The brain is the foundation for learning. Like a sponge, it soaks up knowledge in various ways. Whether we read a textbook, solve a mathematical problem or watch an educational film, our individual brains perceive, interpret and process information differently than any other human on the planet.
California State University, Northridge’s next Education on the Edge speaker will discuss an approach to curriculum that minimizes educational barriers and helps students utilize their abilities to absorb knowledge. Katie Novak, assistant superintendent for the Groton-Dunstable School District in Massachusetts, will discuss Universal Design for Learning (UDL) — a framework that helps improve teaching and learning for all people. The event will take place Thursday, Sept. 21, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Northridge Center of the University Student Union on the east side of campus at 18111 Nordhoff St. in Northridge.
Novak will talk about how UDL’s structure aims to eliminate barriers to learning, such as a student’s reading comprehension, difficulty working alone or deciphering abstract concepts. Novak also will discuss how UDL helps teachers redesign a flexible curriculum that can be used with all types of learners, addressing a student’s current knowledge and developing their skills and enthusiasm for learning as it supports and challenges them.
“The idea for Universal Design for Learning is that you’re creating ways for all students to access curriculum and instruction, but you’re doing it proactively by designing it from the beginning,” said Wendy W. Murawski, executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair of CSUN’s Center for Teaching and Learning, which hosts the event. “With UDL, I think about my lesson and from the start. What if I have a student who wants to actively engage or who doesn’t read or hear well? What if I have a student who doesn’t like to work with other peers? With UDL, I’ll answer all my ‘what if’ questions.”
Instead of teachers focusing on how they are going to plan and teach a curriculum, they focus on who they are instructing. Novak will discuss how educators can use recognizable materials to help students learn and gain skills by utilizing graphics and animation and activating background knowledge and vocabulary.
“What works for one student may not work for another,” Murawski noted.
Novak is the daughter of two educators and was born and raised in Seekonk, Mass. She began the first two years of her teaching career in California as an English teacher for all grade levels at Northwood High School in Irvine and Big Bear High School in Big Bear City. She later taught seventh-grade English at Parker Middle School in Chelmsford, Mass. and later became the curriculum coordinator of the Chelmsford Public Schools in Massachusetts before taking her current position.
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