Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Bringing UDL to bear on curriculum

church-window-2149824_1920The holy grail of any math teacher is that perfect, all-inclusive, one-size-fits-all curriculum.  It also has to include every district initiative that has come your way under current and past administration and…..

Face it:  it doesn’t exist.

In the 15 years I have been teaching math at the middle school level in the Commonwealth, I’ve been handed Connected Math Program (CMP), Eureka Math, Math Workshop…….and I’ve sat through professional development in all of them.  I’ve written lesson plans proving I was using them and I’ve been subject to walk-through evaluations to ensure that I’m implementing them correctly.

Some of those programs I love (Eureka Math!); some I never liked.  But, once we enter the world of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), it becomes clear that following any curriculum, no matter how good it is, doesn’t meet the UDL Guidelines, as there is no one-size-fits-all in UDL.  At a glance, here is a sample of what from each of those programs works for UDL and what needs to be reworked.

Connected Math Program (CMP)

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image from screenshot pearsonschool.com

Although the current (third) revision of CMP does follow the Common Core State Standards, the emphasis in CMP as a program on creating student understanding through constructivist teaching and solidifying that understanding through full-class/teacher-led discussion does not allow students to make meaning in a variety of ways.  For example, as soon as students are expected to learn core content from a discussion, barriers pop up–students struggling with attention space out, students with auditory issues have an incomplete experience of the discussion, and so on.

What can we keep from CMP?  Lots!  CMP offers great problems that allow students to experience struggle and to construct their understanding of the material.  CMP also has years of developing support materials, such as additional problems and Spanish-language resources, that can be put to use to implement the Guidelines.

Math Workshop/Guided Math

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photo of rotation board from Math Workshop Rotation Board

The most glaring issue with Math Workshop is that the teacher is responsible for all of the management of time, resources, and student grouping; this is Differentiated Instruction, not Universal Design for Learning.  Students do not become “resourceful” learners who “[manage] information and resources,” “plan,” and “[monitor] progress” if they are being put in groups by the teacher, being given material based on the teacher’s assignment of their level, and being moved from station to station on the teacher’s buzzer (quotes from the Universal Design for Learning Guidelines).

Eureka Math

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image from screenshot greatminds.org

As much as I love Eureka Math and supported its adoption in my district, I have to include it here as an example of how no curriculum meets the UDL Guidelines when implemented as written.  When we first got our teacher texts for Eureka, we followed them word-for-word, which led to day after day of teacher-led lessons, with some teacher-directed “turn and talk” moments, even while the Eureka writers kept saying that the curriculum was not a script.  Now that I use the UDL Guidelines as my lens, I remain grateful for the richness of the problems and the intensity of the work, but I structure my classes in a very different way to give all students more variety in their learning.

Questions to Consider

What parts of your current curriculum will you keep?  What criteria will you use to know what to keep?

What parts will you keep for content, but modify for form or format?  How will you make those modifications in a way that implements the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning?

How will you build in more options in every aspect of the learning process, from classroom design to teacher-led instruction to homework to assessment?  What barriers exist and what will you (as a teacher) do to promote access despite those barriers?


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