Featured News Sep 12

How does adapting a learner-setting mindset position students for success?

As the school year kicks off around the country, getting to know students and building a classroom of community is top of mind for school leaders and educators. But how do you understand the strengths of each student and incorporate those differences into your teaching practice?

That’s the topic that Along’s Jared B. Fries recently broached with Aurora Dreger of the Educating All Learners Alliance (EALA) during a webinar event that was part of the CAST UDL Symposium*. EALA is an organization dedicated to resource sharing and community-building efforts to support the education community to meet the needs of students with disabilities that impact the way they learn. 

The webinar engaged participants about how the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, which uses a variety of teaching methods to give all students an equal opportunity to succeed, can offer a starting framework for considering why one size doesn’t fit all for a classroom full of students.

“All students think and learn differently,” shared Dreger during the webinar. “We look at this wall between general education and special education, and how we can use personalized education as an approach to create a more seamless, wraparound effort for our students.”

Fries added that every student “has sparks and strengths. Everyone has something to contribute. Sometimes all it takes to do this is to ask a thoughtful question so students feel comfortable sharing about themselves.”

He noted that through Along, educators have access to reflection questions, classroom activities, and educator practices that provide numerous ways to engage with each student so they feel seen and heard. For example, asset-based questions such as, “What are the best things about you?,” can create opportunities for each individual to reflect on what they bring to the classroom, big or small. And, activities such as Making a strengths chain invite students to write down a strength that they have and add it to a physical paper chain that teachers can display for a full school year in their classroom as a reminder that each student offers unique contributions.

Creating an inclusive environment

The classroom environment is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to identifying how each student learns and interacts. As Dreger said, “We are working to reduce stigmas for students who learn differently. And an inclusive environment is not just the classroom space, it’s the experience that happens in the playground, in the gym, and at recess. It’s about all stakeholders creating the environment for each learner.”

From there, a learner-centered approach where students feel supported will help bridge connections between teachers and students. This approach also helps students feel more connected to their school and to the specific work they are doing in class. 

“When we think about building relationships, we know the effects are really large in particular for historically marginalized students,” noted Fries. “We can cultivate supportive environments by asking students directly about the environments they need. When students feel empowered to share this, we can better help them engage with the learning in the classroom.”

In Along, educators can ask questions to find out about the learning environment that works best for each student. For example, educators can ask, “What helps you focus when you’re working?,” and view student responses such as “listening to calm music,” “something to fidget with,” “peace and quiet,” or something else. Teachers can then take actionable next steps to incorporate those inputs into the classroom.

When students feel empowered to share what works for them and then see their teacher respond, the relationship between teachers and students strengthens.  As educators ask additional questions to understand what keeps students motivated and how they are responding to a specific class unit, school becomes a more welcoming space and learners feel included and engaged in the classroom.

Ready to adopt a learner-centered mindset? Dive into EALA’s resource library or contact our team at support@along.org. We’re here to help!


*CAST is not responsible for the content of Symposium presentations. The views of the presenters are their own.

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