How to Personalize Learning: New Book Available

I am excited to announce that my friends Barbara Bray and Kathleen MacClaskey’s book How to Personalize Learning, from Corwin Press, is finally out and available for purchase.  I was honored when Barbara and Kathleen asked me to write the foreword for this book, and I am sharing that foreword below. I highly recommend getting the book, which will guide you step by step through the process of creating a more learner-driven environment. 

Dr. David Rose, one of the originators of Universal Design for Learning, often says that “teaching is emotional work.” By that I take him to mean that teaching is not just a purely technocratic endeavor. It is more than just delivering the right content at the right time, though that is important for sure. It is also more than just assessing how well students have mastered said content, though again that is important as well. Rather, at the heart of teaching is the relationships we remember from our best learning experiences. If you were to close your eyes right now and think back to a time when you were most engaged with learning, you will probably see a teacher who was invested in your success, who encouraged you and helped you gain confidence in your abilities, and who balanced the right mix of support with freedom and trust. In short, you were in the presence of someone who, perhaps without realizing it, already understood what it means to be an expert learner, one who driven by his or her passion can then take ownership of learning and do the hard work that is needed for success. What if you could be that teacher for every learner who walks into your classroom?

Helping all of our learners develop their learning expertise is the focus of this book. It is also the ultimate goal of Universal Design for Learning, the framework the authors have chosen to frame their discussion of learning. Notice that I am using the term learners instead of students. This change in my thinking and vocabulary has been influenced by my reading of Barbara and Kathleen’s work. As they state, students are passive recipients of content and have little choice in how they participate in education. Learners are empowered, and as a result take on a more active role in the design of their education. If as some people suggest, language shapes our actions, then right away with chapter one of this book you will be on your way to reshaping your teaching practice. Starting with the language you use, you will be challenged to rethink the traditional teacher-student role in order to close the emotional distance it creates and develop a more equitable relationship with your learners. Thus, right from the start of this book, you will be engaged in the “emotional work” of teaching as you seek to build a different kind of learning environment, one where strong relationships based on trust and shared responsibility are the norm.

With a common language, vision and understanding of what personalization really means as a strong foundation, the rest of the book seeks to translate the latest research about learning into actionable strategies you can immediately implement in your classroom. In this way, the more abstract concept of “the learner” is translated into the more concrete one of “your learners.” This is accomplished through a number of activities (creating a Learner Profile and a Personal Learning Plan as just two examples) that help you get to know who your learners really are, what drives and motivates them, and what they need to do their best work and reach their full potential. I have a feeling that as you help your learners with their Learner Profiles, Personal Learning Backpacks and Personal Learning Plans you yourself will rediscover who you are as a learner. In doing so, you will also rediscover your own passion for teaching and the values that caused you to go into this profession in the first place. At the end of the book, you will be asked to create a 60 second pitch that will serve as a reminder of your core values and hopefully become your compass as you seek to align your practice with those values.

While I agree with Dr. Rose that “teaching is emotional work,” I would add that it is also “civic work.” As educators, we can play a role in ensuring that everyone can enjoy life in a fair and equitable society, but only to the extent that we dedicate ourselves to developing citizens who are actively engaged in the life of their communities.  This requires a commitment to providing all citizens with the skills they will need to be active participants in conversations about the future, including the ability to be critical thinkers and to appreciate and value diversity. We can do this work in each one of our classrooms as we develop each learner’s agency and ability to live a self-determined life, which is a major focus of this book starting in chapter 3.

One of my favorite quotes, attributed to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill, is that “all politics is local.” Similarly, all “learning is local” in the sense that it is not removed from the life of the community where a school is located and the issues that impact the lives of individual learners. In this way, learning is once again more than a technocratic exercise of delivering content and information. It is also about helping learners make connections: not only connections between the topics and ideas discussed in the classroom, but more importantly between those topics and ideas and the learners themselves. This is what “deeper learning” as discussed in chapter 8 is all about: going beyond the surface, and isolated facts that have little relevance to learners, to focus on the big ideas that move and inspire them to be the innovative thinkers and agents for change we will need to solve the complex problems of our shared future.

If you have picked up this book, you probably agree with me that the technocratic approach to education has not worked, and you are looking for a new direction. If that is the case, then I invite you to not just read this book, but use it as a blueprint for rethinking every aspect of your approach to teaching, from the questions that guide your lessons to the tools you use to engage learners and make education more accessible to them. This book asks a lot of you, but it gives you even more in return. By that I mean that it asks you to consider some of the tough questions that are often glossed over in most education books: what does it mean to be a teacher, and more importantly, what does it mean to be a learner? However, as you ask those tough questions, you will also be provided with the tools you need to formulate some good responses and take meaningful action. The many activities and resources found in each chapter will be an invaluable resource as you rethink your role and begin to engage in the “emotional” and “civic” work of teaching needed to create a better society for future generations.


7 Apple Watch Apps for Diverse Learners

Over on my YouTube Channel, I have posted a few video tutorials focusing on the built-in accessibility features of Apple Watch.

I also discuss these accessibility features in more detail in my recently updated book on low vision supports for Apple users, Zoom In (available as a free download on the iBookstore). VoiceOver, Zoom and many of the accessibility features familiar to users of iOS devices are included in Apple Watch. These accessibility features ensure users with a variety of special needs can personalize and use their Apple wearables.

As with iOS devices, Apple Watch also supports apps that provide even more flexibility for users in how they can use the wearable. With the release of watchOS 2 these apps can now run natively on the device itself, promising faster loading times and better performance overall. More importantly, apps can now use many of the hardware features available on Apple Watch, such as the Taptic engine, the Digital Crown, the various sensors (heart rate sensor and accelerometer) and the microphone.  Basically, apps can do much more than they could with the initial release of Apple Watch, opening the door for developers to be even more creative in how they address the needs of users who have special needs. This post focuses on my favorite apps for such users.

With any of the apps mentioned here, you will install the app from App Store just as you would do it for iPhone apps. You would then open the Watch app, go to My Watch, tap on the name of the app and make sure the toggle for “Show App on Apple Watch” is set to on. For some apps, you will also have an option to include it in Glances, the Apple Watch feature that allows you to access information with a swipe up from the current watch face.

For your convenience, I  have collected all of the resources mentioned in this post into an AppoLearning Collection. Have anything to add (apps, ideas for use in the classroom)? Let me know and I can add you as a collaborator to this collection (a new feature available on Appo Learning).

Children with Autism: A Visual Schedule

Visual schedules are supports that allow children and adults with autism and related disabilities to better handle transitions in their daily routines. These schedules use pictures to indicate to learners what they are to do and where they are to go next, helping to ease anxiety around transitions and building their ability to act independently.  According to developer Enuma (formerly Locomotion Apps), Visual Schedule ($12.99)  is the first picture-based scheduler for the Apple Watch.

Current activity shown on Apple WatchOn the Apple Watch, the app will display each activity as it is happening, with a progress indicator to let the learner know how much time is left before transitioning . Swiping up on any activity will display any associated tasks so that they can be checked off. Swiping to the left will then show what activities come next.

Building the visual schedules themselves takes place on the paired iPhone, where most of the work is done through a drag and drop interface.  From the Today view, tapping Edit in the upper right corner will display icons for 14 preset activities on the right side of the screen.

Visual Schedule today view in edit mode, showing activities that can be added to daily schedule.

You can also tap Add (+) at the bottom of the list to create your own custom activity (which can use a photo from your Camera Roll as its icon).  For each activity, you can double-tap its icon in the Edit view to specify the color of the label as well as any associated tasks.

To build the visual schedule itself, you  drag the activity icons onto the Today view and use the provided handles to  adjust the activity’s duration .


Proloquo2Go ($249.99) is a robust symbol-based communication app that has been available for iOS devices for some time. The price listed is not for the Apple Watch app itself, but rather for the communication app that runs on iOS and which includes an Apple Watch component. Developer AssistiveWare originally  created the Apple Watch app when the watch was announced and at that time the app only allowed the wearable to be used as a switch for a paired iPhone running Proloquo2Go. With watch OS 2, Proloquo2Go now also provides basic communication capabilities on the Apple Watch app.

When you first launch Proloquo2Go on the Apple Watch you will be prompted to select the mode you want the app in: Switch or Communication. To change the mode after the initial selection, you will have to go into the Proloquo2Go options on the paired iPhone and change it there. You can see how the Switch feature works in a video I have posted on my YouTube channel.

Proloquo2Go Phrase BuilderThe new Communication option works by providing a basic set of phrases to start, then a Builder which can be accessed through a Force Touch to build new phrases. The Builder works very much in the same way you customize the various Complications  on the Apple Watch faces. The window is divided into three cells. You use the Digital Crown to select a sentence starter from the first cell, then repeat the process to select a noun or adjective from one of the available categories to complete the phrase (again, using the Digital Crown to navigate the choices). When the sentence is selected, it is displayed upside down so that the Apple Watch can be shown to the other person.  I found this to work out best when I turned off the option for “Wake Screen on Wrist Raise” on the Apple Watch settings. Otherwise, the screen would go to sleep as soon as I turned my wrist to display the message. Hopefully in the future the Apple Watch app can include text to speech, which according to AssistiveWare is a limitation imposed by Apple.


Proloquo4Text ($119.99)  is a text-based communication app from AssistiveWare that, like Proloquo2Go,  includes an Apple Watch component.  However, unlike the Proloquo2Go Apple Watch app, this one does not include a phrase builder. You can choose to store a number of phrases into a special Apple Watch folder on the iOS app, and these phrases are then available for selection on the Apple Watch. As with the phrase builder in the  Proloquo2Go app, the phrases are displayed upside down when selected.


For learners who have executive functioning challenges that make it difficult to stay organized, a good to do list app with reminders can be a helpful support. Surprisingly, there is no Reminders app for Apple Watch, though you can use Siri to create  a new reminder that shows up on the Reminders app on a paired iPhone.

Wunderlist Home ViewWunderlist (free) is an option if you would like to both create and view reminders on the Apple Watch. It is a free service for accessing to dos from just about any device (a full list of supported platforms is available on the Wunderlist site). On Apple Watch, the Wunderlist app provides a simple Home View with four options for viewing to dos: Inbox, Today, Starred and Surp to Me.  The Glances feature is also supported so you can access your to dos for the current day with a quick swipe up from the watch face.

To create a new to do item, you use the Force Touch feature of Apple Watch. You press and hold firmly to reveal the Add (+) button, then use your voice to dictate the text for the new to do and tap Done when you’re finished.

On the companion iPhone app you can then add details such as the due date, set up a reminder (which will use the Taptic Engine on the Apple Watch to get your attention with a gentle tap) and organize the to dos into lists that can be accessed by scrolling with the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch. The idea is that the Apple Watch app is an interface for creating quick to dos and checking them off as they are completed, while the iPhone app provides more options for managing said to dos.


Evernote launch screen on Apple WatchEvernote (free) is one of my favorite apps for collecting random bits of information before it can get lost. It has become my replacement for all the post it notes I used to keep around my desk. With the Apple Watch app, you can create quick notes, use your voice to search through all the notes you have on your account, and see a list of recently viewed or updated notes. Like Wunderlist, Evernote supports reminders for notes that are time sensitive. However, with Evernote you can indicate the time for the reminder right on the Apple Watch itself as you create the note (though the options are limited to “this evening,” “tomorrow,” “next week” and “next month”). I find Evernote to be a nice compliment to Wunderlist and I use both: Wunderlist for to dos and Evernote for quick notes I will need to refer to at a later time but don’t necessarily have to act on right away. Together the two apps are great supports for staying organized and minimizing the risks of losing important information.

Just Press Record

Just Press Record opens with a big record buttonJust Press Record ($4.99) is a new audio recording app that is made possible by the access developers now have to the microphone with  watchOS 2.  Just Press Record can record audio directly from the Apple Watch’s microphone and play it back with the built-in speaker. The interface couldn’t be simpler: a nice big microphone button you press to start your recording. A nice touch is that you can see the wave form as you record, and when you are finished you can preview the recording before you choose to save the file to your iCloud account. You can even record when your iPhone is not within range of the Apple Watch (the recording will be synced the next time you connect the two devices). This app is useful as another option for students to capture their thoughts and ideas using just speech. It could even be used for students to reflect on their progress at regular intervals (at the end of each
day or week). Recordings can be shared with the teacher from the iCloud account the app uses to store the recordings.


iTranslate app ready to translate to SpanishiTranslate (free, in-app purchase) is a nice app to have if you have English Language Learners in your class and your command of their native language is not as strong as you would like it to be. When the app launches, you can use Force Touch to change the language (more than 90 are supported). Once you have set your language, tap the middle of the screen and use your voice to speak the phrase you want translated. You can then play the translation back using the Apple Watch speaker. This is not the fastest app (especially at launch) but hopefully it will continue to improve on performance over time. 

The number of apps for Apple Watch will continue to grow as developers become more comfortable with the device. What is exciting to me is the ability for developers to tap into the hardware features of the device with watch OS 2. I look forward to how the developer community will take advantage of the microphone and I hope that soon text to speech is made available to third-party apps as well. That would make many of these apps even more useful. What do you think?

A SAMR and UDL Framework

As I was traveling to Macworld 2013, where I presented a session on iBooks Author, I had some time when I was trapped on a plane without Wi-Fi (the horror!). Rather than reading the magazine in front of me, I gave into my urge to try to combine two frameworks I am really passionate about, the SAMR model developed by Dr. Ruben Puentadura and the UDL framework developed by CAST. Below is an image showing the framework I developed and some apps that address each level. This was just a quick brainstorm on a long plane ride, but I do appreciate your feedback.

SAMRandUDL008.008 SAMRandUDL.009


Update: Here is a text version that should be more accessible with a screen reader (with app and feature matching):

n: needs assessment and profile
determine current level of performance and desired outcomes.

A: access to content and tools
The technology eliminates barriers that prevent access to information

  • Proloquo2Go
  • FaceTime
  • VoiceOver
  • AssistiveTouch
  • Closed Captioning Support
  • Dictation (built-in with iOS)
  • Dragon Dictation
B: building supports and scaffolds for learner variability
The technology includes scaffolds and supports that account for learner differences.
  • iBooks
  • AppWriter US
  • Speak It!
  • Typ-O HD
  • Evernote
  • Notability
L: leveraging multimedia
The technology provides multiple means of expression.
  • Book Creator
  • Creative Book Builder
  • StoryKit
  • SonicPics
  • StoryRobe
  • Pictello
E: expression and creativity
The technology unleashes creative potential and disrupts perceptions of disability.
  • Camera
  • iMovie
  • Garageband
  • iPhoto
  • Instagram