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 protégé, 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

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning 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.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning 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:

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

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.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

From Realia to Social Stories

Realia: Woodtype blocks are piled on a table. The word 'love' , created from the typographic blocks stands on top. Realia to social stories.
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 objects from real-life which are incorporated into learning experiences. Keep 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. It’s suitable for any age or stage of learning. 

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.

Using a story format, the individual student’s name or image makes it more relevant. It also fosters a deeper connection with the topic. Social narratives are 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.

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.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Return to Online Learning

A colourful illustration depicting a webinar on desktop and laptop computers.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.

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. Think public transport timetables, buying groceries with a different monetary system, and applying for social services.

These activities require mathematics and pose significant barriers. This is especially the case 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 teaching maths skills for small groups of refugee women. The project uncovered assumptions a maths education brings to teaching. One of these assumptions is that maths is a universal language.

Some mathematical calculations and strategies may be used universally. But difficulties in academic language arise for refugee learners. Maths words and symbols have double meanings, and English expressions can be confusing.

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.

Further reading

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.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

UDL to Support Migrants and Refugees

A Class Of Diverse Higher Education Students Using Laptops In a LectureThis week, we take a look at using Universal Design for Learning to support migrants and refugees in English language learning in higher education.

A reader recently requested more information and references for using UDL on this topic. A great request! It is one that helps to highlight the flexibility and possibilities of UDL for making learning accessible to all.

All learners bring their own unique variability to their learning. Migrants and refugees may bring a learning profile with additional complexities. This may be due to their history, or priorities and experiences in becoming established in a new country. UDL principles provide a particularly appropriate design model, with their emphasis on design practices that cater for diversity. There’s more on this in a previous post.

An article by Katherine Danaher explores how to meet the learning needs of refugees and migrants. Her specific focus is in tertiary blended online English courses. With many tertiary providers moving to online courses during the coronavirus pandemic, this is of particular relevance.

A key feature of UDL is to consider barriers to learning prior to designing the course or lesson. Danaher explains the potential barriers of refugees and migrants in her paper. She highlights some of these barriers as being literacy, lack of prior experience, cultural factors and age.

Perhaps the most useful information in the paper is gleaned from the ‘Course Design’ section in the article. Specific pedagogies and frameworks are highlighted as being beneficial in teaching these learner groups in higher education. Flexible design, individualisation, a constructivist inquiry approach and UDL are all recommended.

Danaher quotes the National Center on Universal Design for Learning in explaining that the research-based principles of UDL are particularly appropriate for refugee and migrant learners, providing “. . . a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” She argues that by using UDL the diverse needs of refugees and migrants with differing educational backgrounds, expectations and goals, can be catered for.

Other links to UDL for migrant and refugee learners include:

A paper by John Bensemen on the needs and responses to refugee learners with limited literacy.

Education, Immigration and Migration is a book by Arar, Brooks and Bogotch that explores how educational leaders face the issue of refugees, immigrant and migrants in educational institutions.

Refugee Background Students Transitioning Into Higher Education Navigating Complex Spaces “untangles the complex nature of transition for students of refugee background in higher education, locating it within broader social trends of increasing social and cultural diversity, as well as government practices and policies concerning the educational resettlement of refugees”.

And stay tuned for an upcoming post on UDL in mathematics teaching and learning for refugees and migrants.  

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