Tuesday / April 23

Changing Perceptions—Every Child a Learner

Contributed by Kathleen McClaskey

Our current school culture rewards children when they are “good students.” Children are considered good students when they follow directions, complete their homework, study for tests and earn good grades. Sadly, a student can progress through their school career and graduate without a thirst for knowledge and often end up with fixed mindset. We posted a blog, “Learners not Students”, that encouraged intensive discussions about why we should use the term ‘learners’ instead of ‘students’. Many agreed that ‘learner’ is the appropriate term we need to use since we want every child to be recognized as a learner. It was also pointed out that our current culture often does not recognize or value when children are “good learners.” An important question was raised in this discussion that we want to explore here:

“How do we create a school culture in which being a learner is more valuable than being a student?”

Let’s dive a little deeper into how we can begin to create a culture where all learners are valued.

Discover the Learner in Every Child

Schools have spent the last four decades labeling children who are considered not to be good students while developing our own perceptions of their capabilities. At the same time, many of these children compare themselves to other children and emphasize what they cannot do or perform. It is a natural behavior for children to compare themselves to others, all the time developing a perception that they are different and do not learn like other children. In fact, we often treat them differently by our words and actions. You see, when children are labeled with a disability, we often see them as disabled in all aspects of their learning. It does not take long for these children to develop their own perceptions that they are not learners, a stigma that sometimes lasts for years if not a lifetime. In fact, these children often do not see themselves as learners.

Then how do we change our perceptions and their perceptions?
How do we help every child see themselves as learners every day? 

First, we need to discover the learner in every child and how they learn best. One of the best ways to do that is to use the UDL (Universal Design for Learning®) lens as part of the Personal Learner Profile to enable the teacher to understand how each learner needs and prefers to access information, engage with content and express what they know and understand.

UDL is the framework for understanding All learners

Realizing that the principles of UDL were often difficult for teachers to use in daily practice, changing the terms to Access, Engage and Express provided clarity for them. They could now remember these terms and use this lens in practice for understanding the learners in their classroom and designing effective instruction.

“Remove the veil of disability and you will see the learner.”Kathleen McClaskey

Validate the Learner

The learner also uses the UDL lens to share their strengths and challenges in learning, their preferences or needs to access, engage and express as well as their aspirations, talents and interests. At that moment when a learner is able to tell their story about how they learn with their teacher, the “partnership in learning” begins between the teacher and the learner. This opens the door for the teacher to have a conversation with the learner about learning goals, skills and strategies that the learner needs to work on to reduce any barriers and maximize learning. The undeniable outcome in using the UDL lens is that the learner has been validated as a learner. This is something that rarely occurs today in anyone’s education that can have a positive and profound impact for any learner.  Most importantly, the learner comes to know and understand how they learn best.

Create a School Culture that Values and Nurtures Every Learner

For learners to grow and flourish, we need to create learning environments where every child is recognized as a learner. A school culture that values each learner will empower them to discover the joy of learning. We need to create learning environments that…

  • guide learners to think deeply about their learning,
  • teach them how to make sense of their learning,
  • help them set learning goals to support their learning,
  • understand the tools, resources and strategies each learner needs,
  • assist learners in developing the skills to be independent and self-directed, and
  • nurture and guide their talents, interests and aspirations so they can realize their hopes and dreams.

Consider this…

When you arrive in your classroom this year, envision every child as a learner and then use the UDL lens to discover the learner in every child. Once you are aware of what each learner needs and how they prefer to learn, you are taking the first step in establishing a school culture where learners are valued and created.

To learn more about learners and using the UDL lens, refer to Chapter 2, Who are Your Learners? in our best selling book “Make Learning Personal”.

Universal Design for Learning is a registered trademark of CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology)  Personal Learner Profile and Access, Engage and Express are trademarks of Personalize Learning, LLC.




Kathleen McClaskey is the co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC and co-author of Make Learning Personal with Barbara Bray. They believe that all learners can learn and that now is the time to transform teaching and learning by changing teacher and learner roles. You can reach Kathleen and Barbara at


No comments

leave a comment