Introduction to Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
One of the greatest challenges of the classroom teacher is a classroom full of diverse learners. This presents a variety of challenges: behavior management, classroom layout, intervention groups, and daily schedules, just to name a few. While these are important, every teacher in charge of a classroom of uniquely amazing students,each bringing his or her own little bit of special into the classroom, starts and ends the day wondering how they are going to plan one lesson that reaches all of these learners. This is a daunting task, and one that dedicated teachers do not take lightly. This one magical, one-size-fits-all lesson that all students can understand and experience success with is the holy grail of planned lessons.
Every lesson may not be perfect for every student in the room, but when the principles of Universal Design are considered, every lesson can be made more accessible to all students receiving the instruction. When you think about Universal Design outside of the classroom, it is most evident in the construction of buildings. So that all patrons can access establishments, certain elements are incorporated into the building: the entrances are built with ramp options, hand rails, automatic door buttons, elevators, reserved handicap parking, and other elements of this nature. Using this same example, consider those who use these accommodations. While one gentleman may need the button to open the door because he can’t grasp the door handle, he may have no issue with taking the stairs. While this gentleman has access to a variety of accommodations, he may choose the ones he must have to successfully maneuver around and throughout the building, as well as making choices that make his experience more enjoyable, such as taking the elevator even though he may not need it.
As educators, we can apply this concept of accessibility to our lessons using the principles of Universal Design. This is made easier with the use and incorporation of technology and the overwhelming amount of multimedia available. The premise of Universal Design is to provide enough variety in the presentation of a lesson that students of all learning types can access the information.
Some students may have a hearing disability, therefore audio isn’t going to be something that is helpful to them. Because of this, any auditory information should also be presented in text. On the other side of that coin, some students may not be able to see-they won’t be able to read the text on the screen, but will be able to hear the audio. Most students in the mainstream classroom will be able to see and hear, but one may be an auditory learner, while another may be a visual learner. This is another way to reach the needs of all students.
Primary Principles: Universal Design for Learning
UDL proposes three primary principles. Each of these principles has three guidelines outlined within it. We will explore these briefly, with more detailed information available at the CAST.org website and in the glossary items provided in this lesson.
Principle 1: Provide Multiple Means of Representation
This principle deals with the "what" of learning, and how we recognize the what of learning. The guidelines under this principle deal with the learner’s perception, the learner’s language and ability to express and interpret expression, and the learner’s ability to comprehend what’s being presented in the lesson.
We can address these issues by presenting the information in a variety of formats, as discussed in the example above, in text and audio format. Another way information could be presented to students is with a combination of text, audio, and images in well constructed multimedia elements.
Principle 2: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression
This principle looks into the strategies of “how” students learned the information presented. In addition, this principle addresses the fact that not all students share their knowledge, new or old, in only one way. With this principle, we offer students multiple means of telling educators what they know and how they got to that knowledge. For students that test well, they may have the option of a multiple choice test.
For students who express their thoughts more accurately in writing, they may have the option to write or type a response to gage the learning that took place. Other students may not feel comfortable writing, or may even have a physical inability to write or type. This student may prefer to record a video response because they feel more comfortable expressing thoughts verbally.
Principle 3: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement
This principle explores the effectiveness and the “why” of the learning that is taking place. Students need to know and understand the reason for the learning they are doing. Without this, it is much more difficult to get them to invest in what you are trying to get across to them.
This principle is also focused on teaching students to be self-regulated learners. Self-regulation is a means of students knowing what they know and what they don’t, what they need help with, how to get that help, and how to properly express frustration and diffuse it so the learning can continue.
This is just a very brief description of each of the primary principles. Please explore these more in depth and with additional examples, either on the CAST website or within the glossary terms provided with this lesson.