Universal Design for Learning: Principles and Examples for 2019All Posts
You’ll also discover:
- Who UDL applies to in the classroom
- The principles of universal design for learning
- Examples of how to use UDL in the classroom
- Universal design for learning guidelines that all schools can use
- A free, downloadable list of UDL principles [+ 13 examples]
What is Universal Design for Learning?To start, let’s define universal design for learning.While the word ‘universal’ may make this seem like a one-size-fits-all program, that is actually the opposite of what UDL stands for.In everyday life, we constantly run into examples of universal design. This includes things like closed-captions, text-to-speech features on your smartphone, or other things that we normally label ‘accessibility features’.In principle, universal design for learning is the same: it is an adaptive learning program that allows equal opportunity for all students. But, this raises a question:
Is Universal Design for Learning only applicable to students with learning and attention issues?First, let me ask you this: have you ever used an automatic door? Let’s face it: if you have two legs and two arms that work, you’re not the person that door was designed for. However, if your hands are full of groceries, or you’re at the end of an exhausting day of work, an automatic door is quite useful.The same idea applies in the classroom.While universal design for learning does greatly benefit students with learning and attention issues, it is also beneficial for the average student. Each student has their own specific strengths and weaknesses. This can have absolutely nothing to do with attention disorders or learning disabilities: it is simply how their unique brain takes in and processes information most easily. By applying universal design for learning in the classroom, all students are allowed to take in, digest, and express information in the way that is easiest for them. This improves the learning experience for everyone, and helps each individual student to expand his or her knowledge of the subject without the constraints of the traditional classroom. So, what makes up the basis for UDL? And how can you apply these principles in the classroom?
Basic principles of Universal Design for Learning
Engagement: The why of learningEverything starts with how students engage with the class and the subject. This principle encompasses the ideas of motivation, building on the interests of the students. The area of engagement also helps students to see the reasons why they should learn what they’re learning, and makes it relevant to their life.This also includes helping students become self-motivated by guiding them through rubrics that allow for self-reflection and personal goals.The goal of engagement in UDL: To give students purpose and motivation to learn.
Representation: The what of learning
Allowing students to choose the methods by which they take in information allows for all types of students to thrive as they interact with subject materials. Customization is key here. This involves providing multiple ways to assimilate subject material, such as textbooks, audio files, digital books, or images and graphs. It also implies customization and flexibility within those formats.With this kind of flexibility, students have access to the material that best suits their needs. This is useful for children with disabilities such as dyslexia, as well as for average students who simply perform better when listening to instruction than when reading, for example.The goal of representation in UDL: To allow students to be more resourceful and knowledgeable.View this post on Instagram
Action and expression: The How of learningOnce students have taken in the information, it’s time for them to express and show what they’ve learned.This principle of universal design for learning takes into account the differences of students’ manner of expression. Flexibility is provided in the way that students show their knowledge of the subject, meaning they can choose not to perform a test and instead opt for a more adaptive expression that fits their strengths. Action and expression also touches on the idea of goal-setting for students. Here, teachers help students set goals for learning, and guide students through monitoring their own progress.The goal of action and expression in UDL: To help students to become more strategic and goal-directed.
Universal Design for Learning examples and guidelines
1. Know the strengths and weaknesses of studentsIn order to correctly apply universal design for learning in the classroom, it’s important for teachers to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each student.This can be as easy as asking each student how they want to learn that day’s lesson, and offering different choices for the content used, the reward applied, the tools used for gathering information or producing results, or the order of tasks to be completed. It also may be helpful for teachers to take note of which students excel when using certain formats, or even to involve parents in helping find their children’s strengths and weaknesses in learning.
2. Give students specific learning goalsTeachers have one very obvious goal: to help students to learn. In fact, within the lesson plan they may already have goals in mind for specific information that children should know by a certain point in the school year.To help motivate and engage students, why not include them in the goal process?A great example of this is posting lesson goals for all the students to see in the classroom. To do this, teachers must have one clear goal for each lesson. Then, they can discuss this goal with the class at the beginning of the lesson and write it out in a visible place for the whole class to see.That way, students know exactly what to expect from the lesson, and will feel more motivated to pay attention to complete the lesson goal.
3. Create and follow classroom routinesHelping students to feel safe in their learning environment is essential to a productive and motivated classroom. One great example of universal design for learning is creating classroom routines that help students feel secure.While this helps adapt to students with disabilities such as autism, it’s good for all students to get used to classroom routines. This means structuring class time so that each student knows what they should be doing and when.This can still allow for flexibility in the order or time spent on subtasks, but helps students to know exactly where they are in the lesson.
4. Provide prompts that let students know it’s time to ask for helpIt’s true that some students will have more trouble with certain aspects of a lesson than others. But, instead of simply getting frustrated and giving up, students need to know when to ask for help.Unfortunately, not all students will recognize when it’s time to ask for help.That’s where providing prompts comes in. For example, a math teacher could set a specific amount time that each student should spend on a problem. If they can’t solve the problem in 2 minutes, for example, they should ask the teacher or a peer for help in understanding the problem.This helps students to avoid unnecessary frustration and continue learning effectively.
5. Group learners with common interests or learning strengths and weaknessesBy now, teachers should be aware of which students learn better through audio descriptions, which students have specific interests, etc.When there are several students who learn in the same way or who have common interests, these can be grouped together for specific activities in the classroom.For example, students who prefer to create a video instead of completing a written essay can be grouped together to create a video project together.
View this post on Instagram
6. Provide flexible classroomsFlexibility in the classroom also involves the physical space where students are learning. Try flexible seating by switching up the furniture arrangements to make students feel more comfortable (which, in turn, makes them more productive). This could mean getting some bean-bag chairs or exercise balls, or even standing desks, mats for the floor, or stools with high-top tables. Flexible seating helps students who have trouble sitting in one place, and gives all students the ability to choose their best workspace.
7. Display Information in a Flexible FormatFollowing the information above, teachers should now be aware of how their students learn best. So, it’s time to provide flexible ways of learning.This could involve a number of different formats, including:
- Traditional paper books
- Digital books
- Images or charts
- Learning games
Introduced my students to @ProdigyGame today and they are hooked! They even asked to play it during indoor recess! Teacher win because they are actually practicing math, while having fun with their friends! @BrodnickiSchool #d109pride pic.twitter.com/mYapyWoVjb— Molly Borst (@mborst21) February 1, 2019
8. Adapt information for multilingual studentsSchools nowadays are becoming more and more international. When viewed in a positive light, this international flare can boost the atmosphere of a classroom.However, adaptive representation of information is essential in this aspect of universal design for learning. How can teachers apply this principle in a multilingual classroom? Whenever possible, all information should be available to students in both the dominant language of the school and in their own native language. Teachers can also provide visual aids to help clarify vocabulary that is unfamiliar to students, or provide multilingual students with dictionaries either in paper or digital format.Adaptability in this area also applies to deaf and hearing-impaired students. Teachers should ensure that there is a visual-only option for these students in all aspects of the classroom, such as captions under videos, automated speech-to-text software, or at best a sign language version of the information.
9. Prompt students to identify key ideas and relationshipsIn all aspects of life, students must learn to separate critical information from information that isn’t as important.This aspect of universal design for learning can be used in the classroom when teachers prompt students to highlight important phrases from their textbooks, or summarize the important aspects of a video lesson in one sentence. Teachers should also guide students to build relationships between information they’ve already learned and what they’re currently learning. For example, a math teacher could help students see the relationship between addition and multiplication, prompting them to draw on past experience to help them learn new concepts.
10. Create multiple options for expression and assignment completionOnce students have taken in the information, it’s time for them to demonstrate their understanding. While a test is the traditional choice for expression, giving students a choice of how they’ll complete assignments allows each student to demonstrate his knowledge in a way that is relevant to him or her.Some options could include:
- Creating a video essay
- Drawing a comic strip
- Completing a test in digital format, or with audio questions
- Putting on a group demonstration
- Building a physical model
11. Give access to learning softwareSoftware in the classroom is a great way to be adaptable to different students. For example, language teachers can use language-learning apps and games to help students learn while tracking their progress step-by-step.Math teachers also love learning software, like Prodigy, because it helps students get involved in the problems and work through the information in a way that is engaging and productive.
12. Provide multiple means for navigation and controlBeing adaptable means allowing for adaptive software and hardware for students that have limitations. For example, with digital content on the computer, students can be allowed to control with voice, joystick, or an adaptive keyboard when necessary.Alternatives should also be available for students when it comes to the range of motor action required to interact with the materials used in the classroom.
13. Give regular feedback that helps students develop goals and strategies to reach themLearners need to have a clear picture in their mind of the progress that they are making in class. With regular, personal feedback for students, they’re able to see where they are, what progress they’ve made, and what they still need to accomplish.While grades are important in this discussion, they are not the only aspect of the student’s feedback. Teachers should also include goal planning and achievement when giving feedback. Teachers should also help students through their own self-evaluation. For example, during feedback sessions they can ask questions as:
- Do you feel like you reached the lesson goal for today?
- How close do you think you got to reaching your goal?
- What do you think you could’ve done differently to reach that goal?
- What skills have you learned this week that you didn’t know last week?
- How do you plan on reaching our lesson goal for tomorrow?