Smithtown students showcasing their writing at a school event

How a Long Island School District is Embracing UDL Practices

In the summer of 2016, Smithtown Central School District on Long Island began their partnership with Goalbook to support Smithtown educators with incorporating the Universal Design for Learning framework, or UDL, into their instructional planning. Elizabeth Stein, UDL Instructional Coach at Smithtown, was instrumental in the partnership and the success of the roll-out.

“Since the implementation, the greatest impact is that teachers are becoming solution seekers and more reflective of their own practice.”

Teachers are becoming more reflective of their own practice.

Fran, who teaches English language learners at Tackan Elementary in Smithtown, said she has seen personal growth with the quality of her instruction since the implementation. She attributes much of her growth to the resources within Pathways. The resources are UDL-aligned, so she is saving time instead of creating resources, and, more importantly, she is learning how to plan instruction with accessibility for all in mind.

“I love the term ‘fair isn’t equal.’ That is what I am embracing about UDL; Goalbook lists many strategies, both through presentation and assessment, that can be used to meet different learners where they are. These research-based strategies are beneficial to all.”

These research-based strategies are beneficial to all.

Elizabeth has seen a marked improvement in the instructional practices of teachers as she walks through their classrooms. The improvements are evidence of a shift in mindset that is taking place on Smithtown campuses.

“One of the teachers moved to a more student-centered approach by utilizing station teaching. At each station, there’s a focus that links to their main goal. One station might offer multiple options for writing. For example, students are writing using pencil and paper or expressing their learning using an iPad.”

At another center in the same classroom, Elizabeth observed students using rubrics printed from Goalbook Pathways to re-read their own writing and provide feedback to their classmates. “That’s teaching these kids to be self-regulators. Before Goalbook Pathways, teachers were the ones giving the feedback. Now, they’re incorporating time to give students time to look at their own writing. It’s so powerful. These are the kinds of outcomes that I’m striving to make more consistent across classrooms.”

These are the kinds of outcomes that I’m striving to make more consistent across classrooms.

Amy Bleecher teaches special education at Great Hollow Middle School in Smithtown and spoke candidly about a challenge common to those who work with teenagers: “If they’re not interested, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get anything out of them.”

Enter the UDL principle of engagement, which prioritizes student interest as a necessary ingredient for instructional practice. Amy addressed the engagement barrier in her classroom with Goalbook.

Amy found that her students were actually excited to reflect on their own learning when she started using the social media themed exit tickets in Pathways. “They started asking, ‘Are we going to get to fill out one of those exit tickets today?’ because they like Instagram. They can relate to that.”

Social media themed exit tickets have kept Amy’s students engaged and reflective of their own learning.

Themed reading content and resources have also been helpful to Amy as she plans instruction for her middle schoolers. “I use Goalbook Pathways a lot for ELA. The reading passages and materials are very engaging. I’ve actually been able to see a spark in students who typically don’t like to read and write because they’re learning about a topic that is interesting to them.”

Fran shared Amy’s enthusiasm for the reading passages in Pathways. She feels empowered because she can help her English language learners access grade-level content at their independent reading levels. Her students particularly enjoy learning about animals, so Fran uses the nonfiction leveled passages from Pathways related to their interests for supplemental practice.

“There are times when my students need something that’s a little more on their reading level to target a certain skill.”

“The Dragon Hunter” from Goalbook Pathways was a hit with Smithtown teacher Fran’s ELL students.

Goalbook Pathways also provides teachers with a valuable resource which is in short supply during the school year: time.

As a teacher, it saves you time…Everything is right there.

“As a teacher, it saves you time to go and research on your own. Everything is right there,” says Pragna, a special educator at Smithtown’s Mills Pond Elementary, who has been teaching for 28 years.

By giving teachers access to research-based resources that support all learners, they can focus on quality instruction and building relationships with students.

By giving teachers access to research-based resources that support all learners, they can focus on quality instruction and building relationships with students.

Elizabeth knew that a partnership between Smithtown and Goalbook would strengthen her primary objective to implement UDL practices to create accessible and equitable learning experiences for all learners. In addition to a successful roll-out of UDL, the partnership afforded Smithtown sustainability for teachers and the opportunity for students to be successful and engaged.

“My vision is to create a learner-centered environment, where every student is valued for their strengths and what they bring to the learning.”

My vision is to create a learner-centered environment, where every student is valued for their strengths and what they bring to the learning.
In addition to coaching teachers in Smithtown Central School District, Elizabeth Stein also authors the popular monthly blog “Two Teachers in the Room” at MiddleWeb. Follow her on Twitter at @ElizabethLStein and buy her book Elevating Co-Teaching Through UDL through CAST.

See more Goalbook success stories from around the country.