Leveling Up!

Leveling Up!
Posted on 12/03/2021

Sixth grade students are excited about leveling up! We aren’t talking about video games, we are talking about sixth grade math at Summit Trail Middle School (STMS) taught by Stephanie Bolinger. She is a general education math teacher embracing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and gamifies her curriculum to make it more accessible to all of her students.  

Bolinger’s excitement shines as she talks about how motivated her students are to participate in math. Allowing them to set their own pace, while challenging themselves to level up in their skill, has closed learning gaps for her students that have been challenged by math. She has been receiving positive feedback from students and their parents about the format of her math curriculum. Her feedback surveys show that her students feel successful in math.

UDL math class

Bolinger and many STMS teachers attended training hosted by Dr. Katie Novak about how to implement UDL last spring. STMS has co-taught (jointly taught by general education and special education teachers) English Language Arts (ELA)  classes for seven years. Now they are also offering co-taught math classes. In addition to co-taught classes, are a range of general education classes being taught in the UDL model.  

The UDL model breaks down skills and encourages the skills to be taught in multiple styles.  This gives multiple entry points for students to succeed in learning the skills in a mode of learning that works to the student’s strengths. The students then build skills on foundations of success. These skill building access points look like choice activities to the students. Students are provided a variety of choices to demonstrate understanding of skills that need to be learned.  This provides accessibility for students struggling with material, while at the same time providing challenges for students that seek to go deeper with their knowledge.  

One of many benefits of the UDL style of instruction is that peers can be in the same general education classroom, even if a student has a special education plan. This way the students are exposed to the same material as their peers and have the opportunity to further develop their skills, while being assessed in a way that they are successful.

Another benefit noted by Bolinger is that compassion is developed in the general education peers. They have the opportunity to experience that their peers have different kinds of strengths. Experiencing a co-taught or UDL classroom helps on-level learners to appreciate different strategies by having a variety of models in different learning styles used to present concepts and skills.

Incorporating UDL instruction is inspiring to Bolinger. As a teacher, she is challenged to think of different ways to teach the material to engage all her students.  

Bolinger is excited and inspired by her colleagues at STMS to see the different ways they are incorporating UDL into their classroom, whether they are co-teaching or not. She is encouraged by the enthusiasm she sees when going to the trainings.  

Dr. Audrey Meyers, Tahoma School District’s Special Services Coordinator stated, “Through the use of UDL as a vehicle to reach all learners, we will be able to better respond to the increasingly wide range of abilities, interests, and backgrounds in our student population.  Our inclusion initiative ties nicely with our updated School Board goals as we develop strategies for equity, mental health/social-emotional learning, and high expectations.”

“With UDL we will be able to build on our relationships with students and meet more students where they are academically. We want students to feel confident and successful in school and UDL will help with that. UDL’s mantra is “All means all” and we are excited to meet ALL student needs,” said Brianna Brebner, STMS Behavior Intervention Specialist.

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