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  • Writer's pictureD. Barkes

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning

For most teachers, the start to every school year begins with a meeting in the cafeteria or media center. You go through handbooks, emergency folders, and schedules for the year but then the mood changes when the principal begins to discuss the new county initiatives for the year. This is when teachers minds change from "Let's get started" to "Not another program". I have always been one of those teachers. I am not a fan of "The next big thing in education" because they usually don't have staying power. They come and go before you ever get comfortable with the implementation of the program.


Differentiation- "The concept sounds tremendous! However, in real life it simply is not realistic."


One of the biggest programs these days is differentiation. Just typing that word makes me want to role my eyes. If you have been living under a rock or are new to education, differentiation is the idea that groups of students will receive different instruction, assignments, and assessments based on student achievement and understanding. The concept sounds tremendous! However, in real life it simply isn't realistic. Teachers don't have time to create all of that for their students. Would they love to yes. Can they no. So, how do we reach all those students? How do we make real learning an option for our students regardless of achievement level? The answer is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

If you are like me UDL is a new concept. It is actually something I learned about in one of my specialist courses at Kennesaw State University (one of the few things I learned in all the courses, but that is a post for another day). If you look at the guidelines of UDL at CAST, one of the major promoters of UDL, you will think I have lost my mind. UDL looks confusing and unrealistic...much like differentiation.


As educators, our store is our classroom, and we have to make sure we provide a variety of options for the content we teach to get into our students brains.


However, the reality is UDL does not have to be that difficult. Thanks to the work of UDL expert Chris Bugaj, UDL can be broken down into two words, "Provide Options". That is much easier to understand and implement than the convoluted mess in the image above. So, how do we provide options. Well, imagine a store front. Store fronts have a variety of ways for people to get to the door. Some have steps and ramps. Others may have elevators or escalators. Then, when you get to the front of the store, most have automatic doors and, if the don't, many have that silver handicap button that will open them. (I usually use the button so I don't have to touch the door handle. I am a bit of a germophobe.) The steps, ramps, elevators, escalators, and automatic doors ensure that anyone can get into the store. As educators, our store is our classroom, and we have to make sure we provide a variety of options for the content we teach to get into our students brains.

What does UDL look like in action in our classroom? Well, it can be as simple as turning on the closed caption button on a YouTube video. Most have the "CC" option at the bottom. By doing so, we provide students with the option to listen, read, or listen and read. Another great tool is Apple Clips, which provides speech to text options while you record your video. If you are unfamiliar with Apple Clips, you can check out my previous post about it HERE. Again, it provides options for students. However, my favorite element of UDL is the opportunity for students to create. In most classrooms, the summative assignment is a multiple choice or essay exam, but that is not providing options for students. In a differentiated classroom, this would mean you would create 3 or 4 versions of that test. Well, this is where UDL is different. Why does a multiple choice test have to be the summative? What if a student created a website using Google Sites to demonstrate their knowledge or allow a student to create a lesson teaching others about the topics you covered? How about giving students the option to create a video or advertisement about the topics or write a story in Storybird? Again, it is about options. One of those options can still be your multiple choice test, but other options should be available to your students. The best part is that this does not equal a tremendous amount of additional work for you as a teacher. Instead, the work falls on the shoulders of you students. They are the ones that should be creating anyways!

For most of you reading this, I hope UDL gets you excited about the possibilities for you and your students by providing options. In the comments below, please share other options you provide your students, and let me know how you use UDL in your classroom! If you don't already, please subscribe to my website by clicking HERE and follow me on twitter @teachandcoachga. If you are interested in UDL and providing options for your students, check out the amazing work Chris Bugaj is doing. You can learn more about Chris and his work by following him on twitter @attipscast or visiting his website. As always, thank you for taking the time to read my post!

Have a great day! D. Barkes



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