Universal Design for Learning - Improved Access for All
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By Nancy Firchow, M.L.S.
Multiple Options for Participation
Since one task or teaching method may engage and motivate some kids but bore or frustrate others, UDL allows flexibility in how students interact with the material. It also lets teachers tailor the level of difficulty of assignments, ensuring that each student is sufficiently challenged while meeting the overall goals of the lesson. How would this look in a classroom?
- Students would choose their preferred method of learning new material. One child might learn vocabulary by playing a game in a race against the clock; another might create stories or even artwork to incorporate the new words.
- Content would be tailored to match kids' interests. For example, math principles could be taught using topics ranging from hockey to horses.
- Materials would provide extra support where students need it. For reading practice, independent readers could read silently from a book. Students needing more support might read computer-based stories where they could click on a troublesome word to hear it pronounced or have the entire text read aloud.
- Materials might have adjustable challenge levels, such as educational computer games with several levels of difficulty.
- Materials might allow students to add their own words, images, or ideas, such as reading software that encourages learners to customize the stories or illustrations.
- Assignments could be varied according to each child's skills. If the goal of a project is to learn research skills, more advanced students might be required to produce a longer report or cite more references. Students with less developed research skills might gain as much from creating a report using fewer references to cover a limited number of key points.
Multiple Means of Expression
With UDL, students are not limited to one way of completing assignments. Instructors can match the curriculum to each child's strengths. How would this look in a classroom?
- Assignments would be accepted in various formats. A student who finds written expression difficult might show his knowledge orally; another might turn in a report, write a play, or develop a project to demonstrate learning.
- "Paper and pencil" exercises could become "computer and printer" exercises for students who are slowed down by the physical effort of writing, or for any student who prefers using a keyboard.
UDL in the Classroom
To create a UDL environment in general or special education classrooms, teachers need materials and methods that incorporate these three principles. Curriculum materials in an electronic format are the cornerstone of UDL and offer a great deal of flexibility. Electronic materials can be used on and manipulated by computers, making it easy to alter content to meet the needs of different students.
Variations in presentation can make the same text more accessible to all students, especially those with learning disabilities. For example, a social studies text in electronic format:
- Can be read aloud using screen reading software (useful for students with reading problems)
- Can include dialogue, music, sound effects, and video clips (helpful to students who learn through more sensory involvement)
- Can be changed to different print sizes, colors, spacing, or highlighting (helpful for students to see and remember)
- Can be printed as a personalized copy (helpful for most students)
- Can be copied and pasted into outlining or graphic organizers (particularly useful for students who find organizing information difficult)