IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

The #LATIC-RTI-UDL Convergence

How do you ensure that all students achieve at the highest level, thus opening myriad doors for their future? Three popular frameworks converge beautifully to provide the “secret sauce.”

IDE Corp.’s Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (#LATIC) is a framework for designing student-driven classrooms: it puts students in charge of their own learning to produce greater results. The key is to shift paradigms from “teacher as ferry” to “teacher as bridge builder.” (For more, read Students Taking Charge.) At the core are three tenets:


Response to Intervention (RTI) is a framework to “maximize student achievement and reduce behavior problems,” targeting struggling students. The key is to shift paradigms from labeling students as unable to reach high levels to providing different instructional interventions to ensure success at high levels. At the core are four essential components:

from the Center on Response to Intervention

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom actually focuses on Tier 1 and Tier 2 instruction in the same setting by reducing the amount of whole-class instruction in lieu of providing differentiated learning activities. Students, therefore, begin by working at their cognitive level and learning style. Teachers are constantly gathering formative assessment data to guide student choices and develop learning options. Where a student is struggling significantly (Tier 3), special education teachers can easily provide a student one-on-one instruction in the classroom. All students receive one-on-one instruction naturally in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as well. The intent is to teach differently from the start to reduce the need for extensive interventions. While RTI was designed to address issues found in conventional learning environments, it’s important still to recognize the different levels of intervention at work as they emerge in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom setting.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework “to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” The key is to provide access for all at the start of the teaching and learning process. A great visual for this is the difference between buildings that were designed for the ambulatory, later retrofitted for access (left building with added ramp), and buildings that were designed with access for all in mind (the Guggenheim Museum on the right with its infamous spiral walkway.) Apply that thinking to instruction and curriculum and you have the concept of UDL!

UDL includes three guidelines:

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom framework naturally includes these guidelines. Students are engaged through problem-based learning and by the teacher using structures that create a “felt need” for learning. Teachers design multiple learning activities to represent content at a variety of cognitive levels and through a variety of learning styles. Students set goals and schedule how they will use their time; they have options for how they will demonstrate learning. IDE Corp.’s UDL summary sheet from the IDEportal may help in ensuring a deliberate and purposeful learning environment.

Incorporating all three frameworks into the classroom creates a powerful and effective learning environment. Try it! Change the world!

Triggering Awareness: A Path to Learning

Imagine teaching a short lesson to introduce students to the concept of a preposition:

Prior to the lesson, on the whiteboard, write the same sentence four times:  The book is _____ the desk. Stand by a desk and hold up a book, asking students to identify the desk and the book. “These are two things, or as we have learned, nouns. Nouns are persons, places, and things. “Now watch me.” Place the book on the desk. “Where is the book?” When the students say on the desk, fill in the first blank with the word on. “How about now?” Place the book on the floor under the desk. When the students say under, fill in the second blank with the word under. “And now?” Place the book in the desk. As students respond, fill in the second blank with the word in. “This one is a little trickier. What do you think? Where is the book now?” And hold the book above the desk. Students may say over or above. Some may say floating, but press them to identify where. Fill in the remaining blank. “I have the same two nouns written four times, but that one word makes all the difference in your understanding where the book is in relation to the desk. That word describes the relationship between the book and the desk. This part of speech is called a preposition, and it helps describe a relationship.” 

You might then offer an exploration of a preposition that explains a time relationship, such as, “I like to read _____ lunch.” You could fill in before, during, or after. You might discuss how such words help an author convey meaning and describe situations, and how they help the reader have a better understanding of the meaning of text.

Over a period of ten minutes, you might explore several of these with your students. In the end, students will become aware of the set of words that describe relationships between other words in a sentence. Note that you did not introduce the list of the twenty or so most common prepositions; you didn’t explain how to find the preposition in a sentence; and you didn’t show students how to identify prepositional phrases, nor that a preposition is followed by a noun. What you did was “trigger awareness” that such a category of words exist, that they help a writer more clearly describe a situation, and that they help a reader better understand the meaning of a passage of text. You introduced the power of prepositions to convey meaning, which will be important to students as they read and write. Students will then engage in a variety of instructional activities, targeted to their readiness level and learning styles, to tackle the skill of working with prepositions.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (Students Taking Charge, 2011), this short, whole-group lesson to “trigger awareness” in students of skills, concepts, and content is called the Benchmark Lesson. It is a powerful strategy to motivate and prepare learners to dig more deeply into concepts, skills, and content.

While the efficiency-driven, factory model of education propelled the practice of teaching skills from the front of the room to a large group of students, the reality of the learning process points to how ineffective this practice is.

  1. Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): We all have a current body of knowledge, knowledge that we are ready to learn (ZPD), and that which we are cognitively not ready to learn (the Distal Zone.) Effective instruction would target a students’ Proximal Zone, which would be impossible when teaching to a large group of students.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book, Flow, explaining that we are most engaged in learning when the activity offered is just above our ability level. Again, this is not possible when teaching to a large group of students.
  3. Caleb Gattegno sums up the connection between teaching and learning in his famous phrase, “only awareness is educable.” He purported that a teacher cannot teach a student anything; the teacher triggers awareness; the student is then driven to learn and must personally construct meaning.
  4. Albert Einstein said ,”I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.”

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, teachers do not attempt to teach skills from the front of the room, even for short periods of time, as this will frustrate some and bore others. They use short, whole-group sessions to trigger awareness of concepts related to learning. Even if a student already knows the concept, the lesson challenges them to draw on what they know and expand their ideas moreso than when teaching skills; and fewer students become frustrated with a well-crafted Benchmark Lesson.

Transformational vs. Transactional Learning

Whether in the classroom or teachers’ professional development, the instructional goal should be transformational learning rather than transactional learning.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • Transaction: “an occurrence in which [something] is passed from one person … to another”
  • Transformation: “a complete or major change in someone’s … appearance, form, etc.”

Much of today’s instruction, whether for students or teachers, involves someone having information and passing it on to another. The time and method are usually controlled by the instructor, and the instructor usually engages in some form of direct instruction with the hopes that the learner will now possess the information as well. However, I don’t believe that learning should be a matter of filling up a brain, particularly in today’s world when the Internet acts as your external brain.

blog quoteI believe learning should be life-changing. Each learning experience should spark in learners that “aha” moment where they begin making connections, asking “what if?” questions that spur further learning, driven by their own “felt need” to master the content. As they learn, they should feel accomplished, capable, and intrigued to learn more.

As we shift teachers’ mindsets about the role of teacher, thus creating a transformation in them, school learning environments become more transformational. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, learning begins with an overarching authentic, problem-based task that drives a “felt need” for learning. Teachers crea
te, as Einstein onBlog quote 1ce said, the conditions under which students learn. They design learning activities that are not necessarily assigned, but rather are available. They don’t dictate student action, they guide students in self-assessing and making effective decisions as to how they will learn. Teachers transform students from receivers of information to designers of their own learning paths.

The road to transformational learning begins with transformational professional development. All educators hold mindsets (paradigms, mental models, etc.) about teaching. Your mindsets are formed from your past experiences; they reflect your beliefs and guide your actions. They drive your cause-and-effect thinking. No one can “tell” you to take on a new mindset; you have to engage in experiences that cause you to challenge your own mindset and form new beliefs, thus shifting your mindset.

Powerful mindsets include:

Transformational PD shapes teachers’ mindsets. It engages them in personal experiences that cause them to rethink their belief systems.

If you are planning PD for others, think about how you can move away from transactional activities to transformational activities. Decide what mindset you want to create and model it throughout your workshop.

Pursue that which is transformational!

From Best Practices to Systems Practices

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.” This speaks of the shift from teacher as the purveyor of information to that of an architect of a complex environment in which students learn; a shift from “teacher as ferry” to “teacher as bridge builder.” How does one create the conditions under which students learn?

Schools place considerable focus on best practices, which are necessary but not sufficient for creating the conditions under which students learn. Best practices are often approached as individual strategies for supporting student learning. Consider some best practices that would create the conditions under which students learn:

  • Using problem-based learning to launch a unit of study creates a “felt need” for students to learn, thus motivating them to pursue curricular goals.
  • Using an analytic rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations offers them a sense of responsibility for self-assessing, setting goals, and pursuing nodesthose goals.
  • Developing a set of rich and diverse opportunities to learn, including multiple pathways to the same objective, based on learning modalities, provides students with the differentiation necessary to ensure that all students learn at high levels.
  • Allowing students to schedule their own time empowers them to make decisions about when and how they will pursue individual learning goals.

These seem like worthy practices; however, the power of these practices lies in their interconnectedness, their interdependence. The key to creating the conditions under which students learn is in creating a systems-based classroom.

Consider the four best practices mentioned above. Teachers can build their ability to employ each of these, and, no doubt, this would enhance the instructional process. However, looking at these practices as independent strategies or structures falls short of creating the conditions under which students learn. What is needed is systems-thinking: how does each component of the classroom affect every other component of the classroom?

Fig Str 2 in progress

To determine the health of a system, you look not at the nodes; you look at the lines. It is in the interdependencies that one creates a strong, effective system for learning.

For illustrative purposes, this diagram presents just four of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, designed to put students in charge of their own learning by creating the conditions under which they learn. The actual system includes many more nodes and lines. In order for students to take charge of their own learning, teachers must view the classroom as a self-sustaining, interdependent system.

First, think about the classroom as a system of interdependent components and identify the relationships among the components. You can then start building a system that removes the teacher from the position of “ferry master” and, instead, creates the conditions under which students learn.

Starting the School Year: Priming Plan vs. First ALU

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The goal of engagement should be “minds-on” passionate entanglement with the task at hand. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, we achieve engagement through the use of real-world, problem-based tasks to launch a unit. Given a compelling, “non-Googleable,” problem to solve, students have a “felt need” to grapple with and learn curricular content. These Authentic Learning Units (ALUs) generally run three to six weeks and include collaborative aspects for brainstorming and pushing higher-order thinking. Engagement is enhanced by students being able to take responsibility for their own learning, not being held back by the teacher or classmates. It is enhanced by students having a growth mindset geared toward learning. How does a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom teacher set students up for powerful engagement?

On the first day of school, a teacher who is unfamiliar with the students’ knowledge levels, work habits, and personalities cannot effectively create productive groupings. Additionally, there are many structures and strategies inherent in the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom that students must understand in order to take responsibility for their own learning. These include: reading a rubric to drive instruction, reading an activity list to select appropriate paths to success, scheduling time, using a folder for student-teacher communication, locating resources, effectively getting help when needed, and more.


Begin the year with a Priming Plan. Imagine students walking into class and immediately starting an activity with little overt direction from the teacher. Hearing from the teacher becomes one of several activities, as opposed to the dominant first order of the day. Students may walk in and be given a puzzle piece, a card with a question to answer, or some other means of identifying with others to form a small group. The group then follows a direction to retrieve a set of activities from a Resource Table, and the class has begun. After the first five or ten minutes, the activity schedule calls for the teacher to offer a short, introductory benchmark lesson to the whole class. Resuming with the activities, students may conduct a scavenger hunt of the room to identify various structures, such as the Help Board; Expert Board; small-group, mini-lesson area and sign-up sheet; discourse center; and more. They may sign out a book or computer, fill out forms, take a learning styles inventory, complete content assessments. The Priming Plan is used to introduce the structures of the classroom and gather early assessment data in a student-centered manner.

blinkThe Priming Plan should also be used to set students up for success by priming them for positivity and growth mindset. In chapter 2 of his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell shares research on the the phenomenon of “priming” — using auditory, visual, or tactile cues to nonconsciously shape behavior and thought.  He refers to research by John Bargh in which he has college students walk down a hallway to a testing room, unscramble words into sentences, and walk out of the room and back down the hallway. Students who unscrambled words that related to old age, such as shuffleboard, bingo, Florida, retirement, where primed with old age; they left the room walking more slowly than their peers who unscrambled words that did not prime them for old age.

To prime students for success, you can fill the walls with images and quotes of famous people who exemplify growth mindset. You can develop a Great Student Rubric that reflects growth mindset, and deliberately use language that fosters a growth mindset. You can engage students in designing the room.

With the start of a new year, begin by developing a one-to-two-week Priming Plan to prime students for success and to allow you to get to know your students. You’ll then launch your first Authentic Learning Unit a week or two into the school year, and students will be in a much better position to learn.