UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

How UDL changes instructional practice

plan-2372176_1920Recently, I was asked by a fellow teacher to share some lesson plans that showed how my colleague, Irene Witt, and I incorporate the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines into our practice.  I don’t remember the last time I wrote a formal lesson plan, but I thought I would share here parts of my email response in the hopes that it will provide a window on how we think about UDL as we redesign our practice.

Change #1:  Get off the stage!

differential-calculus-2820672_1920In the Eureka Math Curriculum and in the Connected Math Program, all roads lead to the teacher.  The teacher starts the day, runs the lesson, is on stage for most of the time, and ends the class with a wrap-up.  UDL tells teachers to shift the burden of that work to the students.  After all, teachers already know how to do seventh grade math or fifth grade ELA or whatever it is we are teaching!

When Irene and I first taught the Rational Numbers Module from Eureka (three years ago), we literally read every single page of the lesson.  Then, we assessed students on all of the models used, like whether they had to use straight lines or curved in the vectors, or where the arrow began and ended.  It was excruciatingly boring and incredibly confusing, not to mention the fact that it completely missed the point–we wanted students to learn how to add and subtract (signed) rational numbers, not nit-pick whether they were using a straight line or a curved line to do so!

One of our first major changes, as we trained a UDL lens on our practice in implementing Eureka, was to do two days of Stations or Centers.  We also cut down on the number of days when we gave full-class instruction and we worked on reducing the length of that instruction when we gave it.

This year, we revised again by creating another set of Stations in lieu of full-class instruction.  When we do give full-class instruction, we keep it very short and very targeted, with lots of “work days” where the focus is on the students engaging with the lessons independently with access to teacher support.  On those days, once the kids get working, we are calling small groups or individual students to review formative assessments (like the Topic Reflections, which are ungraded, and Skill Assessments, which are graded and can be revised to a 90%), rather than lecturing the whole class.  At this point, the days when we lead full-class instruction are far out-numbered by the days when we don’t; instead, the work is on the students–take the notes, take the information, use your resources, apply what you know.

Change #2:  Make the kids do the work!

Students from , Colombia. Photo: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank
Students from Colombia. Photo: © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank

The other change Irene and I have made is to shift the focus from having students “figure out” the math to having students apply the math.  For example, we give students notes and put the burden on them to use their notes and to refer to them and to apply them to the (very hard!) problems in our curriculum.  Why are the students spending time “figuring out” things that Siri can tell them?

Student:  “Siri, what is the result when you multiply a negative times a negative?”

Siri:  “The result when you multiply a negative times a negative is a positive.”

Okay, but Siri can’t help the students figure out how to represent values from a word problem to use them to answer the question; that’s the challenge for the students.  The work should be focused on applying concepts, not figuring out known math rules.

Change #3:  Assessments–stay focused on the purpose

board-361516_1920This year, Irene and I have started providing some notes for students to use during assessments.  Currently (this is new for us this year, so it’s still in progress), we have notes on fraction operations and notes on Order of Operations.  Students can use them during major summative assessments and some minor formative assessments, depending on the focus of the assessment.  We decided to do this because we are sick to tears of dealing with not being able to assess the new content because of issues with things like fraction operations.  Interestingly, making this change has allowed us to hold students to a much higher level.  When we give our weekly skill review assessment, I look them over in class quickly and call students who made fraction errors to sit with me with the approved notes and revise until they are correct.  There is no excuse anymore for doing the fractions incorrectly, as the notes are available on every problem!  As Irene said, every time the students do the fractions the wrong way, they are reinforcing poor form; this way, more students work with the correct method more often.​

* * * * * * * * *

You can explore other thoughts about using UDL in practice in Dr. Katie Novak’s blog post on the Million-Dollar Question:  What does UDL look like?


Thanks to Irene Witt for allowing me to share our UDL journey yet again.

Thanks to Amanda Torti,  Kristen McGeheeDavid Stone, Nicholas Mariani, and Ann Laros at the American School of Dubai for pushing me to articulate this UDL journey!

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