Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (00:00)
Welcome, Advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their school. Today I've got a special guest with me. This is a student that went through the Teaching Through a Culturally Diverse Lens Program. She and I chatted afterwards and I thought it'd be great to have her on because she'd loved so much UDL -- Universal Design for Learning. So I just want to welcome Ms. Beth Poss on for us today.

Beth Poss: (00:31)
Hey everybody, it's great to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Sheldon. So just a little bit about me. I've been in education for over 30 years now. My background is in special education and speech language pathology and that's sort of the route that I came to Universal Design for Learning. But we're going to talk about how it's not a special ed initiative and in my experience going that UDL journey. I have been a curriculum writer, I've been a special education supervisor, I've been an assistant principal and it is something I'm extremely passionate about and definitely excited to talk to you about it today.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (01:09)
So I got it correct. Right? You breathe, you, you live, you endure. Yeah. Okay. All right. So we're excited. So again, you, you went through the teaching through a culturally diverse lens course, some of your thoughts on the course and maybe what was the impact on your professional career while you participated?

Beth Poss: (01:27)
So the course for me was an opportunity. Um, I'm not in the school districts anymore and I'm not working directly with students, but I'm supporting educators in my work as a part of a vendor actually where we are creating materials to be used in classrooms. And so that lens, that culturally responsive lens is so important to continue to influence my work, to make sure that the materials that I am providing for educators is culturally responsive, that the strategies that I work with are aligned with that and are promoting equity. And so for me the course was really a great way to continue a journey that I've been on around equity for the last few years and hear from some different folks that I hadn't heard from before and be part of a community to discuss it and, and have a place to share ideas and thoughts around it and get other people's feedback in a very, in a very welcoming and safe environment.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (02:23)
Thank you. And that was really important to me is that community piece because it's one thing for you to just have self pace type of style when it comes to a course where the learner is kind of up to them to consume the content. And in this, that's kind of it. I really wanted to create a space that was a brave space where we can have differences of opinion, we could share resources and you would feel open to having, you know, engaging in those conversations. I'm glad that you found it beneficial to be able to participate in a community in addition to the course itself.

Beth Poss: (02:56)
Yeah, absolutely. That was, that was really part of value of the program for me.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (03:01)
Okay. Well let's get into UDL because I've had an episode before, Dr. Martha Ryan toy was on with us a while back. I don't remember the number of the episodes, so you had to dig back there, but I wanted to bring you on because I want to talk about it a little bit more and dig a little deeper into it. Uh, so if you haven't listened to Dr. Ryan toy's conversation with me, I'll leave a link in the show notes of that. That will be there. You can listen to that one and then you can listen to this one kind of as a a part two. But I want you to start off with like what is UDL and why should educators be using it?

Beth Poss: (03:40)
Yeah, that's such a great question and I think a lot of people don't really understand what universal design for learning is. And the most important thing to understand about it is that it is a frame work. It's a set of principles that is centered on curriculum, design, instruction and assessment in order to improve and optimize teaching and learning for every student out there. And it's based on research and scientific insights into how humans learn. So it is a mindset, it's a way of looking at education, using and applying these principles to guide teaching and learning decisions. A lot of the work from it came out of an organization called cast a. Their website is and you can get pretty much everything you want to know about universal design for learning from that website. But the website is really deep and really rich and I think it's often intimidating for folks to dig through it. So this is a great opportunity for us to have this conversation and talk a little bit about what UDL is, what UDL isn't, and sort of an easy way to step into considering the application of universal design for learning in the work that your listeners are doing every day out there with students in an education.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (05:06)
So I want to follow up with that because you started off with your response with this is a framework and I could just hear some of our educators think, Oh, is there something else, an additional thing that I need to do. Help us understand what the impact or the benefit of using this framework with our lesson plan that we do. Could you share like what are some of the benefits of incorporating this, this framework?

Beth Poss: (05:33)
Yeah, absolutely. So because it's built on brain-based research that shows that there's no average learner out there. There's a great Ted talk out there by Dave Rose and he talks about the myth of average. Um, there is no average learner out there. Everybody learns in different ways and the way that we learn and the way that our brains is as unique as our fingerprint, but education was built around that, that industrial model of that average of that supposed average learner and it doesn't really work, right? That's why, you know, we're always looking at educational reform, but it's really important for people to realize that universal design for learning is not just one more thing. It's instead a way of looking at what you're doing and how you can apply that framework to the stuff you're already doing. And I get that totally having been a school based administrator and you say, all right guys, we're doing UDL.

Beth Poss: (06:33)
And the look on people's faces is, no, I just can't do one more thing. It's not one more thing. It's reframing what you may be doing and considering and reflecting on what you're doing and what you can change and adjust. Um, so you know, with that, there's three components, the three principles of universal design for learning. And, and when we talk about those, those three principles of universal design for learning, it's providing multiple means of engagement. And that's the why of learning, providing multiple means of representation. And that's the what of learning. And then providing multiple means of action and expression. And that's the how of learning. So it's not a program. And I'll talk a little bit, can I segue a little bit into the, into the myths of UDL. Yeah. It's not a special ed initiative, right? Yeah. So when we talk about those three principles, it's not that we're doing this because we need to support students with disabilities in our classrooms and be inclusive in that way.

Beth Poss: (07:38)
It's not a special education initiative because if there's no average learner and we need to apply those principles to every student in our classroom. So it's not just for special ed students. It did originally arise out of needing to meet the learning needs of those students, so-called in the margins. But as the work around UDL grew, the people doing this research really began to see that this was for every single student and meeting those, the variability that is inherent in every single learner and UDL is not a program. It's not a treatment and it's not a strategy. It's not one thing that you do and it's not a brand new curriculum that you're applying. It's a way of looking at curriculum design. It's a way of looking at classroom environment. It's a way of looking at assessment. It's a way of looking at Lear learning opportunities for students so that we can build students into becoming expert learners, which is really what we want.

Beth Poss: (08:41)
Another thing is people will go, Oh well I'm doing differentiated instruction so I've got this cupboard. There's nothing wrong with differentiated instruction, but UDL is not the same thing as differentiated instruction. Differentiated really emphasizes responding to student needs that you've identified. Okay, so you've looked at at student work and you're seeing this person struggling with this and this person has these needs and so you are adjusting what you're doing and providing what this student needs and what that student needs and what this other student needs, which is great. That's super important, right? We need to meet those individual needs of students. Universal design for learning though really emphasizes that. Proactive planning before instruction. When you are designing curriculum, when you are creating your lesson plans, when you are looking at how you are going to, because I know these days a lot of times teachers aren't creating lesson plans.

Beth Poss: (09:41)
They're implementing lesson plans that are given to them that are part of the purchased curriculum. So how they are ensuring that that lesson plan is meeting the needs of all of their learners. And what we know is that learner variability is both predictable and it's systematic. And so we can plan in advance without knowing every single need of every single student in our classroom. We can plan for that learner variability through the design of the learning environment and the instruction. So differentiated instruction can be a component of successful pedagogy and a universally designed for learning classroom, but it's not the same thing. So it's sort of differentiated instruction at a kind of simple level is a responsive way of addressing student needs. And universal design for learning is a proactive way of meeting learner variability that we know is going to occur in every single classroom that we walk into. So that's my UDL versus differentiated instruction. A soapbox a little bit.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (10:48)
Well, I appreciate that because some key things that stuck out to me as you were speaking was number one, this is not special education. This is not limited to just special education. This is for all of your students and I and I love that you stressed that in your response because that is one of those myths that are out there because with the the formation of UDL and how it was initially for like accessibility for like on-ramps to get into buildings and it was kind of more of the architecture side of things, which has kind of branched out more into our curriculum and instruction. So there's these myths that Oh, this is for special ed, but it's not helps definitely helps your special education students. But it again, it helps all of your students as well. And again, I loved how you discussed the differences between UDL and differentiate instruction. I would actually argue that UDL might be easier to do then differentiated instructions because I've had teachers say, well I have to make six different lessons, could have six different learning abilities of my students. So and then according their accommodations or according to their strengths, I have to level things differently versus a UDL approach where you're providing these choices. You're providing these options for our students to show you that they have learned the content that you have provided to them.

Beth Poss: (12:07)
Yeah, I would definitely agree with that and that's one of the things that we talk about is the idea that universal design for learning is an opportunity to front load, to meet that learner variability, but also for teachers because you're considering all of these things in advance, you're not going back in and changing everything when something isn't successful. Right. It doesn't erase the need for accommodations for students with disabilities, but it can make the provision of those accommodations a lot easier because if you've set up your classroom and your choice of the instructional materials that you're using and the choice of ways that you're delivering instruction already incorporates what a student's accommodations might be, then you're not going in and back filling in all of that or making something completely different for that student. So I can give you an example of that is the idea that you might have a student who has poor fine motor skills and one of their accommodations is that they get to type everything.

Beth Poss: (13:13)
Instead of that they get to use a computer and they could use a laptop, whatever, and they get the type things. Instead of having to hand write things on a worksheet. Well, if you clam in advance that you know that you need to have multiple and flexible means of action and expression, which is that student response component, then you're going to plan for things to be as flexible as possible. So it's not just one student that's going to get to use the computer instead of hand filling in a worksheet. It's that you're going to push out whatever resources that you're going to have for students through, for example, Google classroom, it's going to be digital. A student who prefers to hand write something out could print it out and put it that way. Another student who wants to use a computer to be able to fill things in is going to be able to do it.

Beth Poss: (14:02)
And the material that you're pushing out is going to be accessible. It's not going to be a locked PDF that nobody can type in. It's going to be a Google doc or it's going to be a word document, or it's going to be a writeable PDF that that you're gonna have. So that's kind of that looking at, if I know in advance that I'm thinking I need to make this as accessible across the board as possible for as many students as I can, I'm going to, in my materials, I'm going to plan for how students are going to show me what they know in this much more flexible manner. It's important to, a lot of times people think, Oh well UDL means I'm just using technology. Technology is a real important component of UDL, but it's not the only component of UDL. But what makes technology often more flexible is that when you have something digital, it can be used in more ways.

Beth Poss: (14:53)
So if you have a digital text that you need students to read, you could have a student who has a disability who can listen to that text using text to speech tools. You could have a student whose first language is not English, translate that text into their first language and have the opportunity to go back and forth between their first language and English by using translation tool. So they've gotten more access to that. You have the student who is overwhelmed by a larger text. They get that textbook and it's massive, and they're like, Oh my God, there's no way that you know that novel. There's no way I can read that. This is too overwhelming for me. Well, when it's digital, you're not seeing that length. You can set the amount that you're looking at at a time. You can highlight and Mark up a digital text so much easier than you can when you're given something.

Beth Poss: (15:47)
You can't Mark up somebody hands you a textbook. You can't Mark up that textbook here with your highlighter the same way. So again, that digital piece makes universal design for learning easier to implement, easier to support. It doesn't mean that everything should only be digital. So like my own daughters, I was like, Oh, you're going off to college, you'll get your iPads, you can have all your texts. They're like, no, we like the physical texts. So for them they wanted to hold that book in their hands and they wanted to be able to see it that way. So it's not, well it only has to be digital, but when we have things that are available digitally, it make revising those auctions so, so much easier in a whole variety of different ways.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (16:31)
Okay. So I think our advocates have an idea why we should be using it. What are some of the myths and the differences between differentiated instruction and UDL. So I want you to step us through how we can design a universal designed learning. How do we create this lesson? Like walk us through that process.

Beth Poss: (16:52)
Yeah. So universally designed for learning lesson. The key thing that I like to emphasize is that you're providing options. Um, there's not just simply one way of doing things. And so, so often as educators, we give, this is the single text that you're reading. Um, this is the task that you're doing and this is the only way to do it. Instead, we're gonna look at different options. We're gonna look at options that are going to help us support students in being engaged in it. We're gonna and that's that whole that, that why of learning. How are they, um, drawn into it and sustain their engagement? We're going to look at options for how students are gaining content. How are they receiving that information from the teacher or from learning materials? And then different options for students to be able to express what they know. And you always start with, well, what are your learning outcomes, right?

Beth Poss: (17:48)
Because that's going to guide us as opposed to a, well, I'm going to do this activity, or I'm going to do this task. And you're going to look at what are those learning outcomes? And with those learning outcomes, what are the different ways that you can make sure that students are mastering those outcomes? Right? So you're going to look at different ways that students are going to learn, right? So the first thing you're going to sit down and look at is now how am I going to gain attention for these students? Is everybody going to have to sit and watch a movie? Is that what I'm going to do? While that might be great for some students, but does that movie not necessarily going to be right for other students that might not be. So having multiple ways that students are going to get engaged at, are we going to do some game based learning?

Beth Poss: (18:28)
Are we going to have some opportunities for collaboration or are we going to have some multimedia that students are going to be engaged in? So thinking about different avenues to gain students' attention. When we're thinking about the different types of ways that we are providing that information to students, we want to make sure that it's not simply text base, that we're giving students the opportunity to read texts, to listen for information, to investigate in, in different ways to be able to look at multimedia, to be able to have information presented in, in different languages for them, right? Um, we want to make sure that there's more than one way for those students to be able to get to that information. So a lot of times that's looking at, well, do I have multimedia available? Do I have typical books out there? Do I have digital resources for students?

Beth Poss: (19:20)
Do I have some hands on learning where students are going to get to explore in order to gain that information? That what of learning? And then the how of learning. How are students demonstrating what they know to me, right? Ultimately we're all being held responsible for measuring what students have learned. Um, and so how are we looking at that? Is that, does it have to be a fill in the blank worksheet? Does it have to be a five paragraph essay? Because for some students that is neither engaging nor accessible for them and so are there different ways that we can do this? If it's science content, do they have to write a paper on it? Could they do, um, could they present a podcast on it? Could they come up and talk to me about it? Would they, could they create a PowerPoint? Could they create a game based learning outcome?

Beth Poss: (20:07)
There's all the different ways that students can be able to express it and a lot of teams times teachers are like, no, because then I have to have 16 different rubrics. We'll know if your rubric is based on demonstration of the knowledge of the, of the mastery of those objectives and you have it based on that. Instead of that, the student used six pictures in their PowerPoint. You have to look at what do I actually want students to learn and demonstrate to me that they've learned in this as opposed to everybody has to do this. The same thing the same way so that it's easier for me to grade. It doesn't have to be more difficult to grade. If you can have different options for for express that's based on the same mastery of the same content.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (20:54)
So I'm hearing that the rubric is really crucial in UDL because like you said, if, if I was expecting a PowerPoint and sometimes when we do our rubrics, we're saying, you know, the student had 10 10 slides with five pictures on each slide. But if we're just looking more on the content and we're seeing seeking evidence that the student has learned something, that rubric can stand across an essay, a oral presentation, any of those kinds of things, PowerPoints, all that can be covered with the rubric.

Beth Poss: (21:26)
Absolutely. That's exactly it. Exactly it. You know, sometimes it is like maybe it's part of the media standards that you're, you know, that they're demonstrating use of media and a part of and a part of the assignment. So there's ways of, of building that in, but it doesn't have to be a PowerPoint. Could it be a podcast? Could it be a video that they're constructing? Could it be that they're creating a model, a physical model of something? So that there's not just one way for students to demonstrate, uh, that, that knowledge. Um, what that also does is it provides student agency and student voice, um, which I think is really critical. Um, that engagement piece is, is huge. And we know that when students are not interested in the work that they have to do, they don't do as well. When they don't see an authentic and as authentic and they don't have an authentic audience for their work, why should they care about it?

Beth Poss: (22:22)
The only person that it's important for is, is for their teacher. Why should they care about it? With all of that, I think one of the things that, that people teach them feel very overwhelmed. Like I have to email, I have to think of 16 different ways every single time I create an assignment for students to be engaged and for students to gain that information and to students to demonstrate that information. No, you don't have to have unlimited options for students, but you do have to think about what you're providing to students is, is it good to create barriers for them? So really examining the barriers that a lesson presents to students. So if part of the lesson is engaging with the text, okay, so often it is, right, it's engaging with the text. What are the barriers in that text for students? Is it okay be Larry, is it the reading level?

Beth Poss: (23:13)
Is it the, the, the cultural relevancy of that taxed to a student? And then how are we going to overcome those barriers? So way of overcoming barriers around vocabulary might be pre-teaching or providing options for students to be able to have easy ways to be able to look up that vocabulary. Again, I go back to that digital piece of being able to click on a word in and be able to see the definition it or translate that word into another language. Um, or find simpler vocabulary for that if it is around, if it's around relevancy, um, for that student, are we only providing one option of a particular text or are there more texts that we can present to a student to give more cultural relevancy to that? If the text is very long, is there a way that we can provide more than one option of a text or is in a way that we can chunk that text for our students? So different ways that we can, we can still take maybe the, the one thing that we do have to use and make it more relevant, make it more accessible and give students more agency and more voice in what they're doing.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (24:30)
You know, one of the things that I've seen is, you know, teachers will assign assignments that require internet access or to have to type it on a computer and they may not have those things at home. And so being able to, like you said, being proactive and providing options for our students, we can still reach those barrier or overcome those barriers where, okay, I don't have internet but I can do this instead, or I don't have a computer. I can do this instead. And students can still be successful in class. So I appreciate you bringing that up as well.

Beth Poss: (25:03)
Yeah, absolutely. And we've had, I've seen that as well where people make an assumption that, that students all have the same access to internet and technology. Um, and the truth is that we still have a really large digital divide in this country and that not everybody has that access and that the, the access that they might have to internet might be on their parents or their own smartphone, which is not the same as having a desktop or a laptop computer in their home. So yeah, absolutely. It's not all or nothing with technology. So, yeah.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (25:38)
So I kind of want to sum up the creation of the lesson plan. So I'm going to do my best to kinda summarize what you said and then fill in anything if I might leave something out. But the best way that I understood was we need to figure out, okay, what are multiple ways that we can teach this content to our students or have our students learn this content? So does that require me to do a little lecture? It, should I provide a video? Should I provide something else, another support, uh, something audio that they can listen to that covers the content. And then from there it's important for our assessment piece to have a rubric that encompasses all types of assessment styles. So that could be a PowerPoint, it could be a video, that could be a podcast, like you mentioned, the students can show you what they have learned or what knowledge they have gained based off of the rubric. And you can great that room, use that rubric across the board. Is there anything else that I missed or what other things should we know in regards to UDL?

Beth Poss: (26:42)
Sheldon, you summarized that really

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (26:44)
well. I just want to go back to that one piece about that. Why of learning that need for sustaining, gaining and sustaining engagement. And so a lot of times that's looking at that classroom environment. So what are the types of learning opportunities that we're giving kids? Are we providing them opportunities to work collaboratively? Because that's engaging for some students to be able to work with a peer. Are we providing opportunities for students to work by themselves and are we giving them a choice? Do you want to work together? Do you want to work by yourself? It's looking at the way the classroom environment is set up. Are there parts of the classroom that are more conducive to learning to meet certain students' needs at can be as easy as having a quiet pair, less distracting, less bright space for students to Workman. It could be the furniture that's a part of the classroom that not every student is necessarily going to do their best seated at a desk in a traditional classroom environment.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (27:43)
So how are we setting that up, but also making sure that our environment is not just set up to look cute. The whole flexible seating movement has is great, but we have to make sure that the seating that we're providing students matches the learning that they need to do and doesn't become more of a distraction for the learning that they need to do. And that's going to be purposeful and motivated students, right? Students that want to do the work and that are in a classroom environment that supports it. So those options again for for that, for that engagement piece, along with how we're giving students information and along with how students are providing feedback to us on whether they've mastered the learning or not. Okay. Now Beth, I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. What is one final word of advice that you can provide to our listeners?

Beth Poss: (28:39)
So I like to talk about universal design for learning as part of a larger tapestry of equity. So if we think about, I used to think about it in terms of these are all parts of our toolbox and that UDL was a part of our toolbox and culturally responsive teaching was a part of our toolbox and accessible educational materials were part of our toolbox. But that seemed to me to be too much. Like these were separate things that we did for separate purposes. So when we think instead about the threads that come together to create a tapestry and that they all work together to create an effective learning environment or effective learning opportunities for students, I see all of those pieces together as part of that tapestry. So UDL is just more of those threads that help us connect, um, what we might, other other strategies that we might be doing. The things that we've learned about in, in your podcasts, you are in the courses that uh, the leading for equity course work that we've done that UDL is just part of that tapestry. It's part of that weeding together to create that effective equitable learning environment for students. So don't look at it as one more thing, look at as part of the threads that are connecting it all together.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (30:02)
So besides going to the cast website, what are some other resources that you know, you use or some other websites that you would recommend?

Beth Poss: (30:09)
I have three books that I think are fantastic. And uh, the first one is culturally responsive design for English language learners. The UDL approach by Patty Kelly, Rolla date and Louis Lord Nelson. It is a wonderful look at how, um, culturally responsive teaching and universal design for learning come together to support English language learners or multi language learners. Another book is dive into UDL by Kendra grant and Louise Perez. Um, and it's a wonderful way of looking at UDL and in that book, um, they look at the getting your toes wet, the shallow, the shallow dip and the deep dive. And so it's a great way for people at different entry points in UDL to approach it. So it's not all or nothing. Uh, there's different ways that you can get into that. And then your UDL lesson planner, which is also by Patty Relevate, is a great way of taking educators step by step through the lesson planning process and really giving those educators in a frame to put what they're learning about universal design for learning and translate into what they need to do every single day in their classroom. So those would be three resources that I would, that I go to all the time and that I would recommend to others.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (31:41)
Well, thank you for sharing those resources, Beth. Uh, I will leave some links to those books in the show notes. There are advocates out there can decide if they want to pick up one or three of those copies of those books to pick up for themselves. And then also they can share with some others as well. So once again, I am speaking with Beth POS. If we have some folks that want to reach out to you and want to connect with you, what's the best way to connect with you online?

Beth Poss: (32:06)
So you can connect with [email protected] or you can find me on Twitter at POS Beth, or you can find me on Instagram at Beth POS. I finally figured out how to put my first name first and my last name last I hit Instagram.

Sheldon L. Eakins, Ph.D.: (32:23)
All right, well Beth, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Beth Poss: (32:29)
It was my pleasure too. Thanks Sheldon.

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