How are You More Valuable Than WikiPedia? A Look at #UDL and Taking Notes

Do you remember having to take notes while you were in school? I used to absolutely dread going to ninth grade American History, because I knew that my hand would hurt by the end of Mr. H's 40 minute onslaught of notes. He used to have a giant blackboard that stretched from one side of his room to the other. Like clockwork, he would begin his lecture with a cloud of dust and a flurry of notes. By the end of the period, you were lucky if you could keep up.

In a sense, it was the survival of the fittest. If you were good at copying notes, you were successful. If you weren't good at copying notes, then you would automatically fail. Nothing against Mr. H, but this model of note taking isn't the best for today's diverse classrooms. Think about all of the barriers this type of structure poses. Ironically, he is now an administrator! Go figure! :)

I would like to share how you can provide options for your students, when it comes to note taking.

What is Your Note Taking Philosophy? 

 First of all, how do you have your students take notes? We may say "take notes," but our students may interpret this as write down this entire PowerPoint slide or everything I say. Not all students learn alike; therefore, not all students take notes alike.You may want to consider having your students use guided notes in the beginning of the year and then transition to a less structured format later in the year.

Flexible Options

Most students are fine with taking notes by hand. Providing them with a worksheet is not a huge deal, but think about students who may have terrible handwriting. They may be able to write it now, but then they may not be able to understand it later! Perhaps providing students with the option of writing by hand or using a Word Document may be appropriate. You already have the document saved it won't create too much extra work for you!

Last year, I tried a note taking experiment. I gave my students the option of taking Guided Notes or taking their own notes in a blank Microsoft Word document. I was surprised at the number of students who chose to take their own notes. I asked to collect their electronic notes at the end of the period and was surprised at how well they did.

What About Your Visual Learners? 

A good friend of mine is a very visual learner. In fact, he teaches that way. He uses a variety of mind maps and concept maps to help students make connections with materials. Could this be an option in your classroom? Could this be an activity that you could incorporate to break up the monotony or provide another option for students to take notes?

What if you have a visual student who doesn't feel comfortable drawing or perhaps you have a visual learner with a physical disability? What could you do? Using mind mapping programs like may not be a bad alternative to help your students.

Audio and Notes? 

What about the student who forgot their glasses today or the student with a permanent visual impairment? How do you help these students take notes? Perhaps you may want to think about using the power of the human voice to help these students. There are a variety of programs out there to create Screencasts and Podcasts. Some of my favorite are Screencast-o-maticAudacity, and AudioBoo.

This is not only beneficial to students with visual impairments, but it is very helpful for all students who may need to hear it again. I do this with my Accounting students. We take notes, but I have a 3 - 5 minute recording of what we did in class that day, so that they can review what we talked about.

High-Tech Options - Penultimate for the iPad

Some of your students may just hate taking notes because it's "boring." Perhaps it's not the subject that is boring, but the way students are taking notes. Some of our high-tech students, who want to be engaged in different ways - and our unorganized students, may benefit from Penultimate.

If you are familiar with Evernote, this is a new addition to the Evernote family. This iPad App is free and gives users the ability to hand write their notes into their iPad. Penultimate saves your notes in a notebook separated by topic, category or project. It even has a search feature to help users search quickly navigate through their existing notes!


Why do you have your students take notes? What could they learn in your class that they couldn't find on Wikipedia? Is note taking a classroom management tool or do you really want your students to use them?

I've really thought about how I am going to do this in my classroom. My goal is to provide them with various methods of note taking in August, September, October, and November. By January, I want them to come up with the method that works best for them. We'll see what happens.

I've learned that you have to think about what you want and how you want to get them there. It begins with understanding that our students need different ways of accessing and interacting with the information we are giving them.

Understanding the #UDL Guidelines: Part 3 - Multiple Means of Represenation (cont'd)

I'm continuing my series on the UDL Guidelines that help support the 3 principles of UDL. We are still focusing on the Guidelines that help support Multiple Means of Representation.
  • Perception
  • Using Language, Expressions, and Symbols
  • Comprehension
Today's focus will be on the ingredient of Language, Expressions, and Symbols!

The Guideline:

Providing students with Multiple Means of Representation can also mean providing options for comprehending language, mathematical expressions, and symbols because written language includes more than letters. How those letters are combined create language and create meaning for our students.

Bumper Stickers - "Low-Tech" 
For example, when I teach new vocabulary terms, I will often have my students create Bumper Stickers to help define the term. The stickers contain the term, pictures to describe the term, and a slogan to describe the term. I do this because anyone can copy and read a definition, but true understanding occurs when we can make meaning in different ways.

I like this approach because visual learners can use the graphics to make meaning, auditory learners can listen to the explanation, and the kinestetic learners are able to construct an actual product. When we are finished, I will often place the bumper stickers around my room to help remind students of the new terms. Many teachers use word walls, some use flashcards, and I use bumper stickers! It doesn't matter what you use because the whole idea is to provide students with multiple exposures to the vocabulary to make meaning.

Quizlet - "High-Tech"
Quizlet is free flashcard program that provides students a variety of ways for understanding terms, symbols, equations, and even pictures. You can use the basic flashcard feature, have the terms read aloud, quiz yourself, or play review games. You can create your own set of cards or browse the thousands of user-generated cards that already exist.

I recently completed coursework through Temple University to earn my Instructional Learning Technology certificate. While I was completing my coursework, I was asked to construct an online training site / workshop to educate teachers on ELL. I really don't have much of an ELL background, but I was fascinated how ELL students construct meaning of the English language. Quizlet is a perfect tool for ELL students for several reasons:
  1. Students can have terms read aloud, which can help students understand the terms better.
  2. The advanced version gives students the opportunity to see pictures. 
  3. Quizlet naturally scaffolds and customizes how students learn words. They have the option of using the supports of what appears and doesn't appear on the cards.
  4. Students can interact with terms through quizzes and games, which is very much engaging!

Join me later in the week, as I continue discussing the UDL guidelines and wrap up Multiple Means of Representation!

For more information on UDL, visit CAST or the National Center on UDL.

Understanding the #UDL Guidelines: Part 2 - Multiple Means of Represenation

In order to solidify a concept, students need to have it represented in different ways (aka Multiple Means of Representation). The back part of the brain or Recognition Network addresses the “what” of learning and is responsible for how we perceive the world around us. 

There's more to it than just showing information in many different ways because it involves giving students opportunities to absorb knowledge in their own way.

How do we use the Recognition Network to provide our students with Multiple Means of Representation? The UDL guidelines provide us with a recipe to provide learners with different student-centered learning experiences to receive the information. These ingredients are:

  • Perception
  • Using Language, Expressions, and Symbols
  • Comprehension
Today's focus will be on the ingredient of perception! 


When we think of perception, many of think of visuals, but this can also mean providing alternatives for auditory information. For example, what if you assigned your students to listen to a podcast that you created and had a student with hearing difficulties? How would this student be expected to complete the same assignment?  One idea may be to have a transcript of the Podcast available for this particular student or any student who wanted to read and listen at the same time.

UDL is all about breaking down barriers! Let's explore some ways to help students perceive information differently. I want to offer you one high-tech and low-tech way of doing this. 

Writing Assignments: "LOW-TECH"

Let’s say that you had a writing assignment for your students. We often limit our students to using notebook paper or Microsoft Word as a way to write. 

What if some of our students had difficulty structuring a paragraph? We may use a hamburger or sandwich graphic organizer to help our students with visualizing how to construct a paragraph.

I received another great idea from an educator in Maryland called the Power Paragraph Organizer, which provides students with color coded lines to help construct a paragraph. 

Red = topic sentence
Green = supporting details
Blue = closing sentence 

Communicating Statistics: "HIGH-TECH"

Some teachers like to communicate statistics to students, but pie charts, percentages, and bar graphs may be more confusing than helpful. This is great for students who like charts, but what about students who don't have the background knowledge to understand the chart?

One popular method is the use of Infographics to communicate basic statistics in creative ways. It combines statistics with visuals.  Want to create your own infograph? A great free site called Piktochart, which will allow you to create innovative Infographics for free!


Remember that UDL is a framework for designing barrier-free curriculum for all students. It will look different in each classroom; however, the one thing it has in common is providing access for all learners. 

Implementing UDL is a process and involves looking at your curriculum with new eyes and taking baby steps. My next post will continue talking about how we can provide Multiple Means of Representation. 

For more information on UDL, visit CAST or the National Center on UDL.

Understanding the #UDL Guidelines: Part 1 - The Three-Legged Stool

My friend Loui Lord Nelson describes a typical classroom environment as "an ecosystem with a constant interplay between students, the resources, the teacher, and expectations of the environment." Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a scientifically-based framework for addressing learner differences in this classroom ecosystem, with the goal of providing access to ALL learners by eliminating barriers.

In my travels as "UDL evangelist" (a term coined by my good friend Jon Mundorf), I have found that teachers have a difficult time understanding the difference between the UDL principles and the guidelines. In my next few posts, I want to help you gain a deeper understanding of these nine UDL guidelines that support each of the three principles of UDL.

Aren't Principles and Guidelines The Same? 

The answer to this question is no. There is a difference. To illustrate this point, I would like you to think of a three-legged stool.

The base or seat of each of the 3 stools represents the UDL principle, which helps break barriers in the classroom. There are three UDL principles:

1. Multiple Means of Representation

2. Multiple Means of Action / Expression

3. Multiple Means of Engagement

You can't just sit in a chair without legs. To support these principles or help them stand up, you need legs or the UDL Guidelines. For each UDL Principle, there are three legs (or Guidelines) to help support learning.

For example, let's say that you are teaching your students about a particular concept and want to represent it in different ways (aka Principle # 1: Multiple Means of Representation). You may begin by thinking about the potential learning barriers that exist in your classroom. Some of your students may have visual or auditory difficulties. Others may lack the background knowledge necessary to understand this concept. You have to teach your students this concept, so how would you do it? One way of teaching may not work.

To provide students with different ways of representing material (aka Principle # 1: Multiple Means of Representation), you may want to think about:

1. How students perceive information through their senses. You may need to think about how your blind students will "see" and your deaf students will "hear" a particular concept.

2. How you may need to define or use language, symbols or expressions to make meaning. Do you have to explain certain terms or can you create a cool acronym like PEMDAS to help you? 

3. How you will use or develop background knowledge for your students to comprehend a particular topic. Think about how some of your urban students may not have experiences with farm animals. 

These strategies represent the guidelines that support providing multiple means of representation. In our visual, they are the legs that support the chair. 

Want More Information? 

As I had mentioned earlier, I will continue this series throughout this week and next. I will be discussing actual high-tech and low-tech ways of using these guidelines to help students learn. Check out my next few posts.
I also want to invite you to a free webinar that I will be giving on Wednesday, August 14 at 4 pm EST.  I will define each of the 9 UDL guidelines, share how you can use them to support student learning, and discuss how they support the 3 principles of UDL.

For more information or to register, click here.

Exploring the #UDL Guidelines: Free #SimpleK12 Webinar

Would you like to ensure that you reach ALL students with your lesson plans? Knowing and applying the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework can help you create a flexible and barrier-free curriculum to reach ALL learning styles and abilities! 

The 3 principles of UDL are supported by a total of 9 guidelines, designed to help educators find practical ways to eliminate learning barriers and provide access to all students. Many educators have a basic knowledge of UDL, but lack the knowledge needed to effectively implement it into the curriculum. 

Join me on Wednesday, August 14 at 4pm EST for a free SimpleK12 Webinar. I will define each of the 9 guidelines, shares how you can use them to support student learning, and discusses how they support the 3 principles of UDL.

For more information or to register, click here

Seating Charts + Behavior Management = Class Charts!

It's almost the beginning of the new school year for many of us. No matter if you are prepping your classroom, developing new materials, or creating your lesson plans...we all have one thing in common! We need to develop seating charts! What if there was a way to combine seating charts, manage classroom behavior, and communicate that behavior to parents? Class Charts does exactly that!

Seating Charts Made Easy!

Many of us use grade management systems like PowerSchool and Infinite Campus; however, many of these programs aren't very user-friendly. I tried out the Class Charts and found it very easy to understand and use. I really liked that I could move students simply by dragging and dropping them into a new seat. In the past, I had to get very creative with how I used other seating chart programs. Class Charts allows me to create a customized seating chart that looks exactly like my room.

It's easy to customize your student photos. For example, some students are self conscious of their class photos, so you can substitute another picture or icon instead.

Classroom Management Made Easy!

Class Charts is a great tool for teachers to track both positive and negative classroom behaviors. The data analysis tools allow teachers to easily track class or individual student behavior trends.

Each semester, I have to give my students an effort and conduct grade. Class Charts makes it easy to customize the types of positive behaviors you want to reward and negative behaviors you need to address. It makes it very easy to communicate and share these behaviors with parents. Instead of having to "file" all of your notes about student behavior, you can access and share them with a click of a button.

Now is the perfect time to try! Check it out and let me know what you think!

Changing Learning Through the New Edmodo AudioBoo App: Part 3 (Innovative Ideas)

I'm continuing my series on the new Edmodo AudioBoo App. My previous posts have focused on how AudioBoo can help students "show what they know" and why it is considered by many to be the"YouTube of Audio." Today I want to conclude my series with a few more innovative ideas:

Flipping the Classroom

The idea of “flipping” the classroom is becoming more popular in 21st Century. If you are not familiar with this concept, it is the idea that students listen to the lecture outside of the classroom and demonstrate their knowledge and ask questions inside of the classroom. In the classroom, the teacher’s role shifts from a lecturer to a facilitator. The AudioBoo App is another tool that teachers can use to record mini-lessons for their students to listen to.

If you are not a big fan of “flipping” your classroom, you (or a student) could record a summary of the “big ideas” learned in class that day. This would be a perfect study tool for students to review concepts or a way to prevent absent students from getting behind.

Efficient Communication

When you are giving directions, have you ever felt like you were repeating yourself over and over? I often use Edmodo to write down our daily agenda and communicate objectives. I use the beginning of class to go over the post and students can reference it throughout the lesson.

It never fails! I always have a student who is absent at the beginning of the class or wasn’t paying attention. Even when I ask my students read the Edmodo post, they often need an in-depth explanation of the tasks for the day. The AudioBoo app will allow me to record in-depth instructions so that I am not repeating myself over and over.

Frequently Asked Questions

In any classroom, it always seems like there are three types of students:
  •   “Expert” students who need very little direction and yearn for you to be quiet so they can work.
  •  “Directionally challenged” students who frequently need you by their side as much as possible.
  •  “Middle-of-the-road” students who may ask a question or two from time to time.

I have found that when I give an assignment, I often neglect my “middle-of-the-road” students because I am so stretched helping my “directionally challenged” students. These students often get frustrated because their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) are often not addressed fast enough.

 In my classroom, I have pre-prepared FAQ’s that students will ask. I often use text or use video clips; however, the AudioBoo app will let me quickly record answers to common questions, so that my “middle of the road” students can get their answers, while I help other students.


In the digital age, we often forget about the power of audio and how important it is to learning. AudioBoo makes it easy to create, share, and engage students in different ways using the power of audio. If Edmodo has transformed your classroom, then you will find that the “You Tube of Audio” will take it to a whole different level.  

Want More About the App? 

I want to invite you to attend my FREE EdWeb Webinar titled Changing Learning Through AudioBoo on Thursday, August 8th from 4 pm EST to 5 pm EST. I will show you how the App works and creative ways other educators are using it. Pre-Register here.

Changing Learning Through the New Edmodo AudioBoo App: Part 2

I'm continuing my series on the new Edmodo AudioBoo App. My last post focused on how AudioBoo is considered by many to be the "YouTube of Audio." 

Options for Showing What They Know

Today’s classrooms are more diverse than ever before. Brain research shows us that not all students learn the same way and how we learn is as different as our DNA. Providing options for students to “show what they know” will solidify learning and help them perform better on one-size-fits-all standardized tests.

For example, in many of my classes I have my students demonstrate their knowledge of the “big ideas” of a particular chapter. I sometimes give students the option of writing a paper or creating a PowerPoint presentation; however, this poses a barrier to my auditory learners, who often struggle translate their ideas into a document or slideshow. AudioBoo is the perfect tool to help my auditory learners verbally share their ideas without the barrier of text. I can post an assignment and give my students options on how they respond. They can write or speak their ideas.

Some students are limited in how much they can participate because of disability. I recently heard the story of a student who had Cerebral Palsy. Her disability would limit how she could utilize technology to share her ideas and participate in class discussions. Having the option to record her voice would have helped her participate more in class online discussions. 

Want More About the App? 

I want to invite you to attend my FREE EdWeb Webinar titled Changing Learning Through AudioBoo on Thursday, August 8th from 4 pm EST to 5 pm EST. I will show you how the App works and creative ways other educators are using it. Pre-Register here.

Changing Learning Through the New Edmodo AudioBoo App: Part 1

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of testing out the beta version of the Edmodo AudioBoo App. I have used the iPhone App for several months now, but I had no idea how much of a game changer this is for Edmodo. It allows both teachers and students to create audio clips that are easy to upload and share. The best part is that audio clips can be private and contained within your Edmodo group! Imagine the possibilities for integrating the this App into your classroom!

Over the next few posts, I want to show you a few ways others are already using the App:

 The “YouTube of Audio” 

AudioBoo has been described as the “YouTube of Audio” because of its vast library user-generated content. Many teachers are already familiar with using YouTube to illustrate a concept. AudioBoo gives teachers the same option with audio.
 Many schools use filtering systems to block YouTube because of the possibility of students accessing inappropriate content. With the AudioBoo App, you can pre-select audio clips and add them to your library without the possibility of students accessing unwanted content. You can easily share your audio clips with students the same way you already share Word, PowerPoint, and PDF files.

 I recently spoke with a Language Arts teacher, who is teaching a poetry unit in the fall. She typically has students read a poem, but finds that many of her auditory students fail to grasp the content. They need to hear the emotional cues contained within the passage. She searched for the word “poetry” in AudioBoo’s library and found audio versions of the same poems she has in print. Now her students have options when reading poetry. She is adding audio clips to her Edmodo library as we speak with the goal of giving students options on how they access content.

Want More About the App? 

I want to invite you to attend my FREE EdWeb Webinar titled Changing Learning Through AudioBoo on Thursday, August 8th from 4 pm EST to 5 pm EST. I will show you how the App works and creative ways other educators are using it. Pre-Register here.

5 Tips for Engaging Learners with UDL

Phillip Schlechty (2011) theorized that the highest levels of learner engagement require learners' full attention and commitment. While ...