UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Reducing Full-class Instruction

Last week, I wrote a post about the “By the end of class….” documents that my colleague, Irene Witt, and I have been experimenting with in the 3rd and 4th quarters of this school year.  By using these documents, we have shifted our focus from full-class instruction to a more individualized approach, without taking on the prescriptive, time-consuming flavor of Differentiated Instruction.  The biggest change for us in this approach is a near-elimination of full-class instruction (see this blog post by Dr. Katie Novak for more information about this transformation).

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The Thinking Behind The Change

About a month ago, I read the progressions document put together by Dr. Katie Novak and Dr. Kristin Rodriguez for CAST.  As with so many things related to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), reading it is an experience in equal measure frustrating and invigorating.  Imagine how overwhelming it is for me to realize that, at best, most of my practice is in the emerging category…and that’s after four years of focusing on incorporating UDL into my practice!  With that said, the UDL checkpoint 7.1 says that we need to “optimize individual choice and autonomy” in order to engage students in learning.  These “By the end of class….” documents shift much of the choosing to the students, while tying their choices to the big-picture concepts (UDL checkpoint 8.1) they need to learn while under their own direction.

The Benefits

We started using the “By the end of class….” documents almost two months ago and I am excited about what I am seeing.  I think I’m most excited about how letting students make their own choices allows them to meet their own needs.  For example, I know I have students who are bored when I do full-class instruction; when they have the opportunity to move at their own pace, they’re far more engaged.


Reducing full-class instruction has given me more time to spend a lot of time working in small groups or one-on-one with students with the highest level of need.  I’m freed up to do that sort of work because I’m not spending energy reining in the kids who were bored–they’re off doing their own thing now–and I’m not spending energy trying to drag my slowest learners forward because I am sitting with them and directly monitoring what they’re doing.  That allows me to be constantly responsive without having to redesign lessons.  Although this may remind you of Differentiated Instruction, the difference is that I don’t have to try to plan in advance how to meet the needs of all of my students because I am working with the ones in the moment, I’m responsive in the moment, and I don’t need to plan different lessons to meet my perceptions of each student’s needs.

I also have a group of students whose emotional needs make it nearly impossible for them to engage with the content.  These students really only function well when they’re in close physical proximity to me, either because they need the redirection or they need the reassurance; either way, they’re not going to get up and come find me if I am not near them.  It’s more effective if they are physically closer to me for the majority of the class time, which I can only do when my class is structured to be more individually responsive and student-driven.

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