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Universal Design for Learning

Five of the “Finest Ingredients” to

Create the Conditions for Expert Learning

by Beth Stark

UDL Expert and Inclusionary Practices Strategist for International Schools

Marble Baking slab with a dusting of flour, rolling pin, rising bread dough in a bowl, and a variety of bread making ingredients.

Creating the conditions for expert learning is a lot like baking bread. If you are like me, kneading and rising my way to a split-top buttermilk loaf is always worth the effort. For others, combining flour and water may be a path to the perfect pita, challah, naan, or crusty baguette. The ingredients are simple and similar, and the delicious results will vary, depending on the goal and the context.

Technology, both high and low, is a common ingredient in creating the conditions for expert learning. When it’s the right fit, Edtech resources are like a leavening agent that can produce a synergy between learners and the goals they are working towards. Often, it’s the variable in the learning equation that reduces barriers, engages learners, and amplifies pathways that lead to belonging, increased self-determination, and rigorous outcomes.

From the “Best Fix” to the “Finest Ingredients”

Any veteran baker will tell you, the quality of ingredients matters. Spending time scoping out the “finest ingredients” is equal parts fun and frustrating. Although adding a touch of sugar to balance out a heavy-handed dose of salt is a go-to fix for any baker, the finest ingredients are chosen because of the value they will add; not their potential for being a "best fix".

In the world of education, the methods we use to evaluate technology tools vary. Price and ease of use are necessary to consider up front, and what follows can often default to a handful of “best fix” questions.

Best Fix Questions

Will this tech resource…

  • Bridge the gap for weak skills?

  • Help some learners to keep up with the rest?

  • Provide extra rote practice?

  • Give this or that group of learners something to do while the other learners work on our main focus in class?

  • Keep them entertained?

As our understanding of the systems, skills, and beliefs of UDL gains momentum, and the drumbeat of deficits-based thinking morphs into a murmur, refining our mental models and processes can begin to feel long overdue.

UDL gives us a systematic approach that releases us from the behavioral belief that our role as educators is to rescue, prescribe, and make unilateral decisions about planning and learning. Instead, we can reorient our energy and make more space for, you guessed it, choosing the “finest ingredients” for learning design.

Finest Ingredients Questions

Will this tech resource…

  • Create a more equitable learning landscape?

  • Promote belonging, and be a catalyst for connection?

  • Allow learners to be self-determined?

  • Create opportunities for receiving actionable and timely feedback?

  • Support rigorous outcomes?

The following five technology tools are all proven learning leavening agents, and easily earn their place on the “finest ingredients” top five list. They are well worth the investment for learners of all ages and will support your school in creating the conditions for learners who are purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed.

Top Five “Finest Ingredients” Tech Resources


Nothing assumes competence and supports learner agency like a blank page and a promise to publish! Book Creator elevates multiple means of representation, action, and expression to the greatest heights, and gives learners of all ages an opportunity to have their work published online. Educators can access a wonderful collection of published Book Creator books to add to virtual class libraries. New fonts and features have been added in the most recent updates, which give more learners the opportunity to craft books in languages other than English.

Book Creator may be fueled by the power of the blank page, but there is no shortage of templates to browse. This could be the year that your class or whole school chooses to publish a multiple means yearbook using one of these helpful templates:


Texthelp is on a mission to advance literacy and understanding for one billion people around the world by 2030. If this sounds unrealistic, consider the goal guiding Bill Gates and Paul Allen when they opened their doors on April 4, 1975: A Computer on Every Desk. Everywhere. One billion might just be lowballing because the suite of education tools Texthelp offers is already revolutionizing the learning experience of millions of learners worldwide. If your goal is to reduce barriers for every learner in your school so they can dig deeper and reach new heights, Texthelp is your next right decision.

Educators can access Texthelp’s tools for free. This gives us grown-ups a valuable opportunity to begin exploring and developing expertise as a first step, but the real magic is when learners of all ages are given the opportunity to understand and express themselves with the support of Texthelp.


Recently, I had the honor of attending and presenting at the ECIS Leadership Conference, hosted by the International School of Düsseldorf. Kathleen Naglee and Tricia Friedman’s session, “Podcast as Pathway: Building Culture One Episode at a Time”, focused on creating the conditions for enlightening and heartfelt conversations through question crafting. This is a skill that makes for such insightful discussions on their podcast, Unhinged Collaboration. So many of us have tapped into the power of podcasting as a tool for lifelong learning. The platform, Listenwise, makes this possible for young people, too!

Listenwise is finally giving listening skills their rightful place as a cornerstone of literacy development through its library of thousands of curated podcasts and videos. As learners access content that exposes them to complex concepts, real-world topics, academic vocabulary, and multiple perspectives through listening, they simultaneously build other literacy skills by pairing listening with interactive transcripts. A free trial gives educators a chance to really grasp the power of the Listenwise platform, and why it deserves to be recognized as one of the finest ingredients to create the conditions for expert learning.

The Listenwise recorded webinar, “Teaching Effective Listening Skills for Equitable Learning” is a great resource to help educators to grasp the why and the how of designing equitable and impactful learning experiences with Listenwise. Another notable resource mentioned in this webinar is the book, “The K-3 Guide to Academic Conversations”, by Jeffrey Alan Zwiers, Sara R. Hamerla.

If you are like me, and you have a running list of can’t wait to read books that grows longer by the day, consider adding “Listen Wise: Teach Students to Be Better Listeners” to the top! Monica Brady-Myerov, author, founder of Listenwise, and a former reporter for National Public Radio, offers plenty of insights and practical approaches to get to the heart of addressing and leveraging one of the least taught skills; listening.


  • How can I create formative assessments that give me instant access to learner responses?

  • Is there a tool out there that doesn’t rely on learners logging into a device OR writing out responses by hand?

  • If I am teaching in a blended environment, is there a tool that allows me to formatively assess BOTH learners who are face-to-face and those joining us virtually?

Plickers is the answer, and it’s free. Educators can download and print a set of Plickers cards (A5) that are QR Codes assigned to individual learners. The same set of cards can be used for multiple classes. Educators can create or choose to use words, icons, or images as four possible responses for learners.

How? Learners view and/or listen to the choices and hold up their Plickers cards to communicate their responses. Teachers can scan the room with a tablet or their phone to record answers in a matter of seconds. Plickers is an efficient and engaging way to collect formative assessment responses (both in person and virtual) for learners of all ages!

Quick Tip! Laminate the cards in matte sleeves. The glare from high gloss lamination will interfere with card scanning.


Mini whiteboards are certainly not new, and they are as low-tech as it gets. Why do they deserve a place as one of the “finest ingredients” to create the conditions for expert learning?… especially for learners in middle and secondary school? Research suggests that when whiteboards are integrated into a positive learning environment (Turner, 2018), learner confidence and collaboration increase.

In a recent article, published by the University of Cambridge in the Journal of Trainee Teacher Education Research, “Exploring Teaching Strategies to Promote Mathematical Resilience in a Year 10 set 4 Mathematics Class”, mini whiteboards were shown to be a successful tool for improving mathematical resilience and understanding (Smith, 2021). At first, many learners were hesitant to hold up their whiteboards to show their work, but adding a countdown before this step increased participation and learner confidence.

In the 2017 article, “A Secondary Mathematics Teacher's Perceptions of Her Initial Attempts at Utilizing Whiteboarding in Her Classes”, Gail, an experienced middle school mathematics teacher, shared her initial concerns about implementing mini whiteboards. Her hesitancy focused on how this new approach could cause off-task behavior. Ironically, Gail reported opposite outcomes during the trial (Forrester, Sandison, Denny, 2017). Learners adopted the routines for using mini whiteboards without problems. The noticeable difference was in the sound levels of the classroom. Learners were having such lively discussions about their mathematics learning, the classroom was full volume. That says it all!

P.S. Bill Gates isn’t the only one who’s goal-directed. Help me make a dent in my audacious goal of sharing these “Finest Ingredients” questions with every Edtech decision-maker in every school, everywhere! Download a copy, and please share freely. Together, we can reduce barriers in the world of International Education.


(Copy and Paste) Infographic Alt Text:

Will this tech resource…

  • Create a more equitable learning landscape?

  • Promote belonging, and be a catalyst for connection?

  • Allow learners to be self-determined?

  • Create opportunities for receiving actionable and timely feedback?

  • Support rigorous outcomes?


“Accessibility, Assistive Technology & Edtech Software For Education & Workplace.” Texthelp,

Bae, Hannah. “Bill Gates Emails Microsoft Employees to Celebrate Company’s 40th Anniversary.” CNNMoney,

Brady-Myerov, M. (2021). Listen Wise: Teach students to be better listeners. John Wiley & Sons.

Forrester, Tricia; Sandison, Carolyn E.; Denny, Sue. Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, “A Secondary Mathematics Teacher's Perceptions of Her Initial Attempts at Utilising Whiteboarding in Her Classes”. (40th, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2017).

Gimbutas, Elizabeth Catherine, "The effects of using mini whiteboards on the academic performance and engagement of students in a tenth-grade resource English/Language Arts classroom" (2019). Theses and Dissertations. 2712.

”How Can We Help?”.

Johnson-Harris, Kimberly M., "The Effects of Universal Design for Learning on the Academic Engagement of Middle School Students” (2014). Dissertations. Paper 827.

Kemp, Dan. “Creating Yearbooks with Book Creator.” Book Creator App, 3 June 2020,

Listenwise. (2021). Teaching effective listening skills for equitable learning [Video]. In YouTube.

Naglee, K., & Friedman, T. (2023, April 29). Podcasts as Pathway: Building Culture One Episode at a Time [Workshop]. ECIS Leadership Conference

Premium features. (2022, May 12). Listenwise | Listening Comprehension Matters.

Smith, H. (2021). Exploring teaching strategies to promote mathematical resilience in a Year 10 set 4 mathematics class.

Turner, J. J. (2018). Wrong answers to stimulate critical analysis. School Science Review, 100 (370), 74–83

Unhinged collaboration. (n.d.). Unhinged Collaboration.

Zwiers, Jeff, and Sara Hamerla. The K-3 Guide to Academic Conversations: Practices, Scaffolds, and Activities. Corwin Press, 2017.


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