Creating a learning environment for every type of student is no small feat for a teacher. It takes time, patience and a lot of hard work.
In fact, 78 percent of teachers find it difficult to adapt learning for students who require more support, and many believe that more time for planning, new strategies for engagement and better technology in the classroom would help immensely.
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to learning that aims to meet those needs and create a more effective learning environment for students of all abilities.
What is UDL?
UDL addresses the needs of all students by providing more flexibility and fewer barriers to learning. It breaks learning down into three parts — representation, action and expression, and engagement — and provides multiple means of accessing each part.
For example, a teacher might present a lesson through written and oral instruction, a video and a chart with pictures. Then to test students’ knowledge he or she might have them split up into groups or work individually to create a written response, a picture or a scene acting out what they’ve learned. Finally, to keep students engaged he or she might have them keep a personal journal, work in groups to give each other feedback or take them on a virtual field trip.
Each student chooses their own unique path to learning without being forced to do something they're not comfortable with. To find success with UDL, educators can follow four steps:
1. Start Small and Set Achievable Student Goals
Implementing UDL takes time. It's essentially a full-blown overhaul of how the school functions, so it's important to start small and build up from there.
A full transition requires the support of the administration, parents and the district as a whole, but that doesn't mean teachers can't try some of the tactics in their classrooms.
Setting achievable, even daily, goals for you and your students is a good place to start. Apply the UDL strategies to one lesson and see how it works for your students. You'll begin to find which tactics your classroom requires and which it could do without.
2. Create a Flexible Classroom with Furniture and Digital Tools
A dream UDL classroom would be architecturally designed with every type of student in mind, with things such as automatic doors, adjustable furniture, accessibility features on computers and other classroom technology.
That is obviously not in the budget for every school, but teachers can look at their classrooms and see what they can do to make it a universally better learning environment.
Start with flexible workspaces, including one for quiet individual work and one for small and large group work. Big clear signs would also help the majority of students. Allowing students to work with headphones to cut out noisy distractions is another great option.
3. Choose Technologies, Materials and Methods Thoughtfully
UDL requires the use of more materials and methods than usual, but technology makes it easy to access them.
Instead of notebook journaling, you might have students use a digital journaling app that allows them to use photos, videos, music and more to express themselves.
Based on your classroom goals, you can decide which materials and methods work best for your students. It may take some trial and error at first, but it will make things much smoother in the long run.
4. Give Lots of Feedback to Establish Deeper Learning
In the UDL framework, teachers are constantly giving feedback.
Based on the goals set at the beginning of class, teachers can speak with students about whether or not they reached today's goals. This helps students reflect on their work, perhaps deciding what things went well and what things went wrong, encouraging them to do better next time.
Teachers can also have students give each other peer feedback on homework, projects and the day's activities, providing even more learning on a deeper level.
UDL is meant to be implemented holistically, changing the way not only the school, but the district works from the ground up.
It may not be something your school or district can achieve at the moment, but the ideology is simple: to provide multiple methods of learning for an inclusive classroom.
With research and preparation, the right technology and a good attitude, a teacher can make the changes to help each one of his or her students reach their own unique path to success.