Everyone is searching for strategies to evoke quality learning while supporting successful performance on high stakes tests. I wrote about knowing your learners to support the pursuit of this magical combination. In that post, we walked through the 4 phases of learning (Acquisition, Fluency, Maintenance, and Generalization) and I shared a quick example about multiplication facts. In this post, I want us to dig deeper into the Generalization phase, because it is one of the keys to student success. Especially in how it relates to UDL.
One of the difficulties with the UDL instructional framework is making the connection between multiple means of expression (many ways for the learner to demonstrate knowledge acquisition) and performance on high stakes testing that only allows students to respond ONE way (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, true/false questions). Unfortunately there are times our learners do not get credit for knowledge that they have acquired because of the limited scope of this type of assessment. We have all heard the phrase “don’t teach to the test” which I whole-heartedly agree. However, I firmly believe we should teach how to answer content questions in the manner the questions are asked. This is where Generalization comes to play.
Generalization is the ability of the learner to respond correctly to questions that are presented in different ways in different settings. For example if a math problem is taught displayed vertically, can the learner respond to the same problem displayed horizontally, with words, in different colors, with a different type of font, different font size…..the options are endless. Technically, the academic skill must be demonstrated correctly across a variety of presentations and when asked a variety of ways for it to be considered generalized (which is what we want!). This speaks directly to why UDL is the instructional framework of choice. Where it breaks down is that many times, there is not the opportunity to demonstrate the retention of content through a UDL lesson in the typical test-taking format. So here are a couple of ideas to enhance the UDL lesson:
1. Sample the Range: when teaching the content, display the material in a variety of ways that the learners will encounter. As they are engaging with the material in class, they will see these different representations there rather than on the high stakes test for the first time.
2. Add a generalization probe: at the end of the lesson or at the beginning of the next lesson, provide a short 5 – 10 question quiz that is asked in the same manner the high stakes testing will use. This requires the learner to begin generalizing (aka transfer of knowledge) the skills from the different options they were provided during the UDL lesson to the typical test taking format.
This should be done frequently, only take about 5 minutes, and consider not giving a grade for this exercise. Rather leverage the power of goal setting and have the learners get bonus points for answering more problems correctly or more problems efficiently. We’ll get into goal setting in a future posts.
There’s your quick tip to support student achievement: Add a generalization probe to your UDL lessons. You’ll be glad you did!