporting learners to keep motivated. The strategy is to vary learning demands and resources to optimise challenge.

CAST explains that learners vary in their skills and abilities as well as the kinds of challenges that motivate them to do their best work. All learners need to be challenged, but not always in the same way. They need varied levels and types of demands. Learners also need to have the right kinds of resources to successfully complete the task. Creativity allows for many versions on a theme, too. Here are two practical strategies to get started.

Choice Menus

A choice menu is a suitable strategy for learners at any school level or in higher education. A choice menu, also termed a learning menu or choice board, offers a range of options. Learners can choose an option to demonstrate their knowledge of skill. Learner preferences should be included to support learner variability and optimise choice. The requirements of the task can be varied, and so too, the format in which it is completed.

A strengths-based strategy approach supports learners to play to their strengths by selecting a format and medium that will best represent their skill or knowledge. Variety can also be offered in the complexity of the class. Using the idea of ‘menu’ means we can think in terms of simpler bite-size options, meatier main course options, and dessert for extending the learning or assessment.

Flipped Classroom

Flipped classrooms, alternatively referred to as an inverted classroom or blended learning, involves the learner exploring content independently, prior to the lesson with the teacher. The strategy enables students to access a variety of content at their own pace. Less time is required on acquiring knowledge so there is more time to apply the knowledge and skills in meaningful ways. The increased opportunity for interaction heightens engagement and student interest.

This strategy is often undertaken in university study, especially when taken online. Particularly relevant to schools now, too, with the increase in online distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Find further strategies on recruiting interest in learning and promoting student engagement on the CUDA’s UDL page.


Purposeful and Motivated Learners

Two young girls deeply engaged in their learning.
Sustaining focus on the learning goal. Source: Klimkin from Pixabay

To develop purposeful and motivated learners, educators provide multiple ways to engage their learners. One of these ways is to provide options to help learners sustain their effort and persist with their learning. Checkpoint 8 in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework covers this point.

The framework explains that learners require support to remain focused on the goal they are striving towards, and its value. This is the learner to sustain effort and concentration in the face of many distracters. General suggestions, relevant to both school and higher education settings, include:

    • Prompting or requiring learners to explicitly formulate or restate the goal
    • Displaying the goal in multiple ways
    • Encouraging chunking of long-term goals into shorter-term objectives
    • Incorporating the use of prompts or scaffolds for visualising desired outcomes
    • Engaging learners in discussions of what excellence looks like
    • Generating relevant examples that connect to their background and interests

Some specific strategies include Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and rubrics.

Discrete Trial Training

First, Discrete Trial Training. DTT takes a skill and pulls it apart into its basic components. Starting at the most fundamental component, the student learns or acquires that skill (acquisition), practices the skill to mastery (fluency), maintains the skill across time (maintenance) and transfers the skill to a new situation (generalisation).

A technique used in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), DTT has been used for decades in supporting learners with autism. However, DTT is possible to incorporate into any learning setting.

As DTT is concise and provides step-by-step support tailored to develop a skill efficiently, it is useful in supporting students to succeed with small components of a larger goal. Positivity and brevity are key features, making learning, and ultimately goal achievement, more attainable through its step-by-step format, thus supporting the development of purposeful and motivated learners.


Next, rubrics. Most educators will be familiar with rubrics. A rubric is an assessment tool that can also be used to track development through a task. Rubrics are primarily used to collect data on students’ progress related to a specific skill or assessment task. Rubrics support students to understand the requirements of a task, how it will be marked, and most importantly in terms of making learning goals salient, how well the student is progressing toward achievement of the task or skill.

In summary, because rubrics can be used as formative and summative assessment tools, they can be used across the who learning activity/assessment duration to support learners to track their progress, sustain their effort and persist with their learning.

Well-considered rubrics are powerful tools for focusing on goals or outcomes. They can even be co-created with the learner to make the student goals even more salient.

Other strategies to heighten engagement in learning

In previous posts, we have explored tools and strategies to enable educators to recruit students’ interest in their learning. Click the link to read more about these strategies:

It’s a veritable feast! Feedback sandwiches, retell burgers and auditory sandwiches.

An illustration of a burger on a pale blue background.
Burgers and sandwiches – foody frameworks to reduce threats in learning.

It’s a veritable feast! Foody frameworks to reduce threats in learning.

Feedback sandwiches, retell burgers and auditory sandwiches – so many options to nourish our learners. Reducing threats and minimising distractions is the goal of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines checkpoint 7.3.  Sandwiches and burgers are some examples that work toward this goal.

The optimal instructional environment offers options that reduce threats and negative distractions for everyone. The aim is to create a safe space in which learning can occur. The CAST UDL guidelines on minimising threats and distractions explains in more detail. Many of their recommendations are suited to school and higher education settings.

Foody Frameworks

First, the feedback sandwich. A feedback sandwich is where specific commentary on an area of improvement is ‘sandwiched’ between two examples of positive feedback. Of course, each piece in the sandwich needs to be genuine and matched to the goals of the exercise. Googling ‘feedback sandwich’ proves the concept to be quite contentious with both strong proponents and opponents. Some opponents suggest the positive feedback is merely praise. To make the feedback meaningful, whether noting positives or focusing on areas of development, it must be specific and communicated clearly.

Next, with a similar ‘sandwiching’ concept is the auditory sandwich. This strategy reduces perceived threat by supporting a learner’s comprehension. Where learners are required to process information using auditory channels, the facilitator provides the verbal information (instruction, direction, new vocabulary), which serves as the bread in the sandwich. The filling represents a visual which is produced after the verbal instruction. After sufficient time to process the visual, the auditory information is provided again. Specific keywords should be stressed or noted through intonation or volume change, for example. Providing multiple means for the student to take in the information reduces cognitive load and supports understanding, thereby reducing ‘threat’.

The final example is ‘retell burger’. This scaffold takes a similar visual approach to support understanding noted in the previous examples. The retell burger is a framework to support students to note key information. There are many variations of this idea, both in terms of the framework and its application to different activities. In one example, the top burger bun is the main idea or key concept, the tasty fillings (onion, tomato, lettuce) are a number of key facts and details or story complication, a hearty cheese slice reminds the student to note the resolution or conclusion, and the bun base rounds out the burger by supporting the learner to make connections or draw conclusions.

Scaffolds and strategies such as these foody frameworks to reduce threats in learning are easily implemented in many learning scenarios. The CAST webpage on mininising threats and distractions lists the following:

    • Create an accepting and supportive classroom climate
    • Vary the level of novelty or risk
      • Charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, cues, etc. that can increase the predictability of daily activities and transitions
      • Creation of class routines
      • Alerts and previews that can help learners anticipate and prepare for changes in activities, schedules, and novel events
      • Options that can, in contrast to the above, maximise the unexpected, surprising, or novel in highly routinised activities
    • Vary the level of sensory stimulation
      • Variation in the presence of background noise or visual stimulation, noise buffers, number of features or items presented at a time
      • Variation in the pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks or time-outs, or timing or sequence of activities
    • Vary the social demands required for learning or performance, the perceived level of support and protection and the requirements for public display and evaluation
    • Involve all participants in whole-class discussions

Gastronomic delights are specific strategies educators implement to reduce threats in a given learning situation.

To read of other specific strategies to work towards the UDL checkpoint goal of recruiting interest, see our other posts:

IKEA hack to promote student interest and choice: Strategies to optimize individual choice and autonomy.

From Realia to Social Stories: Strategies to optimise relevance, value and authenticity.



From Realia to Social Stories

Realia: Woodtype blocks are piled on a table. The word 'love' , created from the typographic blocks stands on top.
Optimise authenticity with realia. Credit: Image by Foundry.

Realia is about using familiar objects and social stories as teaching aids. It applies to all ages and situations: toddlers, school students, higher education and adult learning. Incorporating everyday situations and artefacts into learning experiences increases engagement, value and relevance for learners.

CAST, the home of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) explains:

‘Individuals are engaged by information and activities that are relevant and valuable to their interests and goals. This does not necessarily mean that the situation has to be equivalent to real life, as fiction can be just as engaging to learners as non-fiction. However, it does have to be relevant and authentic to learners’ individual goals and the instructional goals. In an educational setting, one of the most important ways that teachers recruit interest is to highlight the utility and relevance, of learning and to demonstrate that relevance through authentic, meaningful activities.’

Strategies used should be inclusive, personalised, relevant and contextualised. So what are some easy to access tools and strategies that enable this goal?

Making use of realia. Realia is the term for describing authentic objects from real-life which are incorporated into learning experiences. A colleague with whom I teach keeps a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ containing realia related to the concepts being explored in the class’ inquiry unit. The realia serves both as a provocation, a tool for engagement and to prompt curiosity and deep questioning. As realia is used to improve students’ understanding of other cultures and real-life situations, related to concepts, it can be incorporated into any age or stage of learning, including tertiary.

Social Stories. Often used for young students but equally relevant for older students and adults with social skill development needs. Social stories are used to teach everyday situations and expectations through narrative. Used in schools and at home, social stories help develop routines or teach social and behaviour expectations, for example.

The information is presented in the format of a story. Personalising the story with the student’s name or image makes it more relevant. It also fosters a deeper connection with the topic. Social narratives are found to be successful in teaching skills to students with autism and attention deficits.

Personalised problems. Making the subject matter relevant to learners’ lives engages learners across all age groups. It helps give meaning to the learning.  Remote online learning during the coronavirus pandemic sparked a wave of creative maths problems based around issues of the pandemic. From word problems related to panic buying to modelling the exponential growth of virus spread, educators were adapting learning to heighten relevance.

These simple strategies are easy to adopt and easy to adapt and can help optimise relevance and authenticity in learning.

A previous post discusses fun strategies for optimising individual choice and autonomy, another UDL engagement checkpoint.

IKEA hack to promote student interest and choice

A boy and girl look at a children's wood spinning wheel.
Credit: ikea.com

An IKEA hack to promote student interest and choice. Intrigued? Read on to discover how a simple product is used to implement a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) checkpoint.

Educators with knowledge of UDL likely recognise its benefit in engaging students, supporting understanding and representing their learning. The challenge is found in finding the time to explore strategies to implement UDL.

We are here to help! This post commences a series that discusses simple tools or strategies, including the IKEA hack, to implement UDL principles into teaching and learning activities…right away!

First, some background orientation. UDL Guidelines assist educators to vary instructional methods to provide greater access to, and interest in, learning. The UDL guidelines work with three principles, including providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.  Each principle in the guidelines is then divided into checkpoints that break the principles into meaningful descriptions with actionable parts.

This post focuses on the first checkpoint, ‘recruiting interest’ in the ‘engagement’ principle. One way to achieve this is to optimise individual choice and autonomy.

A simple strategy is to use choice boards. A choice board is a tool that provides options for students to choose different ways to learn about a particular concept. Choice boards are often presented as a 3×3 grid graphic organiser. However, to cater to different ages and interest levels, the choice board concept can be extended to clickable choices on a digital platform or a choice spinner. This is where IKEA’s LUSTIGT ‘Wheel of Fortune’ chocolate-wheel style spinner comes in. Cover the spinning wheel segments with student learning options to create a fun and interactive choice board-style tool.

For older or more experienced students, the ‘flipped classroom’ model is a strategy to optimise autonomy.  This is an approach where students are provided with content to consume independently prior to working with it in the formal learning environment. The approach supports students to prepare for the next learning sequence at their own pace. Multiple formats of presenting the content should be used. Ultimately, less formal class time is taken working through the initial content, allowing students to engage in deeper learning activities and apply their knowledge and understanding.

Return to Online Learning

A colourful illustration depicting a webinar on desktop and laptop computers.As schools and tertiary institutions in parts of Australia return to online learning, making the experience workable, inclusive and meaningful for all students is at the forefront of many educators’ minds.

Online learning requires educators to be active and directive in facilitating learning. Setting guidelines and expectations up front is paramount to include and engage all students. Just as in the face-to-face environment, when we educate online, relationships are still at the heart of learning. Creating a presence in the online environment is a key element.

Katie Novack and Tom Thibodeau share ways to create an online presence in their book UDL in the Cloud. They also show how to identify potential barriers to learning, develop a detailed syllabus that inspires and motivates students, and delivery strategies and help to scaffold students’ time management skills.

Inclusive Schools Australia has done some of the preliminary thinking with a one-page quick-start guide to inclusive online learning. It gives examples of specific activities aligned to UDL checkpoints.

Then, to go deeper, Educause provides the transcript and slides of a webinar they hosted by CAST. It aims to support educators to reach all students in the time of COVID-19. The learning shares how UDL can be applied to remote instruction. It discusses some best practices and provides resources to integrate UDL into courses and programs.

This is valuable for considering ways to address access, build meaningful learning, and support independence in course or program design under the current conditions.

The National Center for Assistive Education Materials has a dedicated resource hub for information on assistive technologies. This is useful information on how to use assistive technologies or other resources to support learners to access online learning. The site hosts webinars focusing on tools and resources to support the transition to remote learning in response to COVID-19. The list of resources is extensive. Of particular value are the webinars on making accessible videos, captioning videos and making documents and slides accessible. Recordings, slides and handouts are available to watch or download.

Read more about UDL and online learning in a previous post.

UDL in Occupational Therapy Education

A young man with crutches walks through a door held open by a clinician.Occupational therapists work with just about every human condition you can think of. Their clientele is diverse, but are their professional teaching methods suited to a diverse population? This question is the subject of a new article from the United States.

The article reports on a survey of occupational therapy (OT) educators. They found that while most respondents knew about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), less than half could define it. 

The article discusses how the respondents fared with the three tenets of UDL: multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. They found that OT assistant education used some UDL techniques such as games, feedback and incentives. These strategies were not evident at higher education levels. 

OT educators focus is on ensuring all content is delivered. That’s because the content covers such a broad spectrum and is subject to accreditation standards. However, the American Occupational Therapy Association has identified research priorities to find teaching methods that maximise learning for practitioners.

The authors sum up that with the recent pandemic the “need for a greater understanding and implementation of UDL tenets is more important than ever.” It will ensure today’s students become competent practitioners.

The title of the article is, Implementation of UDL in Occupational Therapy Education. It is open access.

Abstract: This exploratory research surveyed educators’ use of universal design for learning (UDL) in occupational therapy education. Most common methods of engagement were displaying enthusiasm, providing examples, and offering learner feedback; representation was primarily offered through class discussion, lab experiences, and images; methods of action or expression were most frequently class discussion, projects, practicums and tests. The type of program, years of educators’ clinical experience and faculty rank influenced some factors of UDL implementation. Further use of UDL principles that could facilitate improved learning outcomes of diverse learners within occupational therapy education is discussed.

A short article by Bethan Collins looks at both sides of UDL – for OTs and for clients.

Functional Maths for Refugees: The Role of UDL

A woman using a claculator and computer for functional maths tasks.In a previous post, we explored the use of UDL in migrant and refugee education. The focus of this post is on functional maths for refugees and the role of UDL. Everyday maths is needed for things such as recipes and bus timetables. 

In her paper, Joana Caniglia, highlights both the necessity for and complexity of mathematics for everyday functions for refugees establishing themselves in a new country. She writes in the American context, but the maths skills noted are, of course, relevant in Australia. Some of these functions include navigating public transport timetables, buying groceries with a different monetary system, shopping for necessities, and applying for social services.

Caniglia says the complexity of the mathematics required by these activities poses a significant barrier for adult refugees with limited English and interrupted education. 

Identifying and overcoming barriers to learning lies at the heart of UDL. 

Caniglia‘s paper reports on a year-long project that sought to uncover a mathematics educator’s assumptions brought to the teaching of functional mathematics skills for small groups of refugee women. One of these assumptions is that maths is a universal language.

Although some mathematical calculations and strategies may be used universally, difficulties in academic language arises for refugee learners. Maths words and symbols have double meanings and English expressions can be confusing, just for starters.

In addition to a range of myths, Canigla also discusses a number of cultural themes that arise. One of the themes is that A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But An Object and Gestures Are Worth More. She discusses how the UDL tenet of multiple means of representation supported refugee women in acquiring mathematics vocabulary. Using UDL, Canigla was able to guide the women’s development of vocabulary for measurement and cooking by using pictures, utensils, recipes, bus schedules, and newspaper advertisements.

For further reading on maths for English language learners, see the following references:

The papers above were written by Judit Moschkovich, who is a founding partner of Understanding Language. This is a workgroup of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.