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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Prater

Universal Design for Learning

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way to approach teaching and learning that minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all students. This approach provides genuine learning opportunities for all kinds of users by offering flexibility in the ways students access and engage with material and demonstrate what they know. Developing lessons with flexible curriculum helps support, build, and challenge students. Within this framework, we can create goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone.

As an art educator, with several years of experience in special education, I typically provide learning opportunities that include elements from the 3 primary brain networks: Affective, Recognition, and Strategic Networks. For example, to deliver project instructions, I provide students the options to choose from online and video resources as well as print materials (Representation). Prior to the lesson, I supply background knowledge related to the origins of the medium or historical context and pre-teach vocabulary and concepts that will be learned within the framework of the project. To support student buy-in, I provide them with either a choice of mediums to explore or projects with varying levels of difficulty (Engagement). Over the past 5 years, I have noticed an increase in student achievement and product outcome due to this one small change.

At pre-determined intervals of the project, students document their project progress and use prescribed naming conventions to save and organize their assignments (Action & Expression). I’ve noticed that establishing this routine with students helps to facilitate executive functioning around managing information and resources. Students that sign up for my advanced classes can successfully transfer this skill to my other course. Ultimately, I am teaching them ways to manage workflow that will ensure success in other areas of their lives.

Through my experiences in teaching, I have explored many ways to successfully incorporate the principles of UDL in the classroom. However, many students still struggle with critical thinking and executive functioning skills. In education, when we review the teaching and learning practices of the past, it’s clear that we have created a monster, where students want to be given knowledge instead of becoming seekers of knowledge. Skills that I would like to focus on are ones that “empower students to become critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers and ethical users of information” (American Association of School Librarians (AASL), 2013. The skills that would develop greater levels of success in all our students would be in these areas: Flexible Thinking, Self-Monitoring, Planning & Prioritizing, and Task Initiation. So as an educator, how do we support this development in students? Strategies teachers can use to adapt lessons now and extend lessons in the future can be found at TeachThought, which is a site for teachers to explore research, learning models, teaching strategies, research learning and more. The site includes content specific to critical thinking and project-based learning. Another site that provides diverse resources for students that think differently is Understood and their goal is to help people discover their potential, take control of their lives, and stay on positive paths. The site allows you to select specific options that are based on student needs and can be used by educators, parents, and/or students. Content is provided through articles, videos, and podcasts. So just like our classrooms, materials are provided through multiple means.



About universal design for learning. CAST. (2022, February 8). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from

American Association of School Librarians (AASL). (2013). Empowering Learners: Guidelines for School Library Programs. Amer Library Assn.

CAST. (2022, September 2). The UDL guidelines. UDL. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from

Staff, T. (2022, January 21). 8 Strategies To Improve Executive Brain Functions. TeachThought.

Understood - For Learning and Thinking Differences. (n.d.).

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Latasha Henry
Latasha Henry
Dec 09, 2022

Thank you so much for your post. The last video in your post was a great example of the fact that there is no one fits all answer to teaching. The classroom is built up with diverse types that a teacher must plan to attack an objective many different ways. Thank you for your post!


Dec 03, 2022

I loved the video you incorporated at the end of your post. This would be something that would be great to show teachers at the beginning of the year as they come back to school. I found your post to be very informative and well done!


Lynette tatman
Lynette tatman
Dec 02, 2022

I enjoyed reading about ways to improve students' self-monitoring skills, planning, and prioritizing at TeachThought. This is a terrific site for teachers to find up-t0-date articles. Thanks for sharing!


Kasey Sclerandi
Kasey Sclerandi
Dec 01, 2022

I agree that background knowledge is incredibly important. A few weeks ago, I had a student miss the majority of his questions after reading a selection (whole group). I was very confused what the problem was and then, I followed up with him. When I did, I realized the ones that he missed were due to his lack of vocabulary. His primary language at home is Spanish and when we read the story, he didn't understand what I meant in English. It made me more aware that although I always cover vocabulary - I need to make sure that they understand the setting/location.


Flor Guerrero
Flor Guerrero
Nov 29, 2022

As educators, we do have to find ways for students to take ownership and help them become critical thinkers. I really liked how you explained the facets of UDL and how you apply them in your classroom. I think that the concept of UDL is something that we all do as educators, we just need to be intentional and know the process with work differently with everyone.

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