The Authority Podcast — Expert Insights and Fresh Ideas for Education Leaders

Dr. Katie Novak is an internationally-renowned education consultant, a graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, and the best-selling author of 14 books on inclusive practices, with over 250K books sold worldwide. 

Her latest book is UDL Now! (Third Edition): A Teacher’s Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms.

In this important episode, we discuss:
  • “If UDL is the answer, what is the question?”
  • Who should be doing UDL?
  • UDL is best practice: “Teachers are working too hard to not have a greater impact on learners.”
  • Understanding the similarities and differences between UDL and differentiated instruction (DI) — and why teachers should be doing both
  • Collective efficacy. “We can’t prevent all the challenges students will face, but we can help to alleviate them by designing a learning environment that leaves no room for failure.”
  • Role of PLCs
  • The three core beliefs of UDL: variability, firm goals, and expert learning
  • What is the right amount of student voice and choice?
Find UDL Now! from CAST Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and on Katie’s website: https://www.novakeducation.com/udl-now 

If you’re interested in interviews with professional, collegiate, Olympic and amateur sports coaches, check out my new show Sideline Sessions: https://sidelinesessions.transistor.fm/subscribe 

About today’s guest
Katie Novak, Ed.D. is an internationally renowned education consultant, a graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, and the best-selling author of 14 books on inclusive practices, with over 250K books sold worldwide. Katie designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), inclusive practices, and universally designed leadership. Connect on Twitter @KatieNovakUDL and LinkedIn

About the host
Ross Romano is a co-founder of the Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. He is a leadership development and performance coach for professionals in a range of industries and consults with organizations and high-performing leaders in the K-12 education industry to help communicate their vision and make strategic decisions that lead to long-term success. Connect on Twitter @RossBRomano and LinkedIn



We’re thrilled to be sponsored by IXL and MyFlexLearning

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Creators & Guests

Host
Ross Romano
Co-founder of Be Podcast Network and CEO of September Strategies. Strategist, consultant, and performance coach.
Guest
Katie Novak
Internationally recognized expert in universal design #UDL, #MTSS, and #InclusivePractices, educator, author, proud momma of 4, runner & lover of red heels.

What is The Authority Podcast — Expert Insights and Fresh Ideas for Education Leaders?

Are you looking for proven ideas to increase your influence, hire and develop an excellent staff, build a stronger culture, lead meaningful change, and form a strong foundation for teaching and learning success? This is the podcast for you.

On The Authority, leadership coach, storytelling strategist, and edtech advisor Ross Romano interviews the prominent education authors you already admire, up-and-coming voices, and experts from the worlds of business, personal development, and beyond — including Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestsellers — to take a deep dive into their wealth of practical insights.

Whether you're a leader to seeks to refine your command of core educational strategies, learn new management techniques from those who have used them at some of the world's largest corporations, gain fresh perspectives on personal development or student success from practitioners across fields, or a little bit of everything, you'll find powerful content in this series.

Ross Romano: [00:00:00] Welcome in, everybody, to another episode of the Authority Podcast on the BE Podcast Network. It is a pleasure, as always, to have you with us. Thank you for being here, and this is going to be a great conversation about a topic that many of you either know about or need to know about or think a lot more about, and we have the perfect guest to talk about it.

So my guest today is Katie Novak. Dr. Katie Novak is an internationally renowned education consultant and graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania's. Graduate School of Education, and the bestselling author of 14 books on inclusive practices with over a quarter of a million books sold worldwide.

Katie designs and presents workshops focusing on the implementation of UDL, of [00:01:00] multi tiered systems of support, inclusive practices, and universally designed leadership. And her new book, UDL Now, the third edition. It is a teacher's guide to applying universal design for learning in today's classroom.

Katie, welcome to the show.

Katie Novak: Thank you so much for having me.

Ross Romano: I'm going to start with I don't know if this is Jeopardy style or what, but if UDL is the answer, what is the question?

Katie Novak: What is the framework that we need in order to increase outcomes in diverse and inclusive classrooms?

Ross Romano: Excellent. You did a lot better than could be expected. I just last night was like, I'm going to ask it this way. There you go. But certainly occurs to me in reading your work that, the big G goals of what we're trying to achieve in education, period, right, that a lot more of the tactics and practices that we should be using and working toward those goals would have [00:02:00] UDL as part of them, then maybe what's true.

So , I thought it would be great for context setting to really look at that big picture and basically even in say, like, who should be doing UDL and why do I not hear everybody talking about it?

Katie Novak: Yeah. I mean, it I don't know when people say to me, who should be planning through the lens of UDL? And it's kind of, I hear who should be designing instructions so all kids learn, right? I mean, there is, there's no scenario in which we should not be really focused on what is it that kids need to learn at really high levels.

And given that we're not only incredibly unique and different from each other, but we're always changing. It's not like educators can say, I know exactly what kids need because these kids, including ourselves as adult learners, are really moving targets. Like what we need depends on the context. And so universal design is about what really [00:03:00] is the goal?

What are all the different potential pathways that people can take? Access in order to learn and share what they know. And then essentially it's allowing the user to really flex those more innovative future ready muscles to say, okay, so what really is the goal? And what do I need right now? And what's the best pathway for me to be challenged and supported?

So it's about how do we design learning that is flexible enough. While on the other hand, teaching kids how to be learners, which has not always been the focus of education. It was, I'm going to teach this, you're going to essentially become a recipient of my teaching. And now, given that we're competing with robots, we really need kids to think about what they need to do to be successful.

And so it, those two things kind of come together in a universally designed classroom. Yeah,

Ross Romano: even just , as far as, of course, all of the things the various stakeholders, influencers, [00:04:00] practitioners, right? All the people that make teaching and learning happen. That's, one of the things that I've did a lot of, had a lot of conversations about, did a lot of writing about over the last couple of years was the , teacher attrition, retention, recruitment, right?

All those issues around what, why do teachers leave the profession? Why do they leave their schools? What do schools need to be? And You know, there's a few big things that rise to the top of the reasons why teachers choose to leave at least their job, if not the profession entirely, which we know is a pretty important thing, and we need to keep experienced, qualified educators.

One is, leadership and just feeling like , what I'm the leadership I'm working for, it's not working for me. And that's, that's going to be found across all industries. But another really big one really consistently is I don't feel, or I no longer feel like I'm [00:05:00] making a difference here, right?

My students are not succeeding. I'm not able to have the impact I want to have. And that's why I'm in this line of work. And so if I can't do that, then why am I here? And I thought about that when reading , kind of a line you wrote about why. UDL is best practice and why one of the things it's going to do to support educators is teachers are working too hard to not have a greater impact on learners, right?

So they are pouring out everything they have, doing everything they have, and, but if they're not equipped with the right tools, Or , an expansive enough toolkit or something that is designed to reach all of those learners. That hard work , it's gonna have , the opposite effect.

It's going to burn them out versus necessarily reaching everybody.

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Katie Novak: I, I think that what we have done historically, what I did as a classroom teacher is I think we pour ourselves into trying to figure out what is going to work for [00:06:00] everybody. And it's like, how do I create one thing that works for everybody? There's what, like one thing won't work for everybody. So the example that I give sometimes is imagine that we all are like, after work, let's go out for drinks.

Right. And now we know for sure, you can predict that there's colleagues who don't drink alcohol, who have lactose intolerant, who are watching calories for whatever reason, have gluten sensitivity. We know that we have these diverse dietary needs and preferences. It's like a fact. And so essentially if we wanted to do more than everyone has water, which is like a really low bar, we can't just serve one thing.

And so we often talk about , the most exclusionary drink of all time is like the chocolate peanut butter mudslide. Cause it has like every bad thing , it is like, we know that there's lactose, there's gluten there's alcohol, there's nuts, like anything that excludes people is basically in that drink.

And it doesn't matter how hard I work to make it. Right? I could milk the cows for goodness sake to get the ice cream. [00:07:00] I could put out a choice of , 10 different glasses you could use, different straws you could choose, whipped cream or no whipped cream. The issue is simply that there is a barrier in that drink.

And so I think we're pouring ourselves into trying to make something work for everyone. And we often hear, okay, I know I need to provide choices, but they're not the choices that address the barrier. So if we have a colleague who is lactose intolerant and doesn't drink alcohol, it doesn't matter how hard I worked on it.

There's nothing wrong with our colleague. There's something wrong with the mudslide. And then I start saying, Oh gosh, I have to make a drink for everybody. And ultimately it comes down to, well, what is actually your goal? If your goal is just that you have a nice drink, certainly if you already have them outside and you want to make it, go for it, but you do much better by saying, Hey, I have some water, Coke, coffee, beer, and it's BYOB, right, and that's so much less work for me.

And then everybody comes and there's a better chance that people [00:08:00] get what they need. But I think that UDL is often. Really simplistically thought of as, Oh, I give choices, but it would be like, Hey, friend who doesn't drink alcohol, do you want your mudslide in a pint glass? Or do you want your mudslide cup?

And it's like, Oh, I'm providing you with a choice. And you're like, but that choice doesn't address the barrier. And so I think that we are starting off with something that's one size fits all. And then we're adding on all these different options and choices. And sometimes it's just a huge step back.

Which is, what really is the thing that kids have to know and do, and is there more than one way to do this? And, given that we have kind of these dual masters of working towards academic standards and then also working towards these portrait of a graduate, these core values, these different outcomes that we're looking for to prepare students for their future.

We can make that come alive by saying, all right, so one of the goals in our school is that you're going to be creative thinkers and that you're going to be collaborative. And the standard that we're working on, for example, is [00:09:00] to explain how the solar system impacts You know, night and day and weather and things like that.

So what are the different ways that you're, you want to, we could explain it, right? Like we can pass that off. We can shift that to student led by saying what, I'm going to share with you a little bit about what the non negotiable goal is. And I'm going to give you some essential questions, but ultimately how can you explain it?

How do you want to do it? And in some ways we're taking that away. By going home and burying ourselves in planning and trying to come up with all these different options, but we can say let's BYOB. Let's , bring your own idea for how you're going to explain, and then it becomes relevant becomes authentic and then ultimately we can start saying okay great so if we know what the outcome is.

And what you're working towards now, think about what do you need? What kind of research do you have to do? So I think that in some ways we're still so focused on teaching that some people are missing on the opportunity to step back [00:10:00] and say, is this something that we could plan together? And I could shift some of that work over to students because no matter how many cocktails I put on my special list, I might not get the one that you want. that's what we're trying to do right now is like, we're burying ourselves and I'm like, save yourselves. You're working too hard and kids need the opportunities to work through and be reflective and come up with ideas. And that is just as important as working towards our content and skill standards.

Ross Romano: Yeah, I'm still going to make a note to go get one of those mud slides though after we're done here.

Katie Novak: Yeah, I mean, it is, I like, I try to think about what is the drink that the least amount of people will drink. And I think that might be it.

Ross Romano: That's, I think that's a good choice. So, to people who are kind of learning about UDL or kind of , understanding it in the context of other practices that they're used to. There may be some who are thinking, this sounds like DI. It [00:11:00] sounds like differentiated instruction. Is it the same thing?

How are they different? Am I supposed to be doing both of them?

Katie Novak: Yes. Yes. You're supposed to be doing both of them. So like, there is like this very interesting relationship between the two because they both use the word differentiate. And so I saw Carol and Tom was on your podcast. I would like freak out if I ever got to talk to her. I'm such a big fan, but essentially her work came out of big shifts.

To inclusion from levels in the 90s where you had these separate programs and you have these gifted and talented classes and you had these general education classes and there was this merge and it was this recognition of, wow, kids need very different things. Some kids need acceleration. Some kids need support.

And , once we get to know students, we might realize that what we're designing simply isn't meeting their needs and we need to design different opportunities for them. And so a lot of the work on differentiated instruction is how do we ensure that we're responsive to students based on data and based on what they need.

So it's an absolutely [00:12:00] critical framework, especially in the world of data informed decision making and really trying to understand our impact. So UDL, Universal Design for Learning, is how do I design the lesson proactively to provide the pathways so that students have opportunities to make choices about their own learning with the intention of everyone learning at high levels.

So I could sit with a teacher and I could help them universally design a lesson. The first thing I would say is like, what really is it that all students have to know and do? Let's look at the goal. Let's unpack it. What's the non negotiable success criteria? And then how could kids learn it? What materials might they need?

How will you know what they are learning? Right? And then we say to students, Alright, think about the goal, look at an exemplar of what success is, what do you feel like you need and why. And students are going to make these decisions. And in this perfect unicorn world where we're like , there's fairies and unicorns and it's amazing.

All students [00:13:00] choose super responsibly and they're all challenging themselves and they're all getting the support they need. And it's like this beautiful right now that would be adorable, but like life is messy and beautiful and that's not going to happen. So in the moment. we're realizing, wow, like this group of students is really struggling and they need more instruction, or this group of students is really, there's some lagging skills there, or there's some real need for acceleration.

I definitely want to be responsive and provide additional options and provide feedback. And so there's this really interesting dance between how do I proactively design something with the intention of all students having access to it. all students being able to choose a pathway that works for them.

But how then am I going to be present in the classroom to get to know my learners so that I can use data and their responses and not just test data, street data, all the data to say, how do I essentially work with students to create something different? So [00:14:00] I was an English teacher. So the UDL lens would be , my goal is that everyone will be able to write, let's just say, an informative piece.

And so what are the barriers that might prevent that? They don't know what to write about, so I give them options for pre writing activities, where I give them maybe a prompt, and then they can choose to either work in a small group to talk about it to get ideas, they could do a brain dump on their own, they might take some time to do some research, but I give them options for pre writing.

And then maybe some students would struggle to plan their piece, so I allow them to either do an outline, or a storyboard, or a graphic organizer, or kind of talk through it with a partner. Then I provide options for students drafting. It could be by hand, it could be voice to text, it could be you know, whatever, type it, and I'm providing all the depth so I can get ahead of it and say, given a really inclusive class, I want students to take some time at the beginning to really think about what where they are as a writer, what [00:15:00] strategies work best for them, and create this plan.

But while they're working, I'm circulating, I'm checking in with students, and by the time it gets to a draft, I realize there's five or six kids who just the writing lacks organization. I might then say, I need to work with these five students, and really go through how to properly write an introduction.

How do you transition subtly? What does that look like? And in that point, that would be something that I, as a teacher, I am differentiating instruction for those students, but it, for me, it's all about how can we then use that to be maybe more proactive next time to say, Hey, in the last. Writing assignment we did, there were definitely some students who recognized that what they chose just wasn't the best strategy, and that's as valuable as knowing what the best strategy is, because you can like adjust.

So let's take some extra time here, try to make the right decisions. So [00:16:00] it's really, we're always going back and forth between how do I design something that's going to work for all students, and then how do I provide a safety net. of really getting to know students. So what I say is like, I can help to universally design a lesson, but I would need to be present with kids to see the work they're doing to really differentiate instruction.

So both are necessary at all times. I

Ross Romano: So, speaking of kids I guess, start here, like, how do you recommend, like, communicating with Clarity, like, with your students about the community? You know, components, beliefs, purpose of UDL or , like having a kind of appropriate, clear understandable transparency around what your goals are in creating the learning environment.

Katie Novak: If we're talking about the goals of universal design, the goal of universal design is that every student [00:17:00] becomes an expert learner, which is defined as we want kids to be purposeful and motivated to learn. We want them to be. Be resourceful and knowledgeable about how they learn best and we want them to be really strategic and working towards their goals and ultimately that transcends every subject area.

is that what I often hear is, oh, I want students to be more engaged. Well, engagement is attention and commitment requires purpose and motivation. Or, oh my goodness, I have students that have these lagging skills when it comes to reading or math skills, right? It's okay, but there's resources that you can leverage.

to essentially create scaffolds to access complex text before maybe you have basic literacy skills or , calculators. And while we're providing those resources, how can we also ensure that students are building that knowledge, right? So we want to make sure that students are learning how to be successful learners.

And that [00:18:00] becomes more important than do they understand all the different types of figurative language or the order in which the world war happened. Like those of course are important things, but that is no longer the total end goal. It's like, yes, this is important, but while you're learning about this, you also need to understand who you are as a learner and what you need to do in life to be successful.

Ross Romano: And why, I guess, why is it important or , is it particularly important with respect to UDL or is this just a general principle? The student recruitment aspect of like recruiting them into getting their buy in, right, and getting them to be , stakeholders with a high degree of input and agency in in the learning that you're, creating as a teacher.

Katie Novak: I think that UDL is a framework that provides us with some really good strategies for doing that. So I don't [00:19:00] think that only UDL practitioners are talking about we need students to be more engaged. We need them to be more resourceful. We need them to really take advantage ethically of emerging technologies.

We want all of those things, but I think sometimes we struggle with how to do it and that's okay. Universal design is actually an architecture concept. So how do you design a building that once we are very clear about the purpose of the building, we ensure that it is designed in a way that everyone can access the building.

So , we make sure that there are paved ways and ramps and elevators and doors that open. And so what are the ramps and the elevators and the opening door in a lesson? And when we're thinking about how to design it, a lot of people will get frustrated because they think of it as. It's very challenging to make students interested in some of our content.

Engagement is so much bigger than just recruiting interest. It's also about making something worthwhile, because as a successful adult, [00:20:00] I do a lot of things every day that I am absolutely not interested in doing. It's not something that I in, I don't enjoy filing my taxes. I don't like really look forward to , running payroll or taking out the trash or cleaning the kitchen, right?

But I do have the autonomy to choose how I'm going to do it in a way that allows me to manage. So I listened to audio books, maybe why I'm cleaning, or I choose to use a turbo taxes. I'm creating my taxes or , I tell my, 14 year old to go out and take the trash out. Right. So I don't think that it is in anybody's best interest to make themselves the lead entertainer on the fun bus, but rather say, listen, this is what we're going to learn.

This is why it's important. There's something so worthwhile about figuring out how you can be successful [00:21:00] despite. the fact that it might not be the most interesting thing and it's not going to come easy. But that's what engagement is. It's being disciplined and determined and being able to work through obstacles because you figure out how you can work through obstacles.

And I think that sometimes as soon as students get to those obstacles, they say, well, this is too hard. I can't do it. Or it's not interesting to me. And what I would say is , my job is to provide options and choices so that I can increase your interest in this task. But. The truth is you're not going to love.

Every single thing that you learn about, we have different preferences, we have different strengths, but I do hope you realize that you can do difficult things and that you can in fact figure out strategies that will allow you to go to point A to point B in a way that works best for you.

So allowing teachers to say, this is not about entertainment, but it's about like, there is a purpose to what we're doing and I'm not going [00:22:00] to ask you to do it in the same exact way.

And certainly you'd be more interested maybe if you could choose to work alone or with a partner or more interested if you could choose to edit a video instead of writing a paper. But sometimes The standards don't allow for that flexibility. If it says you're producing writing, you're producing writing.

If it says you're speaking and making a presentation, that's what you're doing. It's just, what are all the different tools, strategies, practices that we can leverage so that students have the best chance of being able to meet that goal.

Ross Romano: (ad here) engagement's always an interesting topic because I don't know, I think a lot of people just, like, conflate it with attention, like, can I get students to pay attention,

Katie Novak: They think it's fun.

Ross Romano: or fun or that it has to necessarily be right. Fun, or and, I, one, like, I just always think that so many of the, times, I guess, when there's like a focus on student disengagement, why aren't [00:23:00] students engaged, like, the root cause is, educator disengagement, like that students respond to what's happening in front of them. And when we have ways of being able to do teaching and learning that give educators choice, keep their brains turned on right where they're clearly engaged in this, then students are going to respond to that in kind.

And also when they're supported and healthy and have good wellbeing, all the things that make educators feel good about the work that they're doing. And then also like, okay, well, what are the roots? You know. Contributors to engagement purpose, like meeting, do I understand why we're doing this, how it's good for me, like the same thing as in a legal negotiation or a mediation where you find the self interest, like to say, okay, we're going to get these parties to kind of come and operate and engage in this discussion or negotiation because we have [00:24:00] identified for them.

Why it's to their benefit. Are we doing that for students? And you know, and something very different from fun, but then a lot of people might think of as fun, but joy, like, but like pure joy that it's , and that those don't always have to be the same thing, but sometimes that can be the thing where it's like, okay, our focus today is on just You know, doing something that is straight up enjoyable.

Our focus today is doing something where it's not that much fun or that exciting, but we do understand why it's important. But also like, I can see that my teacher is just as invested in this as I am. So, and it , that it's not about tricking them into just paying attention to what we're trying to

Katie Novak: Right. I mean, well, the thing is there's much less traditional teaching, I think, is that we often see these like kind of glazed a donut looks like these sweet kids that are retreating. Like they're in the room. It's not like they're necessarily being [00:25:00] disruptive, but like , the earbuds are in and not, but it's because we're asking them to be passive.

It's like, I'm going to show you how to do this. And there's always some value in modeling. Don't get me wrong, but really making kids. You know, actively aware that they're going to be doing the learning, that I'm facilitating a place for them to learn, not for them to watch. They watch a lot on TikTok, on , Instagram, they're not there to watch me, they're there to create content, to do the work, to talk to one another.

And I think even in saying, Sometimes joy is really miserable and messy looking that I'm a long distance runner. And if you see me at the end of a marathon, like I, there is so much joy for knowing that I can push my body to do hard things. But if you took a picture of me, you'd be like, Oh my gosh, she looks miserable.

Right. And I think that sometimes we, we think of attention as being , focused eyes on , the speaker, we think of joy as being smiling and laughing. And it's like, [00:26:00] Accomplishing something really challenging brings me incredible joy, even at the end, I'm sweating and , bleeding and blistered.

I was like, yes, I nailed it. And how do we help students to realize, yes, absolutely. You can accomplish things that you've like never believed that you could accomplish if you stick with something if you try different strategies, if you back off when that struggles becoming unproductive but then going back into it.

And certainly the more that we say to students like is there another way to do this then we can really start tapping into their passions because a kid who loves You know, art might say, Oh, can I create something like a stop motion film to express this simulation? And the kid maybe isn't psyched about the actual simulation, but they love the technology.

Or a student who, for instance, is a really voracious reader , being able to go back in and read something as opposed to watching a video. But it's about not so much that we as the educators have to [00:27:00] curate all of these options because that's unsustainable. That we have to share with students.

This is the goal. This is what you have to learn. These are the questions you have to answer. How are we going to do this ultimately? And giving students some opportunities to think about it. And sometimes we say, but students, they have to be older to do that. And I have seen kindergarten teachers that have said.

I'm going to teach you all how to log into an iPad and complete your Ixl math exercises. And that could take four weeks of routine building. So the kids could come in, scan the QR code, get into Ixl and start working on their math. But then we might say, well, you've been working on understanding, let's say , the numbers of base 10.

And there's actually other ways to do that. So tomorrow I'm going to teach you a new game called the make 10 game, right? And at that point you can then say, okay, to warm up, do you want to either go on IXL or do you want to play the make 10 game? But after a week of that, then it's like, okay, friends, does anyone ever practice counting a [00:28:00] different way at home?

Ross Romano: Right,

Katie Novak: is there any other ways that you can think of? And I think sometimes just let's have a morning meeting. Let's pull a community circle together and let's go around and share like what are potential ways that we can practice. And there's no pressure to do it right now. If you think of something tomorrow, come in and tell me, or if you want to go home and talk to your grownup, come in and tell me, but maybe tomorrow there can be three options and we can try someone's option.

So I think that sometimes it's just leveraging. Kids absolutely can contribute to the options that we provide and it doesn't have to be something that we're always doing and I think that in some ways a lot of educators, I myself feel this, is we're like feeling it's form more than function for design.

Like I want to make the choice board beautiful or I want to make sure this slide deck is great and I fall into that all the time but ultimately what is the purpose. of me doing this. Like, what is the value to [00:29:00] kids? What is the ultimate thing that they need to know or do? Have I been super clear about that?

And then is there flexibility for them to learn it? And if kids aren't learning, it's because there is a barrier somewhere in, in design because , Ross Green, I don't know if you ever talked to Ross Green, is at Harvard. Kids do well when they can. Kids do well when they can do. Nobody wants to feel Like they can't accomplish something right and so it's how do we make sure they have what they need so they can do well

Ross Romano: Yeah, well, yeah, all on that last point. Yeah, I don't know how this is for people with more common names. I can't talk to people named Ross because it's just, it's, it doesn't happen to, it happens too

Katie Novak: Ross hey Ross. Hi Ross.

Ross Romano: weird. It's like, why is your name , if my name was like Mark or , Bobby or something, it may be different.

But also listeners, I might as well take this opportunity since I Katie organically, happen to mention our sponsor IXL. Hey , what

Katie Novak: Oh No [00:30:00] way. Stop it. Stop it.

Ross Romano: You know, at the end of this interview, after you finish listening to the episode, please finish listening.

But then go over to ixl. com slash be, learn more about it, check it out. You might have heard the ads about it, but hey , we didn't plan that, but what, I mean, how can you get a better endorsement,

Katie Novak: That is literally hilarious. Oh my goodness No, that was the lesson I observed recently in the kindergarten class and you know, I it that's it's kids met

Ross Romano: Yeah, exactly. Katie, with respect to the student voice and choice, is there such a thing as too much choice or

Katie Novak: Oh my goodness. Yes, there is. And this was something that I always kind of felt in my gut, but I didn't have the research for and then I found the research for it. But essentially, working memory, cognitive load is not able to hold a lot of things [00:31:00] in place. You know, in its hand, that's proverbial hand, at the same time and compare them, right?

So when we're asking students to make a choice, basically we're saying, weigh A against B against C and decide which of these is best for you. Now, there's a cognitive test that's called digit span, which is like how many digits can you remember? If I were to give you a credit card number and I were to give you 16 digits, how many do you remember, right?

And what we know is that in the best of times, before we have been negotiated by social media and things like that, the answer was like, really, seven was basically your mythical average. And what we know is that how many choices is too many choices? The answer is seven, because learning and dissatisfaction and confusion.

It essentially decreases , exponentially after six choices. That's what the research says, but the best outcomes are between two and four choices. which I can't even tell you how many tic tac toe boards I tried to fill [00:32:00] out. I wanted nine options. And basically what happens is kids are spending so much energy and so much time trying to decide which one, but then they can't remember, well, what was the first one?

Oh, wait, do I want the first one or the second one? And they end up in this kind of spin and they're wasting cognitive energy of which really needs to be focused on learning. So it's much better to say, for instance. My goal is right now that you are going to reflect. You're going to reflect and you're going to answer this question.

Would you rather answer this question in writing, or would you rather answer this question by having a conversation with a classmate over here where I can kind of monitor and circulate? Which of those works best for you? Does anyone have another suggestion for how to answer this question, given that we only have 10 minutes,

Ross Romano: Right.

Katie Novak: right?

That's three. The writing, the talking, or the like, is there something that I'm missing here? And sometimes kids will say, Oh, is , could I just record my voice [00:33:00] and do it? Or could , could I do a vocal? Yeah, sure. Why not? But that's three. That's enough. You might even say you are going to write it or you're going to have a conversation, but you can decide what the writing looks like.

Do you want to try to write it in a sonnet? Do you want to type it? Do you want to put it in your notebook? Right? Even that provides students with some opportunity to stop, to think, to be a little bit more self aware. And what I always ask my students is, what are you going to choose and why? Now, if you're listening and you say, my students always say, I don't know, then you're going to have to Goldilocks them a little bit, right?

Goldilocks knew what was just right because she tried three things. And so I might say something like, we're all going to try taking Cornell notes. We're going to do it for a week. I'm going to give you examples of Cornell notes. We're going to , recognize you can do them digitally or you can do them in hard copy.

We're going to be using them on a formative assessment so you can think about is that a great way to organize your thoughts, right? [00:34:00] At the end, what did you think about those? Would you adapt the way that you take them, right? The next week we all do sketch notes, for example. Sometimes we do have to provide students with a couple of different experiences before we can say, I'm going to give a Explicit instruction here for 10 minutes.

At the end of it, I want you to take notes because your working memories are not as fantastic as you think they are. And I want you to make sure that you have an artifact and some visible way to represent what you're thinking and what you're learning, and you know what your options are. And so what works best for you.

And I think that, again, that becomes a matter of routine. I can bring that up again almost any time throughout the whole year. So it's not so much about how do I universally design a lesson, but. The purpose of you writing it down is simply because we know, like, eyewitness accounts are very weak because we have a really hard time remembering details after something happens.

So, after we do this lab, you're going to write down some notes. Would you [00:35:00] rather do it this way or that way? This is why it's important. This is why it's of value to you later. And then giving them those options. And so I think that 2 to 4 is always where you're going to start. If you're right now not providing any choices, just start with 2.

And realize that it's not only about, is it writing or is it talking, but it's about, it's a social emotional exercise to say, which of these is best for you? What do you feel like is the most responsible decision? What's going to challenge you and why? And kids will get better at answering that question the more they have practice.

Ross Romano: Yeah. Yeah. I mean that , being the important point too that there, I imagine some students who might resist or say, just tell me what to do. I don't want, I don't want these choices. And you know, ultimately while we love, being able to follow instructions as a skill it's also you know, it's a skill to be able to make decisions and to, and to understand your , areas of strength, right?

Different ways of expressing oneself and what might be best suited for a [00:36:00] situation. So being able to have that dialogue, those conversations is lear is more learning.

Katie Novak: Yeah. And the other thing too is there's always options and choices. People will say, Oh, Katie, like sometimes there's not choices. You just have to file your taxes. And it's like, that is like the most universally designed process of all time. The firm goal is you have to file your taxes, but like, you can go to the post office and pick up forms.

You could. Print them off the internet. They're in a million languages. You can do turbo tax. You could file them yourself. You could file an extension, right? The firm goal is non negotiable. So we often talk about standardized tests and they say, there's no way you can universally design a standardized test.

And I was like, I mean, yes, you can. You know, we just heard the SAT for the first time ever. This spring is going online and that in and of itself allows for, do I want to read the instructions or do I want the instructions read to me? Do I want to use scrap paper to write down my thoughts or do I want to just read on the screen?

But even things like, I'll always say to adults, you [00:37:00] don't think of the fact that you're personalizing your experience taking a standardized test, but you actually are. Some of us will start by reading the directions and then reading the text and then reading the question and then reading the multiple choice.

I would not do it that way. I would go immediately to what is the long composition? What am I going to have to write? I need to know that as the purpose before I read. What kind of multiple choice questions are going to be asked? I want to have that on my radar and then I'll go back so I don't have to keep going back and trying to find things, right?

That's an option. And I told my own kids that recently and they were like, what, like they didn't even know that was an option. So certainly that is a test that is in some ways inaccessible. It's , not translatable and kids can't use tools like voice to text yet, but ultimately there's still strategies you can use to be more successful.

If you know what those strategies are,

Ross Romano: So a lot of these pieces, particularly , I think a lot of this, the student communication and their agency and choice, I [00:38:00] mean, it's happening in the classroom level. But there's also, something that I saw you write. I mean, the concepts are certainly covered in the books. I don't know if this exact phrasing came from the book.

I saw it on LinkedIn, but you know, but about designing a learning environment that leaves no room for failure and this kind of. relating to the importance of collective efficacy and to , the body, I guess, of educators. There's, I think, a role of what PLCs can and should be doing to make this happen, right, to establish collective efficacy.

Can you talk about that piece a bit and why it's so critical to making UDL work and be that you make that you actually happen.

Katie Novak: so I was a general education teacher and I was expected to teach kids who were newcomers who didn't have English yet, who had significant support needs and intellectual disabilities, who works , accelerated, and I can get ahead of , [00:39:00] this kid needs to be challenged, but then the question is, what might that challenge look like, or this kid needs some support.

What does that instruction look like? And so people say, how am I supposed to do it? I was like, you singular are not supposed to do it. You are supposed to have the time to learn what those strategies might be from colleagues. So the reason that I felt so prepared to meet the needs of really diverse kids is for instance, I had a planning period with a teacher who is a multilingual specialist.

with a special education teacher. There was an instructional coach that would come out and observe. There was a district BCBA or board certified behavior analyst. Now I was still the teacher in the room, right? I didn't need another adult in the room, but I'm like, can you someone tell me what to provide as an option?

Because that just isn't my area of expertise. And so the idea of collective efficacy is different from personal teaching efficacy. So personal teaching efficacy is I can teach all kids. I believe 100 percent that all kids can learn. I [00:40:00] have really high expectations for all kids, but in my career, there have been kids that have brought me to the edge of my ability to cope of like, I've tried everything I know, and you know, I really want to help the kid.

And the next step is like, okay, so how can my colleagues , help me to try things differently. And really that's what a professional learning community is supposed to be is an inclusive group of people saying, okay, so what really is it that kids have to know and do that firm goals piece. And then what are the assessments or the flexible ways that we'll know.

You know, whether or not kids can do it. And then what are we going to do when kids are not working towards mastery? What are we going to do when the kid can already do it? And it's not a Katie Novak decision. It's a, our team. And one of the things that I say a lot is it's really difficult to be inclusive of a kid when we're not inclusive of adults.

So the way that our schools schedules are designed is your teachers who are , your ELL [00:41:00] specialist, your special education teachers, your adjustment counselors, they're on. when your gen ed teachers are off on their prep. So you have a bunch of people who do not have this extensive knowledge of kids who have different support needs.

And we're all , rolling our heads. And so the idea is really about how do we shift our systems to make sure that we have really good ongoing professional learning, that we have professional learning communities that are inclusive of the expertise of the school and not just a bunch of general education teachers who, again, we're subject matter experts.

We know a lot about kids, but we're not experts in , L1 language acquisition, right? It's like, I know a lot about it, but if a kid is still facing barriers, can you come in? Could you observe? Could you give me some things that I could try? And I think that sometimes We're a little bit left to our own devices and certainly artificial intelligence can give us some good ideas.

But artificial intelligence is not an accountability partner because it's not going to come back and ask me how it went. [00:42:00] And my colleague is. So it's not so much where are the ideas is, Where is somebody for me to say, okay, try that what's next. And so I'm a huge advocate for building systems that teachers have a lot of time to co plan, to consult, to observe each other, to learn from each other, because that's really what we need to do to say, how do we increase the outcomes of all kids?

Ross Romano: Right. Yeah, absolutely. In the end , listeners, there's, I think, a variety of episodes throughout the series that are going to connect and support one another here around collective efficacy, around PLCs, around things that really need to be tackled at the structural and system level within schools to make sure that practices can really take root.

So , thinking about those ideas and how they also apply here can lead you to the right approach to have the outcomes that you want. Katie, is there anything I haven't [00:43:00] Anything important I haven't asked you about or any , last kind of messages you want to send out to the listeners here, I'll give you the open ended space to kind of, fill in my blind spots.

Katie Novak: No, I think we talked about the important things is that kids are wildly different. And so they need different things. We are only a person as an educator. We cannot be. The person who comes up with every idea. We need our colleagues, we need to co plan some of this with kids, which requires a shift to student led, and there's no guarantee that any of these strategies are going to work right away.

I think that it's just committing to the process of improvement. It's not about perfection. People will say , do you have some ideas that I could use tomorrow? And I'm like, Oh, I can give you some ideas, but it's ultimately how your team follows up. You might say it didn't exactly work this way, so I have to tweak it.

You have to ask for feedback from students and from colleagues, because this, if there was an easy way to change the outcomes of kids, [00:44:00] all of us would have done it already. Right? It's a brilliant group of people who care about kids, who want kids to do well. We're like spinning our wheels. There is no easy way to fix this.

This is a journey of improvement. And I think if we can see an increase in the frequency, the duration, the intensity of student learning, of student engagement, we will help students to get where they need to go. But I think there's a tremendous amount of pressure to try to You know, suddenly flip the outcomes of kids overnight and that might feel like I'm not making an impact, but people are making an incredible impact.

It's just realistic growth takes a little bit longer than we would like.

Ross Romano: Yeah. I , a lot of times when, sometimes educators have maybe felt like they have tried some of , these ideas, whether it's UDL, DI, forms of personalization, et cetera maybe not totally correctly, or with the right , the right resources or tools, [00:45:00] it feels like it's.

more work, right, or more effort, and then that the outcomes aren't necessarily there. But but realistically, I mean, I would describe more as more openness, more you know, like that there are certainly ways when done right, that it alleviates a lot of that work and strain and the burden to determine the exact detailed course of every single thing, right?

But it requires the openness to say, some things will work, some things will not some things the students will be in control of, and I am just going to have to speak see what happens or or understand that there's a couple of things we're going to have to do differently here. But know that exploration is critical to the achievement of things that we haven't achieved before, which is You know, universal student [00:46:00] success, right?

I mean, we haven't gotten there yet.

Katie Novak: We haven't yet. We haven't yet. Yep.

Ross Romano: Right. We haven't gotten there yet. And the first step to every student being successful is every student being able to learn and being comfortable and confident in the learning environment and you know, being engaged with that content and sometimes.

We have a great idea that we try and it works. Sometimes the thing that works is not something we thought, but it just comes up, right? So anyhow listeners, you can find the latest edition of UDL now from Kast Publishing. Kast is formerly the Center for Applied Special Technology, now it's just Kast but it's on their website.

You can also find it from Amazon. Barnes Noble and you can learn more at Katie's website. We'll put the link there below so you can check that out and go everywhere. There's also some other resources there. What are some of those other resources? Are there things there that listeners can check out if they really want to?

Dive in.

Katie Novak: I mean, well, a very exciting thing is the [00:47:00] audible just came out, which I've never been able to say before it's the third edition and there's never been an audible and the audible is hot off the press. I read it myself. It's not a robot, which is pretty fun. And so , I would say there are options for you to access UDL.

Now you can access it in hard copy ebook or now in audible, which is the first time I've been able to say that. And then. Again, on NovakEducation. com we have a ton of blogs and if you are Doing this work in your own area. We love to publish other people's work as well. So if you're listening to this and you're like, yes, I have had success with this in my own classroom, like hook me up because I think so many educators want to learn from other educators.

And certainly in our own schools, we have these professional learning teams and professional learning community, but there's actually this massive community of educators and we can all learn from each other if we are willing to kind of share and. rid ourselves of the toxic positivity of saying everything is going well and say what, there [00:48:00] are challenges here that we haven't had to deal with before, but we can figure it out together because we're like, awesome.

And we're brilliant people.

Ross Romano: Excellent. Listeners, check out the print book, check out the e book, check out the audio book, and also those other resources, downloadables, courses, and more to learn a lot more about UDL. So you can find all that. We'll put the links below to the website there where you can learn about that. Please also do, if you're not already, subscribe to The Authority for more author interviews like this coming your way.

every week on a variety of topics that are important to know about. Katie, thanks so much for being here.

Katie Novak: Thanks so much for having me.