What Is Universal Design for Learning?

What is Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing your instruction based on principles that allow all of your students to have access to the general curriculum. Every classroom is full of diverse students with their own unique learning styles. You might have a student who speaks two languages, a student who loves to draw, and a student who needs to have their text read out loud all in the same classroom.

Students bring their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses to the class, and it’s important that when we design our curriculum we consider that uniqueness. UDL uses a proactive approach to curriculum design to consider the natural variability of how students learn. The end result is curriculum that’s inclusive for all learning types.

The Three Types of Learning

Learning isn’t a singular thing. In fact, we know from science that there are three broad learning networks. There’s recognition (the what of learning), strategic (the how of learning), and affective (the why of learning).

Your students need to gain knowledge, strategies, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL helps you create lessons which target all three learning networks.

Design matters

When we use the word design, we don’t just mean how the curriculum looks but also how it’s used by others.

Well-designed curriculum acts much like a well-designed building. In a universally designed building, architects plan for all types of people, with or without disabilities, who use their building. This means they’ll create ramps for those in wheelchairs and strollers, signs with braille for those visually impaired, and signs and maps for their visitors. By designing our curriculum for those in the margins, we create a curriculum that benefits everyone.

How does Universal Design for Learning Work?

Designing a curriculum that’s universal can be tricky. After all, no two students are exactly alike, and in a diverse classroom, the task of creating an accessible curriculum can feel daunting. Here are a few steps for how to use the UDL framework to make goals, methods, materials, and assessments that are truly universal.

Step One: Ask yourself, “What is my goal?”

This might seem pretty basic, but it’s the foundation for a strong curriculum. What do you want your students to know by the end of the lesson, do during the lesson, or care about during and after the lesson?

For example, when creating a lesson plan on the Louisiana Purchase, you might want your students to know what the purchase was, who it was purchased from, and how it was discovered or charted. During the lesson you might want them to watch a short documentary about Lewis and Clark and sketch a map of the Louisiana Purchase territory. Finally, you might want them to describe the importance of the purchase as it’s related to other expansion in America.

Step Two: Identify the barriers

The next step in your process is to identify the barriers your students might face while learning about the Louisiana Purchase.

You might have students who struggle to understand the vocabulary in the documentary. Some of your students might find the process of map-making beneficial to their learning, while others might find the task challenging or boring. The important point is to consider all possibilities when you’re identifying barriers.

Step Three: Use the 3 UDL Principles

The three UDL principles are: representation, action and expression, and engagement. These address the three broad areas of learning we all have. By using these three principles you can better ensure that your lessons are accessible to all your students.

1. Representation

Provide your content in multiple media formats. A documentary might be great for some, but unhelpful for others. Providing the same documentary content as written text, illustrative text, or an audio presentation will make sure that every student has the same chance to learn.

2. Action and Expression

Give your students multiple ways to show you what they know. While some students might excel at map-making, others might do better writing an essay or discussing the concept in small groups. Make sure to provide models, feedback, and supports for their different levels of proficiency.

3. Engagement

What excites one student isn’t going to excite another. When designing your lessons, consider how your students might engage with your content and give them options. While some students might love a lecture, others might enjoy reading or creating a project to learn more the Louisiana Purchase.

The Progress in the General Curriculum Team provides professional development and technical assistance that is applicable to grades kindergarten through twelve to school districts, schools, and charter schools. Their goal is to provide support for people who are involved in the education of students with disabilities to ensure these students are involved in and show progress in the general curriculum through curricular and instructional adaptations in the least restrictive environment.

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