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Expert Learning, Equity & Making Cookies

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
March 26, 2019

One of my best friends, Kate, regularly blesses us with drool-worthy confections worthy of winning fine arts awards. She is the ultimate expert baker. Every cupcake, cookie, and cake is perfection – moist, crunchy, chewy – and just as it should be in its perfect form.

I, on the other hand, am no expert baker. My cookies are flat, my brownies are dry, and I only make cake from a box. I know why. It’s not worth the effort. I rarely measure with the precision baking requires. I don’t invest in high quality ingredients. I just don’t love sweets that much and early on, I decided cooking was not what got me excited (it may have to do with my family’s lack-luster reactions to the “spaghetti pie” I baked for them in 7th grade!)

Expert learning is not about being good at everything. It’s about focusing on your individual needs, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and relying on supports in areas where you aren’t as strong. It’s about doing things the way you need to do them to reach your highest level of success. Expert learners, according to the UDL definition, are:

  • Purposeful & motivated
  • Resourceful & knowledgeable
  • Strategic & goal-directed

If I wanted to become an expert baker, for example, I certainly know I am capable of doing it, by relying on expert learning. For example, I know I am not a natural at pairing ingredients. Recipes would be my first scaffold. I don’t like having gadgets in my kitchen (a real barrier to baking!), but I recognize that investing in the right tools would assist me with mixing, frosting, and decorating. I would need to be more careful in my approach: no ingredient substitutes; sift my flour; level my dry measurements with a knife. I know this because I have made mistakes with baking and learned from those mistakes.

When we teach our kids, we often rely on a one-size-fits-all lesson plan. We teach for the kids who are ready to learn, giving them all “equal” treatment. But the fact is, not all kids are dealt the same set of cards. When we focus on equity, we provide kids with the supports they need to be successful by removing barriers. Some kids may get more support, and others will get less, to put them all on equal ground. Expert learning goes a step further to allow kids to have a say in the supports and tools they need and allows them to focus on their needs and preferences as an individual. It isn’t about just changing the level of support, it’s about changing the kind of support as well.

In our book, “Unlearning,” Allison Posey and I discuss equality, equity, and expert learning in great detail. We wanted to share this visual from the book, which is an update on the ol’ baseball equality vs. equity visual to show how expert learning builds upon the original concept of equity by promoting engagement and involvement. 

unlearning_equality, equity, expert learning infographic

Infographic - An example of the difference between Equality, Equity, and Expert Learning.

  • Equality: Not everyone benefits from the same supports
  • Equity: We can remove barriers by providing adequate supports based on variability
  • Expert Learning: When we focus on individual needs, we not only promote equity, but also engagement and involvement

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