From Emergency Workers to the Classroom – Transfer of Learning is Imperative

Firefighters and two firetrucks attending to a fire.
Emergency workers constantly transfer knowledge to new contexts. Image by Jon Pauling.

Consider our emergency workers. Each time they are out on a call, the context and situation are new. They must take their skills and learnt strategies and apply them in a situation that potentially they have not experienced before. We can be grateful to the concept of transfer of learning that these emergency crews can take their skills, strategies and knowledge and apply it to new problem-solving situations.

Transfer of learning is an integral part of the learning process. It relies on cognitive accessibility, a term to describe the memory systems’ capacity (both long-term and working memory) to support recall and transfer of skills. When a student has memory systems that are less effective in supporting the transfer of learning, supports are required.

So how can we support our students? Employing techniques designed to enhance students’ memory is one area supported by CAST, the home of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). They suggest using mnemonics, strategic note-taking, visual imagery, and explicitly teaching for transfer as classroom-based strategies. Access CAST’s reference list to locate evidence for a range of strategies to support memory and transfer.

Practical Strategies

For those looking for simple-to-use, immediate action to provide transfer of learning comprehension supports for students, consider the following, adapted from CAST:

1. Support your students’ development of their organisation skills. Strategies include using checklists, graphic organisers, diary/calendar notes, sticky notes and electronic reminders

2. Support your students’ memory of information and strategies through the use of mnemonic strategies. Examples include using visual imagery, incorporating paraphrasing strategies, and employing retrieval practice.

3. Ensure students are provided regular and spaced explicit opportunities for review and practice. Then, guide opportunities in the longer term to revisit key ideas and encourage students’ to link these to new concepts.

4. Enhance students’ note-taking practice by providing scaffolds such as templates, graphic organisers and concept maps.

5. Develop a culture of connecting of valuing connections between new and prior knowledge. One of my skilled colleagues teaches her primary school class to make a specific hand signal when something they learn connects to their own prior knowledge of experience. This supports connection-making and enables the class to engage with the materials without verbally interrupting. Other scaffold methods include using word webs or part-filled concept maps.

6. Employ creativity through analogy, metaphor, drama, music, or film. for example, to embed new ideas in familiar contexts.

7. Provide explicit, supported opportunities to generalise learning to new situations. FOr example, provide opportunities to explore new problem-solving situations that use a particular strategy – this could range from maths to empathy! Also, support students to apply their learning to practical, real-world applications within the learning environment and beyond.

Find more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning in the Universal Design for Learning section of the CUDA website.

Sound Advice!

Sound Advice: ET, the ExtraTerrestrial wrapped in a white blanket standing against a backdrop of a starry night sky.
Sound is fundamental to both films and learning but alternatives or supplementary supports must be provided. Source: Couleur from Pixabay

Did you know, that according to Empireonline.com, an ice-cream cone was used to produce the sound of raptors hatching in the film, Jurassic Park? Or that jelly, popcorn and liver were used to create the sound of ET’s movement in the film of the same name?

Auditory input is integral to most films, so too is it an important part of learning and teaching. It helps explain learning content and express emotion. However, for some learners, processing auditory information is challenging or impractical. Challenges may stem from hearing impairment, competing sources of auditory information (eg background noise, multiple people speaking at the same time, music, etc), the location of the learner (eg on the train), the time it takes to process auditory information or even difficulties with memory, so here is some sound advice!

Practical Strategies

Awareness of these potential barriers allows educators to provide alternatives or supplements to auditory information. Captioning videos is a relatively simple way to allow an alternative to auditory information. Speech-to-text options also serve this purpose. Transcripts of lessons or seminars provide an alternative, too.

To supplement auditory information, enhance learning with visuals. These may include posters, infographics, diagrams, illustrations, photos or notations of music and other sounds. Making use of symbols and emoticons to supplement auditory information is another option. Where required, sign language and braille options must be considered.

Other visual and tactile information serves to supplement auditory information, too. Consider the ‘yellow line’ on a train platform. In addition to announcements over the intercom to stand behind the yellow line, train stations have signage sharing the message and tactile ground surface indicators (the rows of slightly raised circular markers). The provision of auditory, visual and tactile messaging serves to reduce barriers to understanding.

Find more sound advice to reduce barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Self-Regulation Through Self-Assessment and Reflection

An image to depict self-regulation. A man, with his back facing the camera, reflects on his work, pinned on a pinboard in front of him.
Self-regulation techniques include self-assessment and reflection—image by Pexels from Pixabay.

How about asking students what works well in their learning environment? Self-assessment and reflection is a useful strategy to develop self-regulation skills. It’s also motivating and supports the development of personal goals. This strategy links to Checkpoint 9.3 “Engagement” in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.

CAST explains that individuals vary in their metacognitive abilities. While some learners require explicit instruction and modelling of metacognitive thinking, others will show great skill with this.

For some learners, knowing they are achieving independence in their learning is highly motivating.  Conversely, a loss of motivation occurs for  learners when they cannot see their progress. It is, therefore, important that learners have access to and options for a variety of scaffolds supporting various self-assessment techniques. This provides students with opportunities to identify and select techniques that are favourable for them.

Practical Strategies for Self-Regulation

Recommendations for the types of scaffolds and frameworks to develop self-regulation, as suggested by CAST include, to:

    • Offer devices, aids, or charts to assist individuals in learning to collect, chart and display data. This is taken from their own behaviour for monitoring changes in those behaviours
    • Use activities that include a means by which learners get feedback and have access to alternative scaffolds (e.g., charts, templates, feedback displays).  These must help students see progress in a way that is understandable and timely

Explicit Strategies

For assessment and development of classroom or learning group culture, co-generative reflections are a great opportunity for insight and student agency. These are also known as cogenerative discussions, cogens or action groups.

This strategy involves a small group of students, representing a diverse mix of the learning group. The students come together to make commendations about what is working well in the learning environment. Additionally, the students make recommendations for improvements.

This simple strategy usually takes place outside of the usual learning time. It promotes ownership and agency, giving students a forum and voice. It is an excellent strategy to develop class culture from the inside out.

From experience and feedback from peers, developing student writing is a challenge across all levels of education. Students noting their progress is an effective method to heighten engagement in writing. Writing record charts, also known as writing graphs, is an effective tool.

To use this strategy, implementing a daily or regular writing routine is important. The teacher provides a writing prompt. Students respond by composing text. They then measure their writing achievement. Individual goals can be set, related to, for example, criteria in a rubric, word count, punctuation use or descriptive language. The students tabulate their results and visually note their achievement in the form of a graph. This strategy is appropriate for whole-class use and allows each student to progress at their own pace. It facilitates simple-to-manage individualised goal-setting. Perseverance is inherent in the process, and identifying progress is highly motivating.

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

 

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.

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.

How Does UDL Support Cultural Diversity?

A montage in the shape of the world, captuing the diversity of humans.In a time when cultural diversity and the recognition of systemic inequity is in our shared consciousness, how does UDL support cultural diversity?

Joni Degner cites a range of measures in her article, How Universal Design for Learning Creates Culturally Accessible Classrooms, including:

    • co-designing learning and seeking student input and feedback,
    • seeking out students’ lived experiences and personal stories,
    • recognising students as cultural resources in developing culturally responsive learning,
    • developing a culture of connection, and
    • considering the language and discourse in which our students are immersed

Drawing on the UDL framework, embracing diversity in content and practice is the recommendation in the article, Diversity and Equity in Learning. Key suggestions include:

    • Assume students are diverse in ways that you cannot see. This may be related to race, national origin or socioeconomic status. Or it may relate to ethnicity, physical and neuro-disabilities, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs. There are many other possibilities, too.
    • Design group assignments and intentionally mix groups. At times, require students to work purposely with others they may not know. Ensure students in the minority are not isolated. Encourage or help set up diverse study groups.
    • Examine and consider revising texts, resources, guest speakers, examples, and authors. Include contributions from diverse scholars.

Against these suggestions, how do your teaching and learning experiences shape up?

To further your practice or understanding, read the article Culturally Responsive Teaching and UDL. It explains key terms and theories and links to the research. The article supports the understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in addition to UDL. Loui Lord Nelson and Patti Kelly Ralabate also focus on CRT and UDL in their book, Culturally Responsive Design for English Learners.

See more on UDL on the CUDA website.

 

Learning Styles: Is it a myth?

Two pairs of women sit at a table with paper and pens. One of the pair looks to be explaining something to the other.The idea of learning styles is something many of us have encountered. But is there evidence to support the application of learning styles? Perhaps in the past it was helpful, but looking forward and using the principles of universal design in learning (UDL), perhaps not. Whether you are doing a webinar, an e-learning program or a scientific seminar it’s worth taking a moment to consider the differences in your audience. A paper from Andrea Antoniuk discusses many aspects of learning and how we can move forward with UDL and away from the traditional learning styles concept.

The title of the article is Learning Styles: Moving Forward from the Myth. In the conclusions Antoniuk says that there is no valid reliable tool to support learning styles. “Despite being debunked, learning styles remain a thriving industry throughout the world, as many books, research studies, education courses, and assessments maintain the concept of learning styles. As a growing number of teachers utilize evidence-based practices, learning styles are being replaced by universal approaches, community building, cognitive science, and motivational practices.”

 

Universal Design Engineering for Learners

A blueprint of three interlocking cog wheels.We need a diversity blueprint to help students learn whether it’s a webinar, lecture, or e-learning course. According to Keith Edyburn that means taking an engineering approach to universal design for learning (UDL). He reports on nine case studies and introduces the Design for More Types model. The aim is to turn design concepts into practical “active ingredients that can be carefully defined, measured and evaluated”. Edyburn claims personal commitment to the principles of UDL is not sufficient to enhance student engagement. The table below is from the paper, where Edyburn looks at both targeted learners and others who also benefit. 

Table shows the design feature, the Primary Beneficiary and the Secondary Beneficiary.

The thrust of this paper Universal Design Engineering, is that theory is all very well but doesn’t actually make it happen. If you take a practical engineering approach, you are more likely to engage students and increase their success rate. There is more detail about turning information into digital text, testing designs, and determining cost-benefit.

The paper is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Lights, Camera, Action: Training actors with disability

A man stands against a greenbox bacground with lights and cameras around himWhat’s involved in training actors with disability? This is one topic that needs a lot more exploration now that people with disability are being included in productions. One place to start is the material that’s been developed for Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Deric McNish’s book chapter, Training Actors with Disabilities, provides an interesting perspective on the issues and discusses various approaches to theatre courses. You will need institutional access for a free read. The chapter can be purchased from SpringerLink.

Abstract: This essay presents accessible training methods for students with disabilities in college acting, voice, and movement courses. It presents teaching strategies selected from a survey of prominent professors, as well as from actors with disabilities that have worked professionally and completed an actor training program. This paper presents some valuable perspectives on a largely unexplored topic and offers multiple approaches, including ways to adapt popular acting, voice, speech, and movement pedagogies for the greatest variety of students, ways to effectively communicate with college students with disabilities, ways to apply Universal Design for Learning in practice-based theatre courses, and responsible strategies for portraying disability identity during in-class scene work.