What does UDL look like?

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user: flyzor

Imagine walking into a classroom during a social science lesson and seeing this scene:

Students scattered around the classroom – some at laptops using screen reading software, some at iPads listening to them, others using iPod touches to record notes, and some even reading the textbook and taking notes on paper.  What would you think?  Poor teaching?  Bad classroom management? or UDL centered classroom?  I hope it’s the last choice.

Universal Design for Learning or UDL has been around for about 10 years, but I’m guessing many people reading this post think it’s just a special ed thing.  I’m hoping I can change that presumption today.  I’ve heard many definitions for UDL, but this quote from Dr. Michael Hughes, DiverseEducation.com, is the best I’ve come across:

“Universal design usually means creating buildings that are physically accessible to everyone, with hallways wide enough for wheelchairs,” he says. “But, in promoting ‘universal design for learning,’ we have to simultaneously confront the technological, social and psychological barriers to equal education.”

I think the part I like the best is the comparison of learning to having hallways wide enough for wheelchairs.  UDL allows us to have hallways into every child’s brain wide enough for them to learn (OK, so maybe that’s a little cheesy, but I think it illustrates the point well!).  We have to create learning spaces that allow all students the best opportunity to learn.

When I was in college (not that it was that long ago) I remember the buzz was Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  It seemed like every professor I had figured out a way to include that in our assignments.  I think back on that and realize that UDL is similar.  We are finding the best way for each student to learn and letting them do it.  Technology has allowed us the opportunity to level the playing field.  There’s no need for a student struggling in reading to fall behind in science if they can learn the information from an audio file or text-to-speech screen reading software.  Why should a student who struggles with writing be forced to take notes, when they can record the information for later playback, or type the notes on a computer.  And the even bigger question, if we allow those students to do it, why can’t we allow it for any student?  Is it cheating?  Is it not fair?  What would it hurt?

Just think about your learning style in college – How many of you recorded lectures?  How many of you typed notes instead of writing them?  And if you did write them, could you read them later?  We all made choice about our learning styles, we need to let our students do the same.  We have so many tools in our toolbelt, let’s share them with our students!

There is a quite a bit of information about UDL all over the web.  Our guest on EdCeptional this week, Karen Janowski, writes phenomenal blog about UDL and it’s use in the classroom – Teaching Every Student.  She also maintains a amazing wiki on UDL with Joyce ValenzaUDL Tech Toolkit.  If you are interested in more information about UDL you should check out the CAST.org website, as well as the National Center on UDL.


What do you think?

The Latest Video From EdReach


  1. blackadder

    Why should a student who struggles with writing be forced to write? So he/she learns to write maybe?

    • BenCardiff

      Sure, teach writing if merely writing is the goal, but why force a kid to write with a pencil and paper if the lesson is about story structure….or adverbs….or math story problems…or..well, anything other than the physical act of writing. It just shuts kids down.