Universal Design for Learning



Part of a teacher’s job is to create an environment where each of their students can learn, and to make knowledge accessible for everyone. This is a very difficult task and it seems very daunting. UDL is a framework to enable this to be true in the classroom. It is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. It can be applied to all parts of lesson planning and the general mindset teachers have for looking at and reflecting on their teaching. It can be applied to the instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments.



Universal Design for Learning was an idea based on Universal Design in architecture. It focused on making buildings and other structures accessible to everyone so that everyone can have the same experiences no matter their limitations. Around the time IDEA was passed, schools started making classrooms more accessible in terms of architecture. Influenced by architectural Universal Design principles, the accessibility and flexibility offered by digitized text, and the conceptualization of three learning networks, innovators at CAST developed what they called "Universal Design for Learning" (Reading Rockets, 2015). Just as we want our classroom to be physically accessible, we want all of our planning, teaching and assessing to be accessible to all students as well.

"Influenced by architectural Universal Design principles, the accessibility and flexibility offered by digitized text, and the conceptualization of three learning networks, innovators at CAST developed what they called 'Universal Design for Learning.'"
The Main Goal

The main goal of UDL is to present information in multiple ways, to allow it to be received in different ways, and to give students a chance to demonstrate what they have learned in multiple ways. It stems from making the classroom a way for learning to be accessible for students with disabilities and branches to making it ready for all students in a general classroom. It tries to create a space where there are no barriers within what the teacher has control of. Of course the teacher cannot control their students themselves, but to the extent they can, UDL aims to assist in it. UDL takes the barriers that have been put up by much of the general teaching (just because of the nature of some things, not because of bad teaching) and creates a way for teachers and students to not be limited in the slightest.

Teachers can begin looking at learning styles of each of their students and present or represent their information in their lessons in multiple ways so that each student can find the information easy to learn. This can be done by appealing to the visual learning style, for example, by showing videos, using posters, etc. This can also be done by activating background knowledge in various ways instead of just a pre-test. Teachers could use graphic organizers while pre-teaching concepts for a lesson (CAST).
Action and Expression
Teachers can manipulate the way that they allow students to demonstrate their learning in a fluid manner, in which they can choose a way that is familiar to them. Students who feel comfortable using a video camera could make a video while other students might really enjoy writing instead of verbally answering question in a discussion.
The UDL framework strives to focus on making the curriculum relevant by teaching and providing lessons that are interesting and relevant. This can be done by allowing students to work together and make information meaningful together as well as on their own. Planning for lessons to be relevant to the students lives and using examples that relate to their actual lives as young children helps the knowledge become accessible and intriguing.



Tips For Using UDL to Make Learning Objectives

 (This is different than what we are taught)

In many of our education courses we are taught to create learning objectives that are clear, concise, and specific. This is so that we can create assessments that line up exactly with our objectives and so we can clearly see if students have grasped the learning material. UDL encourages making more broad learning objectives to allow room for students to take in information and demonstrate information in various ways (instead of just one). This lines up with the first two principles: representation and action and expression. An example of a regular learning objective is that students would be able to label all of the bones within the upper body by matching the correct name to the bone on a skeleton diagram, demonstrating 50 out 65 bones correctly. An example of a UDL objective is this: students will take in information about the bones of the upper body and then present their knowledge of each of the bones.This allows room for students to take in the information in different ways, and the teacher to present the information in various ways, whether it be by lecture, diagrams, videos and/or an actual model. It also allows students to show that they understand and have learned the bones in various ways, as well. Students could label a diagram, point to a model, take a test, give a presentation, or anything they agree upon with the teacher. 
How to Implement UDL
When planning, UDL can shape teachers’ thinking by looking at the instructional materials and the instructional methods. Teachers should already plan to appeal to many different learning styles, but UDL encourages doing so even within one lesson. Appealing to just one learning style in the materials leaves out a lot of the students who do not have that one learning style. So just throwing a video into a lesson does not suffice. When looking at the textbook for a science curriculum, giving students access to the digital text that can be read aloud to them provides access to those who have trouble reading as well as those who may be visually impaired. As used in the learning goal above, providing real-life models as much as you can to accompany lessons will give students an easy way to make the information real to them. It also engages them and appeals to the kinesthetic and visual learners. Giving lectures and accompanying it with slides or poster, visually is another great instructional method (IRIS).
See the first video below. 
  An Example of Planning and Implementing UDL     

Lesson: Plants 
I would first want to make sure that the way the information is presented/represented is flexible. I would first provide many examples of plants, telling stories about some of my experiences with them orally and visually showing the class pictures of multiple plants. I will then activate their background knowledge by asking broad questions like who has seen which plant and what their experience was like allowing them to share what they want. Then I would have a few plants for students to touch and observe while sharing their experiences and what they already know. I will bring together what they have said by listing the important details that I pick out that will match what we will discuss later on the board as we discuss what we know. To assess what students learn throughout this time and throughout the lesson I might show a video and then have some questions for small groups to discuss as I walk around to each group and randomly assess how students are responding to the questions, either to their group or in their pre-passed handout. I will group students with a range of students with different abilities so that they can all see different viewpoints and process the information differently.
Then students can choose a single plant and tell me everything that they can learn about on the internet, books that I provide, observations that they make, or experiences that they have had using whichever form of demonstrating it that they want. Students can choose to work individually or in groups and will have access to cameras, iPads, poster board, labels (if they want to label parts of the plant) and then students will display their work and half the class will take turns walking around to the other half of the class who stay with their project and explain the main parts.
The students will record their observations either through writing or explaining to their partner what they see. Students will have some parameters that they have to stay within, like having at least five facts presented in some way about the plant, and the assessment will come from what I see that the students did and if they found at least five facts (this would be for younger students). Students will stay engaged in that they have a lot of choice within my instructional methods. They have various ways to relate the plants we will discuss to their own experiences and then can choose how they find information and how they will share with their classmates what they learned, all while learning about other plants from other classmates.

How to Assess UDL
Multiple means of expression is important to a UDL assessment. Many traditional assessments such as tests or essays pose barriers to the students being evaluated. Assessment in a UDL classroom should be ongoing and should provide students with multiple ways and opportunities to express what they have learned. This also allows teachers to provide feedback throughout the lesson. Using rubrics that clearly explain the requirements of the assessment is an effective way to score a variety of assessments. Rubrics should be given to students ahead of time so they know what they are going to have to demonstrate (IRIS).


Sample Lesson
Class Background: This is for a tenth grade biology class. The students learning styles include: Of a total of 29 students, 12 are primarily visual learners, 10 are primarily auditory learners, and 7 are primarily kinesthetic learners. Additionally, two students struggle with reading and several have difficulty planning and organizing writing assignments. This is a lesson on DNA.
Learning Goal: Students will learn about DNA and be able to present information that they learn about DNA to the class.
Materials: Graphic organizers (with fill-in-the-blanks and blank space), digital text, PowerPoint, text (both print and digital), multiple pictures of DNA (captioned), computers, iPads, crafting supplies, poster board, cameras, books about DNA
Instructional Methods: First we will discuss why they may think that DNA is important and also think-pair-share what DNA is used for/what it is. Then as a whole group students will look at labeled/captioned pictures of a DNA diagram (both the model and real images) and discuss what they see with the class and/or write down the information in their graphic organizers. I will go over some information that we discussed and key vocabulary that students read about in their text while going through slides on a PowerPoint. Then there will be an activity that takes up the rest of the lesson and can be continued over two days if needed, will help students gain a better understanding of what DNA is and what it is used for.
Students will become detectives and have to solve multiple crimes that have happened in the classroom. They will pair up and then decide that one of them has committed a crime. The person who committed the crime left some DNA traces and students can become creative in what one of them has left. The only guidelines for this activity is that there has to be a story created informed by research, then students have to choose 3 traits that the DNA left is for, create the scene with multiple materials provided to do so and then they can present their information to the class in whichever way they want. They can use the computer or their book to research various other crime scenes, how DNA is found and observed, and described all to inform their story.  The kinesthetic learners can present it like a play, others can report on what they did orally with a poster or make a video, etc. This can be shared in the same way as number 4 in a sort of gallery sharing time. Before they begin I will provide scaffolding and model a shortened example of how to do this.
After this on the second day, students will then discuss and refer back to the first whole group discussion connecting what they learned and discussed first with their tables and then with the class, while I compile the main points on the board.
Assessment Techniques: I will informally formatively assess students throughout the whole-group discussion and small group work along the way as students research, come up with their story, and then present. I will also use a rubric to see if the defining qualities within the project are met throughout the gallery time. I will assist in providing corrective feedback as they process through each step. The last whole group discussion will also informally assess what they learned.


Misconceptions About UDL
  • Many people think that UDL is just for students with disabilities, but UDL is beneficial for all students. A classroom or lesson plan designed with UDL in mind makes the material accessible to everyone. Students who do not necessarily need an assistive technology can still benefit from it. For example, providing closed captioning on videos for students who are deaf can also benefit students who are visual learners.
  • UDL is not the same as differentiated instruction. Although both approaches seek to make learning accessible for all students, they go about this goal in different ways. Differentiated instruction responds to individual needs whereas UDL provides a framework where all needs are proactively met. 
Assistive Technology Resources for Teachers
Notable Legislation Related to UDL
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004)
  • Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008)


UDL Resources
The IRIS Center is funded by the US Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs with the goal of improving education for all children. This website provides information on the three principles of universal design for learning and explains how to incorporate those principles into elements of curriculum. The information is presented as a lesson with different modules focusing on how different elements of the curriculum can incorporate universal design. 
DO-IT stands for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology. This center strives to promote the use of universal design in physical spaces, information technology, instruction and services. They also provide various resources for students and teachers. This website allows teachers to learn more about UDL in general, and allows them to search for specific resources their students may need. 
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning provides information and resources about UDL. In addition to general information, this site provides information about advocacy, implementation and research. This site also provides an opportunity for teachers to connect with other educators in discussions about this topic. 
This website provides information about universal design from the architecture perspective. Although this site is not longer active, (no longer posting new information,) it provides some interesting information about the field of universal design and its history. 
CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization with the goal of understanding the many different ways that people learn and trying to make education effective for all people. The slogan for this organization is, “until learning has no limits.”
A way to access various learning tools and resources related to UDL. A username and password is required to access the resources, but signing up is free and easy.

This article explains what UDL is and the three main principles. It comes from the website Understood. This site is a support site for parents and their children with learning and attention issues. Although this resource was designed with parents in mind, teachers can find a lot of information here as well. 
This article talks about how UDL is beneficial for all students. The article explains the three principles of UDL and provides tips on how to create a UDL environment in the classroom.
This article provides information about UDL, the principles, and how to use UDL in practice. This article also provides a few case studies that can be of use to educators.(Quoted above).  

*This contribution to the performance pyramid as made by Stephanie Evans and Katie Urbanczyk in Fall 2015



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