An educational consultant enthusiastically discusses the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) method in an example-driven resource for parents and teachers.
In a world that’s seen leaps and bounds in technology, what progress has been made in how kids are taught in school? Novak (UDL Now!, 2016), who’s also a parent herself, is convinced that today’s children need an updated mode of learning that meets their individual needs. To make this change, she says that one may use the well-known UDL educational framework. The method, she says, breaks down the learning process into three parts: the affective network, which “has to be motivated”; the recognition network, which “has to be resourceful”; and the strategic network, which “has to be self-directed.” The author uses an abundance of metaphors to help explain this method, encouraging readers to “think of the brain as a heating system” with the three aforementioned networks acting as the “thermostat,” the “burner”, and the “blower,” working together to heat a home. This metaphor is expanded with examples of UDL lessons in action in classroom settings and in Novak’s own life, showing how paying attention to these three parts of the learning process can better engage students and children at home. Subsequent chapters discuss the value of variability, the hardships that teachers face, and the power of high expectations. The intriguing metaphors help to make some of the jargon more palatable, each chapter ends with helpful “key takeaways,” and snappy line drawings illustrate Novak’s points through the book. Although she has written the book as a resource for parents, the majority of its ideas are meant to be implemented in the classroom. Readers may want more examples of how a parent can engage their child’s teacher with these tools. There’s some discussion of specific challenges (the chapter “What Teachers Are Up Against” is a welcome addition), but some other factors that may influence kids (poverty, trauma, stress) aren’t addressed. That said, the book’s bright metaphors, sample lessons, and anecdotes will make the UDL method appealing, even to readers with no teaching experience.
An often engaging guide, but parents may wish it were less pedagogical and more practical.