As the new school year begins, new ideas come to the table, from a summer of workshops and other professional development. In talking with peers about the ideas that come out of this summer work, which might be led by people who are not aware of or not comfortable with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I am reminded of some of the differences in how we approach planning when we use the Guidelines for UDL.
Start with the Standards.
Universal Design for Learning is standards-based and standards-driven. It can be tempting to conflate the emphasis on providing choice (UDL) with providing “cool” options (not UDL). Any choices given in UDL have to be standards-based. The choices are there to increase engagement, yes, but there is no way to present choice without ensuring that the choices come from the standards. We have to hold ourselves to the expectation that we don’t choose activities based on “But it’s cool” or “I’ve done it for years” or “I went to a workshop/read a book”–those are not standards-driven reasons for choosing an option to make available to students.
Start with a Barrier
Another way to approach planning in UDL is to start with something you already use, whether from your curriculum or a given activity that you have done before, and to put a critical eye on it. Even if you have always thought it worked well for your students, push yourself to see and acknowledge ways in which it could be better. Maybe it wasn’t working for as many kids as you thought. Or maybe it wasn’t working as well as it could have been overall. What are the barriers that prevent students from fully engaging with this lesson? Once you have identified the barrier(s), how can you remove it/them? Or bypass it/them completely?
Returning to Roots
My purpose in writing this post is not to say don’t make changes; on the contrary, this entire blog is about changes! But there needs to be a standards-driven, UDL-based reason for the change. That way, you provide support for students to engage and for that engagement to lead them to mastery of the content and standards.