Universal Design Q&A for Educators and Administrators
How does Universal Design for Learning Help Teachers in Real Classrooms?From pre-kindergarten to graduate school, classrooms usually include learners with diverse abilities and backgrounds, including students with physical, sensory, and learning disabilities, differing cultural and linguistic backgrounds, varied preferences and motivations for learning, students who are unusually gifted, and many others.
Universal Design for Learning supports teachers' efforts to meet the challenge of diversity by providing flexible instructional materials, techniques, and strategies that help teachers differentiate instruction to meet these varied needs. It does this by providing options for:
- Differentiating the ways that students can express what they know (the "how" of learning);
- Stimulating interest and motivation for learning (the "why" of learning)
A universally designed curriculum is designed from the outset to meet the needs of the greatest number of users, making costly, time-consuming, and after-the-fact changes to curriculum unnecessary.
How does Universal Design for Learning Help Maintain High Standards and Goals for Every Learner?
Universal Design for Learning supports the idea that all students in all grades should have the opportunity to become proficient learners of standards-based academic content. Standards and goals, like classroom materials, require careful design so that they do not limit the kinds of learning that can result, or limit the kinds of students who can achieve success. Well-designed standards and goals maintain high expectations but expand the ways in which those objectives can be reached (e.g. using different tools, different media, or different approaches). Providing multiple ways to attain high standards, rather than lowering them, is consistent with both standards-based reform and UDL.
How does Universal Design for Learning apply to assessments?
Test results often say as much about the medium of the test — usually paper and pencil — and its limitations as they do about what students really know. On the contrary, applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning (that is, variety in the what, how, and why of learning) enables us to create assessments that measure knowledge and skills in meaningful, more accurate ways.
For example, in assessing a student's ability to write a coherent narrative (i.e., create one in text), we might provide the same kinds of options that business people use everyday to write, such as voice recognition and word processing, while also leveraging other media, such as images and sound, to scaffold motivation and enhance the narrative. By providing many ways for an individual to approach the "writing" task — options that, in the digital age, are commonplace"we achieve a more honest assessment of student progress.
Assessments in our digital age should be dynamic and universally designed. When we provide a full range of customizations and adaptations as a part of assessments, we are able to more accurately evaluate both student performance and the processes that underlie that performance.
Can states and/or school districts design their own universally designed materials?
Yes. The source of UDL materials is not important - they may come from publishers, state departments of education, educational technology producers, school districts or even individual teachers. The design of UDL materials is what is important. The key to successful UDL materials is that, whoever produces them, they should:
- Address appropriate state and district standards, and
- Follow appropriate guidelines for the design and development of UDL materials.
If my district, school, or teacher does not have universally designed curricula, can the objectives be altered to make them more accessible?
No. Not in isolation. One of the key tenets of UDL is the critical importance of maintaining consistently high standards and objectives for every student. The danger of altering objectives, especially on an individual basis, is that some students, especially those with disabilities, will consistently face the tyranny of lowered expectations. Instead, it is important to revisit goals and objectives as part of an overall reform of the curriculum. Objectives, like materials, require careful universal design so that they do not limit the kinds of learning that can result, or limit the kinds of students who can achieve success. Well designed objectives maintain high expectations but expand the ways in which those objectives can be reached (e.g. using different tools, different media, or different approaches). Providing multiple ways to reach goals, rather than lowering them, is consistent with both standards-based reform and UDL.