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Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means Designing instruction and classroom environments to suit all children.

Making sense of Udl -

The principals of UDL are simple. Classrooms and curricula can be designed with a wide range of learners in mind. Just like buildings are designed to be accessible to all kinds of people, classrooms and lessons can be designed for all kinds of learners. A UDL classroom is beneficial to everyone. But what does that really mean? It means that teachers need to provide students with three big things:

Multiple Means of engagement:

(Why should I learn this?)

  • Motivation leads to lasting engagement - In the UDL classroom, teachers are charged with uncovering what motivates the students in the room. This requires building relationships, encouraging peer interaction/cooperative learning, and creating an environment where it is safe to take risks and make mistakes. It also calls teachers to relate classroom topics to their students' lives. It is essential to make connections between the classroom and the real life experiences of each student.

  • Provide choices- Choice is motivating. Giving students the opportunity to choose when they would like to work on something gives them a sense of ownership and control. They can also choose how they will go about learning about a given topic. Perhaps the librarian is their starting point, maybe interviewing family members is more meaningful, or possibly beginning with a google search works best for some. Offering students the choice between working alone, with a small group, or with a partner can also be empowering.

  • Provide helpful structure- too much structure is stifling. Too little structure leaves students feeling adrift. In the UDL classroom, organization and routine are in place to provide students with clear learning goals, assignments, and classroom expectations. The right amount of structure should leave students free to explore ideas, collaborate, and maximize learning. Of course, providing a range of structure levels within assignments would help to meet the needs of students who thrive in more free environments and those who find comfort in boundaries. Structure in the form of explicit teaching, and clear modeling can help struggling students to gain confidence.

mUltiple means of representation:

(What am I learning?)

  • Teach it lots of ways- Every teacher wants his/her students to develop an understanding of the content being presented. Because every student receives and makes sense of information in a unique manner, it only makes sense that teachers would reach more students by presenting information in multiple ways. Students can read information. They can also hear it read aloud. They can make connections by looking at images and watching videos. Students can learn by watching, they can also grasp new concepts by getting their hands dirty. Because we all receive information differently, teachers need to present content in a ways that reach ears, eyes, and hands (and hearts!).

  • Offer ways to customize information - People cannot learn if they cannot perceive the information being presented. Can your students hear you? Can they see the diagram on the white board? Offering the option to adjust print size or volume level can open up content for students. Some students receive information more efficiently if there is less print on each page. Presentation pace can be adjusted by offering a video clip for students to review or preview at home. Designating points in the lesson to check in with students is an essential component of effective teaching. There are so many ways to allow for customization. A simple, "Raise your hand if you can hear me," or "Give me a signal if I am going too fast," can go a long way toward making content accessible.

  • Incorporate movement, conversation, and scaffolds for true understanding- Conversation and movement can help students transform perceived information into usable knowledge. Just because you heard what the the teacher said does not mean that you understand the concept and can apply it to new situations. Offering opportunities to talk with peers increases the likelihood of connecting new information to background knowledge. Movement breaks increase attention and engagement. Because learners vary in their ability to connect to and use new information, it is essential for teachers to build in scaffolds that probe for and support true understanding.

Multiple Means of Expression:

(How can I show what I've learned?

  • Encourage variety in sharing- Some students struggle to express themselves in writing. Other students have difficulty speaking. The bottom line is that the more means of expression a teacher offers, the more likely his/her students will be able to truly show what they know. Stories can be written and they can be told. They can also be acted and turned into songs and comic books. Every learner has the right to participate and contribute fully to the classroom community by expressing ideas in the way that highlights strengths and minimizes impediments. A child with significant physical limitations might need a touch pad to express ideas. A child with dyslexia could benefit from assistive technology like dictation apps or from the option to share ideas orally.

  • Provide options for executive functions- The ability to plan, set reasonable goals, self-monitor, and manage and organize materials varies. It is not effective in the long term to simply plan, organize, and set goals for students. It is essential to acknowledge that weakness in executive functioning can inhibit a student's ability to fully express his or her ideas and can prevent higher order thinking. Teachers can help by providing options for support and by teaching students how to set goals, organize materials and plan for longer term projects. Not everyone comes to the classroom with the same level of executive functioning. We need to provide instruction and scaffolds to level the playing field and allow for full participation.


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from http//

Spencer, S. A. (2015). Making the Common Core Writing Standards Accessible Through Universal Design for Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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