Introduction to UDL
- Presentation (PDF)
Welcome to an overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Today's discussion is intended as an introduction to the concept of UDL as defined by CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology. Established in the early 1990's from an informal collaboration among colleagues, the early discussions of UDL asked how teachers might use technology to help students access the learning in the classroom.
Designers of this concept saw the examples of universal design in architecture such as, ramps or larger doorways, both of which increase access to buildings for people in wheelchairs, as a way to view increasing access to knowledge and learning for students. They translated the universal design movement in architecture into a framework that could be applied to learning. Much like curbs and small doorways present barriers to mobility for people in wheelchairs, in a similar way, UDL regards inflexible curricula as a barrier to learning.
When curricula are designed to meet the needs of the "average" learner, they fail to address learner variability and may fail to provide all individuals with fair and equal opportunities to learn. Students come to the classroom with varying abilities, background knowledge, and motivation. Learner variability is the rule, not the exception, and so there are many learners whose needs are not met when a curriculum is inflexible. The goal of UDL is to create a barrier-free curriculum and a learning environment where all students can work toward achieving high expectations established for New Jersey students through the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.
As a curb cut, a ramp or a wider doorway can offer solutions that improve mobility beyond the target population of people in wheelchairs, UDL provides a framework that can improve accessibility and the learning environment for all learners.
Many of the resources cited today come from the website: www.cast.org or the National Center for Applied Special Technology and Universal Design for Learning at www.udlcenter.org.
Here is a short video about UDL that will introduce the topic and provide a common background for creating a universally designed learning environment. This video might also be a resource that you would like to share with others in your school and parents. Click on the URL. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDvKnY0g6e4
CAST defines UDL in this way. "UDL is a framework for instruction that enables all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. UDL provides rich supports for learning and addresses learner variability as a way to reduce barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all.
Teachers do the work of designing lessons in the classroom each day. A key to implementing UDL is the idea that teachers plan, from the beginning, to design lessons with the variability of learners in their classrooms and a UDL framework in mind. This session, along with resources on the NJDOE web site and other sites, will offer a specific process for addressing the UDL framework in building curricula, including lessons, to increase learning opportunities for students. UDL can serve as a blueprint to assist teachers in designing lessons and activities that incorporate these principles.
As mentioned earlier, the goal of UDL is to help all learners to be successful in achieving learning goals and accessing the curricula. The ultimate goal of applying UDL to instruction is to help all learners develop into expert learners—learners who can evaluate their own learning needs, monitor their own progress, and regulate and sustain their interests, effort, and persistence during learning tasks.
The goals of education are not limited to content knowledge and skills mastery. UDL helps build expert learners, with the desire to learn and the capacity to achieve personal learning goals - a learner prepared for a lifetime of learning. UDL provides a framework for understanding how to create curricula that meet the needs of all learners but also stresses the importance of encouraging learners to be independent – learners who master skills that enhance their self-reliance and capabilities in new learning opportunities.
The UDL framework is based on the three principles of ENGAGEMENT, REPRESENTATION, and ACTION AND EXPRESSION. This framework encourages the development of curricula that provides multiple means of engagement by recruiting interest, motivations to sustain effort and perseverance, and opportunities for self-regulation. UDL also advocates for curricula that provide multiple means of representation through content and information presented in multiple media formats. Additionally, UDL promotes curricula that provide multiple means of action and expression by offering students options for expressing what they know as well as options for lesson activities targeted to learner proficiency levels. In this way, educators design learning activities that provides an opportunity for all learners to have access to and learn in the general education curriculum. Here are some examples.
UDL can be illustrated with this comic. It is iconic and is often used to share the message of the inclusive nature of UDL. In the comic, it has snowed, presumably at the local school and students are unable to get inside the building. The janitor is shoveling the stairs while the ramp next to the stairs has not been shoveled. A young man in a wheelchair asks for the ramp to be shoveled first. "When I get done with the stairs," says the janitor. The young man in the wheelchair makes the point, "If you shovel the ramp first, we can all get in."
This interchange illustrates one of the main messages of UDL. When instruction is designed with learner variability in mind (from the beginning), then all students benefit, and students can learn successfully together. If the janitor had thought of shoveling the ramp first, all students would have had access to the building.
The unique mission of CAST is to link learning sciences with educational practice. UDL considers three brain networks and ties them to a framework for lesson design. The affective network connects to the WHY of learning, asking teachers to consider how to engage students in learning. How might they connect personally to the message? How might the student sustain effort and persist in their personal learning goals? The recognition network is tied to the WHAT of learning, asking a teacher to offer options on how information is presented so that learners might connect to learning goals and even, make their own goals as they progress in understanding a concept. The strategic brain network is linked to the HOW of learning. Here teachers are asked to consider options as they plan for a lesson that offers students different ways to express their understanding and learning. 0
The affective network asks us to consider the WHY of learning – represented by the principle of ENGAGEMENT. This is an area that relates to the emotions and relevancy for the learner. The principle of ENGAGEMENT includes lesson design that targets aspects of learning that will excite the learner and will make connections to the learner, sustaining interest and engaging the learner in a personal reason to learn. The brain wants to engage in learning as a way to connect to other information that the brain has stored. Therefore, a relevant reminder is that planning lessons of study should include making connections so that students can engage in making their own connections - eventually taking charge of their learning.
When incorporating the principle of REPRESENTATION into lessons, teachers are asked to consider options for how students will be presented with information to better understand the content. Teachers are reminded to plan with specific attention to learner variability by incorporating choices, different modalities, multiple means of presentation of information and content.
The third UDL guideline is ACTION AND EXPRESSION. It is tied to the strategic network. When teachers plan and incorporate considerations for options for students to communicate their learning and express their understanding to others, then they are addressing this UDL principle. Assessments and activities in a UDL classroom offer choices for students with the provision that all choices lead back to the learning goals of students. Though they might express their learning differently, are students clearly expressing their learning in terms of the appropriate goal?
The resources provided here will allow for a deeper conversation about some of the information presented today. The first link on this slide provides information about CAST, the principles, the brain networks and research. The second link offers an array of resources for teachers, many of them free that can be used to develop and design lessons that meet the needs of all learners.
Use the questions on this slide for discussion with colleagues in your professional learning community, grade level/content area team or other planning team, to explore how UDL can enhance curriculum and instruction in your school or district.