Slide 1: This webinar explains Universal Design for Learning, often called by its acronym, UDL. It talks about UDL’s three fundamental guidelines, and then it shows how you can use them to help with instruction.
Slide 2: My name is Aimee Howley. I am retired from Ohio University, where I was a faculty member in the Educational Studies department.
Slide 3: Interestingly, UDL started in architecture and graphic design—not in education! This is because laws in America changed so that buildings had to become accessible to people in wheelchairs. So architects had to design buildings that way. Graphic designers adapted the principles that architects developed to their work—designing print materials and web pages. Educators began to realize that they had similar problems with accessibility.
Slide 4: True educational accessibility is not the same thing as availability. Think about a student who has a difficult time processing information he hears or a student whose handwriting is painfully slow and difficult to decipher. If these students enroll in a high school course, for instance, that demands that all students listen to lectures and then sit at desks to complete writing assignments, would these students really have access? The course is there, they could sign up for it, but they would not be able to learn much in it. They’d most likely drop out or fail.
Slide 5: Accessibility is different. It sets a higher bar. It asks that schools take responsibility for ensuring that people who learn in different ways actually have opportunities to learn in the ways they do—not to fit some cookie-cutter version of how they are supposed to learn. So UDL takes the idea that all students are different very seriously.
Slide 6: Three UDL guidelines help educators improve educational accessibility. They relate to how those who teach:
- represent knowledge,
- get students to demonstrate what they have learned, and
- draw students into the learning process.
Slide 7: Let’s start with knowledge. In classrooms, teachers typically present knowledge by talking about concepts, demonstrating processes, assigning practice exercises, and providing feedback. For some students this approach works fairly well.
Slide 8: But what about students who don’t learn concepts well by listening to oral explanations, or students for whom pages of practice problems look like a confusing blur? And what about those that just become bored by the endless routine (which applies to many of us)?
Slide 9: As it turns out, if we present knowledge in several different ways at once, we can give access to many more students than if we present knowledge in just one way. So the first UDL guideline might be stated simply as this: Present knowledge in multiple ways.
Slide 10: But curriculum materials and many teachers who use them often present knowledge in just one way. Many teachers also expect students to show what they know in just one way. This assessment of the typical approach to instruction brings us to the second guideline: getting students to demonstrate what they know.
Slide 11: For instance, if the teacher decides to give a paper-and-pencil multiple-choice test, everyone in the class has to take the test, right? It looks like a no-brainer. And the teacher then assumes that the grades student get on the test really show what every student—with no exceptions—actually learned. Again: an apparent no-brainer. It’s business as usual, and generally we all accept it. But not UDL: It looks at the situation differently.
Slide 12: Using the UDL guidelines, one understands that although some students can show what they’ve learned on a paper-and-pencil multiple-choice test, some cannot. For example, some students find the format of a multiple-choice test distracting or confusing. Students with visual problems or visual processing difficulties can’t make sense of the test page. But they still know something—they just can’t demonstrate what they know—hardly at all—in this frequently used format. Perhaps if a computer program showed the student one item at a time, he or she could click a box on the computer screen or speak the response aloud.
Slide 13: Simply put, the second UDL guideline says: Give students multiple ways to show what they know. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that if teachers need to present knowledge in different ways, then students should be able to use different ways to show what they’ve learned. Do you see how UDL takes the fact that we all learn differently quite seriously?
Slide 14: The third guideline relates to student’s involvement in learning. This might be the most important guideline, because to an uninvolved student it doesn’t make any sense to pay attention. It might be more amusing to make trouble or daydream. So educators need to design different entry points and learning pathways. Giving students choices, for example, allows them to take control over their own learning. And being in charge of one’s own learning turns out to be highly motivating for most people.
Slide 15: So the third UDL guideline might be stated as follows: Find ways to draw all students into a lesson.
Slide 16: Now that you’ve heard a little bit about the guidelines, let’s turn our attention to some more examples.
Slide 17: What are some different ways to represent knowledge? Some students process information better by listening and some by seeing. So if a teacher provides both a detailed handout and a lecture, more students will learn. Let’s take a look at another example, many students need help organizing the information they see and hear. So providing models, diagrams, and outlines would be good. And another example: for some students, the lack of prior knowledge presents a stumbling block. An educator might help such students by providing a quick review of the background before the lesson begins. These are simple additions to any lesson, though they certainly require a little bit more preparation from teachers.
Slide 18: But this is the kind of thing a paraprofessional might provide, in consultation with the teacher or instructional team. After all, many paraprofessionals already help teachers with differentiating instruction. So using the ideas that UDL opens up, paraprofessionals can actually help with instructional design. This sounds more complicated than it is. For example, if a teacher wants to give students an audio recording of a lecture, the paraprofessional can make and distribute the recording. Or the paraprofessional might take notes during a lesson and share his or her notes with students whose handwriting problems make note-taking difficult. You get the idea.
Slide 19: Teachers and paraprofessionals working together can also give students multiple options for showing what they know. For example, a paraprofessional could read a test aloud to one or two students who have reading difficulties and then record their answers. Or the paraprofessional could supervise a small group of students who are preparing a multi-media project as an alternative to writing a 20-page term paper. Again, these things are pretty simple. But educators have to realize that they are possible. UDL helps with that.
Slide 20: Paraprofessionals can also help students become involved with a lesson. If the student’s involvement would be improved by reviewing important background knowledge, a paraprofessional might talk with the student about relevant conceptual building blocks. Or a paraprofessional might supervise a group of students who would prefer to learn from a computer program while the teacher gives a lecture about the same material to students who would rather learn that way. The paraprofessional can also give encouragement to students who are struggling and alert the teacher to students’ emerging needs.
Slide 21: With UDL, all students are given choices and all students have access to supports. Making sure all students are challenged is also a significant aim of UDL. In fact, UDL works best in classrooms where all students are expected to work hard to reach ambitious learning goals.
Slide 22: Now that we’re at the end of this webinar, I would like to review the three UDL guidelines one more time. They are (1) present knowledge in multiple ways, (2) give students multiple ways to show what they know, and (3) find ways to draw all students into a lesson.