Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Small changes, huge gains

Listening to Dr. Katie Novak talk about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a life-changing experience in a teacher’s professional practice.  Equal parts inspiring and overwhelming, her words still have the power to make me want to rush out and rework every last aspect of my practice.


When you come back down to earth and face the daunting task of rethinking everything you held as true about your teaching practice, it can be helpful to think about the small steps you can take that, over time and with practice and revision on your part, build to a cohesive and comprehensive experience of Universal Design for Learning for you and your students.

What sorts of small steps?

  1. Consider the current breakdown of time in your teaching practice.  If you work from the belief that students are capable of managing their own learning with teacher support, especially in the area of self-reflection, then why are you talktime-430625_1920ing (lecturing) to the whole class so much?  Instead, identify and focus on the core idea you need to convey in each lesson.  Keep it short and focused, so that the bulk of the time is for students to engage directly with the material.
  2. When students are working, employ flexible seating and flexible grouping.  This doesn’t mean getting standing desks or pedal desks or beanbag chairs for every student.  It doesn’t mean every day is group work.  It does mean, however, that you look for ways to bring options for seating and options for grouping into your current practice.  This is an easy (and cheap) way to immediately build engagement on the part of your students.
  3. library-2414380_1920Use the materials you already know, love, and have vetted to expand your prescribed curriculum.  Take the best parts of your curriculum and then go back to other ways and materials you have used to teach that same material.  Put this together by providing options to students for their work–you can identify different options as support materials, advanced materials, grade-level materials.  As long as they get to the standards and bring students to the same level, these options are all good.  And you get to recycle material, rather than drowning in the expectation that you must create an entirely new set of materials in order to implement UDL.
  4. Provide options for homework.  Much like using curriculum materials you are already familiar with to expand your options when students are working in class, so, too, you can use material you already have (or that someone else created) to expand your homework options.  student-849822_1920For 2017-2018, I am challenging myself to make ASSISTments assignments available as an option for homework; since ASSISTments has loaded the entire EngageNY curriculum and my district uses Eureka Math, I can give students the option of doing the same assignment on paper (given out in class) or in ASSISTments (linked into my Google Classroom account).  You can use Khan Academy, YouTube videos, ASSISTments…..the options are endless.  You don’t have to create new material, just vet and organize what you already know works.

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