Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework set forward for removing all possible learning barriers by foreseeing the needs of all students. It is the idea of implementing flexible strategies into lesson planning so that every student has access to the curriculum. It is built on the idea that there is not one kind of learning. Learning differs across multiple areas including tasks, development and individuals. This idea of teaching was first introduced to the educational world in the 1990’s. It has also become a national initiative due to the accessibility of technology.
Many teachers today have manipulated curriculums to meet the requirements of the three principles of the UDL’s style of learning and teaching. The educator provides flexible ways of representing the lesson content, flexible options for student engagement and flexible methods of action and expression. At times, principles may overlap.
As a NYC Public School educator, I have been fortunate to have received professional development on UDL. It has most certainly changed my perspective and mindset on educating students of all ages.
Multiple Means of Engagement, Representation and Action and Expression:
Under these principles, there are many modes of choice such as audio, visual and tactile. These principles can take many forms. One example, that consistently takes place in my 5th grade classroom, is the idea of allowing my students to have access to definitions of domain vocabulary. This happens through illustrations, sound files and pictures. Remember the idea is to provide access to all learners. This has strengthened my own practice. I used to modify curricula and differentiated my materials, specifically for students with disabilities. While planning, I would think of scaffolding the lesson to meet the goal of those students only. Now, with the idea of UDL, all students benefit from the three principles.
Another strategy I utilize within my own practice, is giving my students different options to show their understanding of learning. They can do this through a verbal conversation (one on one), a silent conversation, a picture (comic strip), written explanation and many more options.
Other examples of the three principles:
- Multiple means of representation:Video captioning and video description (i.e., adding text or audio to describe what happens in a video to support access by persons with visual difficulties); highlighted vocabulary in subject matter content, such as science and social studies materials; main ideas offered through graphic organizers; vocal directions matched with printed and visual/image representations (e.g., pictured directions in learning centers); pre-teaching opportunities for new vocabulary and concepts; color shading used for emphasis; use of Visuwords for vocabulary development; visual cueing for feedback during class.
- Multiple means of action and expression:Models of expert performance provided using differing approaches; paired voice with visual displays; outlines of subject matter content; use of Interactives: Elements of a Story to teach narrative structures; use of Writing Fun by Jenny Eather to develop expressive writing skills.
- Multiple means of engagement:Choice of topics for projects (including dinosaurs and astronauts, as appropriate); simple self-monitoring checklists in learning centers for students to self-assess completion and accuracy; consistent attention-getting techniques that use visual as well as auditory cues; and paired peers to share small-group activities.
Written by Joshua Rosenthal, PsyD