Opinion
Teaching Profession CTQ Collaboratory

Sparking Up Lessons With Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

By Elizabeth Stein — October 19, 2015 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Weeks of creating our classroom environments are now behind us, and we are well into the school year. We know our students. We know our content. We are set with our planning, teaching, and learning routines. The excitement of the new school year is still in the air. But let’s be real—as the weeks move along and the curriculum picks up steam—teachers and students may need a little spark to keep an ongoing connection between learners and classroom-learning environments.

Let’s keep the excitement of the new school year fueled by our decisions to create learning experiences that motivate, excite, inform, and inspire! The best part is—all teachers can keep the spark in the learning by looking at their lessons plans through a Universal Design for Learning lens. That’s right—any lesson—any teacher—anywhere.

It’s All About the Process

Through a UDL lens, our curriculum supports our decisions in guiding students how to learn. The content is taught within a strong learning process, so students experience learning rather than just receiving it. With the research to support learner variability, we know that all students in any classroom need a variety of conditions for optimal learning to occur. These conditions include three brain networks that, when set in motion, serve to guide each learner in our room to connect to the content in significant and personal ways.

Let’s consider a hypothetical 7th grade social studies class: As the students walk in, they notice the clearly stated learning target posted on the board. As the teacher introduces the lesson, she weaves in key vocabulary words, which are also posted on the board. She engages the class in a brief discussion to ignite their connection to the content. After watching a brief video clip, the students share their thoughts about the video with their peers.

Just within this 15-minute introduction, students set goals, activated their background knowledge, deepened their understanding through multimedia input, and shared their thinking through peer interactions. During the remaining minutes of class, students were provided choices for reading about the day’s topic. Some read from textbooks, some read on iPads, while others listened to peers read within cooperative groups. Some students chose to engage in discussion and jot down key words, while others chose to write a brief paragraph to demonstrate their understanding for the day.

Even in the most basic lessons, all three-brain networks can be illuminated. Simply provide opportunities for your students to think.

Strategies for Affective Networks: Providing Multiple Means of Engagement

Imagine your class filled with wide-eyed, eager, motivated students. Sometimes we feel like we’ve hit the mark with our lessons, while other times we know a lesson falls flat. That’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves. We know it is not just up to us to create the motivation in the room. We must guide our students to become intrinsically motivated, so they will be engaged in the learning without depending on us to entertain them. Yet we must create the scene. We facilitate the opportunity for our students to be purposeful, motivated learners. Here are some examples to ramp up the engagement:

  • Make time to hear what your students think.
  • Shake up the seating plan—form cooperative groups and peer interactions.
  • Plan for student-led discussions—you facilitate the learning; they guide their performance and deeper understanding.
  • Create a culture of student reflection—connect students with how they feel and they will be more relaxed and open to learning.

Strategies for Recognition Networks: Providing Multiple Means of Representation

The ultimate goal is to guide our students’ abilities to comprehend and to use their resources as they gain knowledge and skills. Here are a few low-tech examples to support recognition networks:

  • Activate background knowledge by making time for students to connect with their thinking around new topics. Remember, meaningful learning happens when learners connect the new with the known.
  • Embed vocabulary development while planning for direct instruction as needed.
  • Provide multimedia input such as visuals, auditory, movement, and kinesthetic modalities.
  • Check out these free learning tools at the Center for Applied Specialized Technology (CAST), the organization that originally defined UDL.

Strategies for Strategic Networks: Providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Sometimes teachers feel that a well-managed class is a quiet class of students who sit, take notes, raise their hands—but above all remain silent. But teachers, listen up! There’s no need to be protective of every moment—release some responsibility to the students for their own learning. Meaningful learning should be noisy, active, and above all, productive! So let’s make that happen. Take a look at one of your upcoming lesson plans. How can you guide your students to be strategic with a clear focus on the learning goal(s) for the day? Perhaps one of these examples will be worth a try:

If UDL feels like something new to you, just begin by printing a copy of the UDL Guidelines and selecting one guideline each week to embed in your teaching cycle. Before you know it, you will be noticing the natural ways that you can embed UDL principles into your daily routines. In addition, you may use the guidelines to identify specific strategies to target the needs of the learners in your classroom. The bottom line is that UDL is the perfect go-to teaching tool to guide our instructional decisions as we strive to create clear access between the curriculum and the learners in our room. This is an all-access pass that will keep that spark of the learning process alive and well in your classrooms.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Meet the 4 Finalists for the 2022 National Teacher of the Year
The four finalists hail from Colorado, Hawaii, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and were recognized for their dedication to student learning.
5 min read
National Teacher of The Year nominees
From left to right: Whitney Aragaki, Autumn Rivera, Kurt Russell, and Joseph Welch
Teaching Profession What Happens When Teachers Are Out of Sick Days?
We asked EdWeek's social media followers to share their school policies on COVID-related sick leave. Here’s how they responded. 
Marina Whiteleather
2 min read
Female at desk, suffering from flu symptoms like fever, headache and sore throat at her workplace
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Teaching Profession Explainer: Why Are Chicago Schools, Teachers' Union Fighting?
The issue that caused the most chaos in the roughly 350,000-student district was when and how to revert to remote learning.
3 min read
Members of the Chicago Teachers Union and supporters stage a car caravan protest outside City Hall in the Loop, Wednesday evening, Jan. 5, 2022. Chicago school leaders canceled classes in the nation’s third-largest school district for the second straight day after failing to reach an agreement with the teachers union over remote learning and other COVID-19 safety protocols. (Ashlee Rezin /Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
Teaching Profession Some Teachers Are Running Out of Sick Days, and Administrators Are Hesitant to Help
With a shortage of substitutes and pressure to stay open, administrators are reluctant to extend paid time off for teachers with COVID.
13 min read
Professional male social distancing or self quarantining inside a coronavirus pathogen.
iStock/Getty Images Plus