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As it turns out, this is not how it works. See for yourself: Mentally set the goal of picking up a coffee cup and bringing it to your lips. Now do it. You found it routine, right? Put the cup back down, move twelve inches away from it, and attempt the same goal again.

Again, it's routine, despite the fact that your muscles had to act in a slightly different sequence. Even if you placed a heavy weight on your arm, you would still have little difficulty smoothly adjusting your movements to retrieve the cup. It's difficult to reconcile this experiment with the idea that the brain represents actions with exactly specified muscle movements.

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If this were true, changing the necessary sequence of muscle actions would require a new mental representation, introducing a new challenge. Following a plan that is based on an outcome—rather than one that is more concerned with the precise steps necessary to reach that outcome—is the surest way to preserve the outcome when external conditions change. This raises an important issue: Goals that are too highly specified limit the possible strategies for reaching them, thus suppressing creative solutions and limiting the number of people who can even attempt to attain the goals.

Because strategic networks must understand the intended outcome of the goal in order to construct a plan of action, a fuzzy goal, or a goal confounded with the means to achieve it, leads to actions that lack focus. Without clear objective, it's difficult to gauge progress. In contrast, clearly communicated goals can support all three brain networks by helping students know what they are supposed to do, how to do it, and why it is important. Students who understand the goals of their schoolwork are more likely to stay focused, monitor themselves successfully, and derive satisfaction from their progress.

Setting clear goals and communicating them so that students understand them is neither as easy nor as widely practiced as we might think. It requires that teachers overcome several challenges, the most important of which is the apparent contradiction between standards and learner diversity. Developed by national, state, and local curriculum- writing groups and by subject area experts, standards aim to articulate the knowledge, skills, and understanding all students should gain in a particular subject, with more specific benchmarks of achievement by grade level.

Standards express what schools value and, therefore, determine what teachers teach and assess. To best serve our students, we need to understand the strengths and limitations of standards as they are currently designed so that we may interpret and apply them effectively and contribute to their improvement. First, the strengths. They leave room for teachers to shape goals and to individualize the means for attaining them.


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In other words, good standards represent the community's beliefs about the knowledge, skills, and understanding that all students should develop, but they allow that how and to what degree students develop and demonstrate that learning can be as varied and creative as are the teachers and students themselves. Howard Gardnerand the Project Zero group, in their work on teaching for understanding, warn that standards that specify particular knowledge and skills can actually lead teachers to decrease their focus on true understanding Gardner, Critics also point out that some standards prescribe too narrowly and specifically what students should learn.

We believe the key to reconciling standards with student diversity is a careful examination of the standards themselves—first to determine the true purpose of a particular standard, and then to separate that purpose from the methods for attaining it. If the goal statement reflects its true purpose, it can work for an entire class made up of diverse learners. The means, or approaches, can then be individualized. Partly because teachers have functioned for so many years with inflexible curriculum materials and methods, we tend to think narrowly about learner goals and the available pathways for their attainment.

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Consider an analogy. Imagine a woodworking instructor is setting goals and performance criteria for a class of 30 students. What is the likelihood that every one of the instructor's students will be able to achieve this goal? The odds aren't very good. The wording of the goal confounds its objective with the means for attaining it, and the single performance criterion guarantees that while some students will be under-challenged, others will be over-challenged and have almost no chance of success. It's clear this goal could not be attained by a student like Sophia, who would have difficulty seeing a line drawn on a board, or by a student like Jamal, who lacks the physical ability to use a handsaw or to cut along a straight line.

The goal would also be problematic for any student who fears being injured with sharp tools. Further, because students differ in coordination, strength, and physical ability, the single performance will be too high for some and too low for others. If the woodworking instructor had only a handsaw and pencil the woodshop equivalent of traditional, inflexible instructional media and materials , he might find it very difficult to shift set and reinterpret the goal so that all of his students could make progress.

All students could work toward these broader goals, using whatever tools suit them best, and all could strive toward levels of competency that represent individual progress. Like the woodworking instructor, teachers who have access to only a few tools and methods for teaching and assessing learners' progress naturally tend to define goals that are closely tied to methods. Consider this goal, set by Patrick's teacher, Mr. Hernandez might logically conclude that Patrick couldn't work toward the same goal as his classmates because of his slow reading and tendency to be easily discouraged.

What if, in addition to books, the resources available to Mr. Hernandez's students included digital text with reading support, a variety of image-rich sources, videos, and scaffolds to help Patrick stay focused and organize his information? In this classroom, it would be clearer that the goal's true purpose—learning to collect and synthesize information—does not depend upon the use of printed text. Patrick, instead of having to lower his sights because of difficulty accessing a particular medium, could rely on scaffolds and supports to achieve the same goal as his peers.

UDL offers educators practical guidance for reconciling common standards with diverse needs. Remembering that our overarching intent is for each student to learn, we can use the UDL framework to Structure our analysis of the nature of a standard, goal, or unit of curriculum so that we can determine its true purpose, then separate the desired outcome from the means to attain it. Guide selection and assembly of flexible media and materials that can support diverse pathways to the goal for different students.

Help us communicate goals and means to students so they know what they are doing, how they might do it, and why it is important. The framework of the three brain networks guides interpretation of learning standards in two ways. First, by considering the wording carefully we can determine if the true purpose of the standard centers on learning information recognition networks , learning skills or processes strategic networks , or engagement affective networks. When we can pinpoint the main focus of the goal, we can identify the aspects that must be held constant for all students.

Second, and equally important for the process of individualizing instruction, knowing the real purpose of a goal helps determine where we can offer flexible options and where we can provide scaffolds without removing the challenge. Let's take a closer look at what's involved.

You may recall that setting goals and monitoring progress are the domains of strategic networks. Still, attaining any goal involves the whole brain. To illustrate, consider what is involved in attaining your goal of drinking a cup of coffee: Your recognition networks are in full gear, enabling you to identify the cup; its size, location, and heft; recognize the table and your hand; and monitor the changing location of your arm and hand as you reach for the cup.

Strategic networks are centrally involved in setting the goal, initiating your reach, monitoring your progress, and making any necessary course corrections. Affect motivates you to lift the cup because you are curious about our experiment, thirsty, or tired and in need of caffeine. Determining which network is central to a standard is the first step in separating goals from methods. Below, we provide some general guidelines.

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Recognition goals. This is the domain of recognition networks. Examples of such standards include Understands the genetic basis for transfer of biological characteristics from one generation to the next. Strategic goals. Examples of these standards include Demonstrates competence in general skills for reading a variety of literary texts.


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Affective goals. Standards related to affect are still rather rare and are relatively easy to identify. Examples include: Students should enjoy, appreciate, and use mathematics, just as they should enjoy, appreciate, and use music, art, and literature.

More Than a Smart Goal: Staying Focused on Student Learning

Knowing which network is most central to a particular standard helps us determine what its true purpose is. Only then can we know which aspects must be held constant if the standard is to be met and which aspects can be varied to support individual learning differences. Speaking very broadly, the following guidelines apply: For recognition goals, focused on specific content ,that content is key. For strategic goals, focused on a specific process or medium ,that process or medium is key.