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 https://www.cast.org/impact/universal-design-for-learning-udl
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 https://udlguidelines.cast.org/
Staff, T. (2022, January 21). 8 Strategies To Improve Executive Brain Functions. TeachThought. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/executive-functions/
Understood - For Learning and Thinking Differences. (n.d.). https://www.understood.org/