Universal Design for Learning - a Blueprint for Successful Schools

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As Todd Rose proves in his TEDed talk, there is no average learner. Teachers confront this challenge with every lesson, activity, and course as they acknowledge that no two students learn the same way. With the added pressure to address standards, integrate technology, and prepare students with 21st Century Skills, consider the potential if school leaders could offer teachers a single strategy that would address all of their students’ needs. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) does just that.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. - source: CAST

Multiple Pathways to Learning

At the heart of UDL lies the belief that students need to not only master content and skills but also the act of learning. In order to do this, they need to be provided with a myriad of opportunities to interact with the material. When teachers design their curriculum with this in mind they account for whether students may need audio support via text-to-speech, visual representations, or alternative output options such as producing a video rather than a written piece. Ultimately, in a UDL classroom, teachers strive to reach their students through the best possible medium and then push them towards learning mastery via the most effective pathway.

Goal Based Curriculum

When students have a variety of ways to interact with the curriculum, it becomes critical for them to know the final destination. In a UDL classroom, teachers begin each lesson or unit with clearly defined learning expectations. These goals represent the “knowledge, concepts, and skills” that students need to attain in order to demonstrate their progress towards learning mastery.

With curriculum planning, teachers often begin with a specific standard or content objective. UDL takes this a step farther by focusing not just on the content but also the skills, strategies, or processes that students should develop. Based on the learning focus, teachers can then identify the instructional strategies and multiple pathways in order to provide all students (regardless of their learning needs) with equal opportunities to achieve learning mastery.

Multiple Means for Assessment 

In a traditional classroom, students interact with content delivered in a single manner and then demonstrate their learning through identical assessments - typically in the form of a test or quiz. However, in a UDL classroom, students not only choose the medium through which they acquire the desired content and skills, but also the means through which they demonstrate their learning. 

While some students may still complete a traditional summative assessment, others may progress down a pathway that guides them towards technology-rich projects or activities. If, for example, the goal is for a student to craft a persuasive argument, then the assessment could be a paragraph, an audio recording of a speech, or a video advertisement.

Classes of Expert Learners

Ultimately, teachers want their students to become expert learners, able to acquire the desired content, knowledge, processes, and skills. Similarly, administrators strive to guarantee that their schools have taken every measure to create the most effective teaching environment for their faculties. With UDL as a blueprint for instructional practice, schools endeavor to provide equal access to content, multiple means for engagement, and an expectation that all students will aspire towards mastery.

Beth Holland leads professional development workshops in schools across the USA, writes for a number of publications including Edutopia and Edudemic, presents at conferences, and manages social media. She has expertise in elementary and middle school education, mobile learning, as well as assistive technologies. Beth holds an Ed.M. in Technology, Innovation, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a B.S. in Communications from Northwestern University.

©Rodrigo Mendes Institute. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 2.5. The copying, distribution and transmission of this work are free, under the following conditions: You must credit the work as authored by Beth Holland and licensed by Rodrigo Mendes Institute; the use for commercial purposes is forbidden; the change, transformation or building upon this work is forbidden, except with express permission of the licensor.

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