Inclusivity in education can be the difference between student success and student failure. The importance of designing a curriculum with every student in mind leads to lesson plans that build in opportunities for all learners to succeed without facing the risk of singling out those who may need an alternative way of reaching success. This article will discuss Universal Design for Learning, an educational framework informed by research in learning sciences that guides educators through creating classrooms suitable for all students. Keep reading to learn more about UDL.
Universal Design for Learning
Universal learning design (UDL) is a framework that “guides the design of learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners proactively. When you use UDL, you assume that barriers to learning are in the design of the environment, not in the student”. Traditional classrooms are curriculum-centered, requiring students to adjust and adapt to the content and design. UDL flips that dynamic and creates student-centered classrooms that provide access, support, and challenge to a diverse group of learners.
3 Principles of UDL
UDL principles’ goals are to create purposeful/motivated, resourceful/knowledgeable, and strategic/goal-directed learners. By referring to these guidelines when creating lesson plans and curriculum, student success is baked into the framework from the very beginning. Teachers must ask themselves if their classroom and teaching methods are meeting the needs of all students. If you’re not there yet, the good news is there are tools to help you get there.
Because all students learn differently, engaging diverse students requires understanding their “neurology, culture, personal relevance, subjectivity, and background knowledge, along with a variety of other factors”. Engagement as a guideline includes three components: recruiting interest, sustaining effort, persistence, and self-regulation. Student autonomy, collaboration, and self-assessment all fall under the principle of engagement.
This pillar of UDL includes three guidelines: perception, language/symbols, and comprehension. Diverse learners have different ways of approaching content. Considering the culture, language, sensory disability, etc., when designing lesson plans is critical to ensure you’re providing the support and delivery that is needed for each student’s needs. There is no single way of representation that will work for every student, so providing variance in approach and options for customization is crucial.
Action and Expression
Action and expression in UDL include how students navigate their learning environments and demonstrate their knowledge. As with the previous two principles, there is no uniform approach to action and expression in a classroom. This principle includes the following three guidelines: executive functions, presentation and communication, and physical activity. Students’ tools and how they use them, including hardware and software, fall under this category. For example, a student should have the flexibility to use multimedia (film, music, text, visual art, etc.) to demonstrate storytelling. Executive functions include things like goal setting, strategy, and monitoring progress.
Why does this matter?
Designing with every student in mind is no longer a “nice-to-have” benefit but rather a must-have principle incorporated into every classroom. Aside from the obvious that all students deserve an equal and equitable opportunity to find success in education, designing with every student in mind allows them to focus on the content and how they learn. When students are allowed to learn in ways that work best for them, while the memory of the content fades, the skills they acquired to master that content will stay.
In addition, the use of technology in the classroom can enable the change we need to see. Tools like ecoText empower students to make decisions about their learning and help educators incorporate UDL at micro and macro scales.
The way people learn is as unique as their fingerprints, making a “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning inequitable and ineffective. Classrooms today are more diverse than ever, especially with the increase in virtual learning, so we must consider differences from the very beginning. Creating inclusive classrooms for all students’ needs positively impacts their experience and impacts you, the teacher, as you support your students where and how they need you the most.
Thank you for reading this article! If you want to learn more about how our technology can increase inclusivity in your classroom, we would love to talk to you. You can reach us at ecoText.co/contact.
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