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Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms. Denise C. DeCoste, Ed.D. Segment 1. An Introduction to Universal Design for Learning. What are you doing digitally in your everyday life?. Taking a picture Sending a card Sending a message Finding out about a topic Paying bills

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Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms

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Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms

Denise C. DeCoste, Ed.D

Segment 1

An Introduction to Universal Design for Learning

What are you doing digitally in your everyday life?

  • Taking a picture

  • Sending a card

  • Sending a message

  • Finding out about a topic

  • Paying bills

  • Buying a book or music

  • Listening to music

  • Paying for gas

  • Getting directions

  • Buying plane tickets

  • Getting cash

  • Finding a movie

  • Renting a movie

  • Finding a zip code

  • Finding a phone number

  • Getting the weather

  • Getting a recipe

What about technology in your teaching life?

vegiemince's photostream

Technology Integration FrameworkMcAnear, A. (February 2008). School-wide technology integration. Learning and Leading with Technology, p. 5.

What is UDL?

Simply put, UDL is the practice of embedding flexible strategies into curriculum during the planning process so that all students can access a variety of learning solutions.

  • Universal design for learning (UDL) anticipates the needs of diverse learners.

A National Effort

“Universal design for learning (UDL) is a growing practice across the nation, one that is increasingly referenced in education policy briefs, research literature, teacher professional development, and books and articles for educators.”

Sopko (April 2009). Universal Design for Learning: Policy Challenges and Recommendations. Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).

“UDL is a framework that can help you turn the challenges posed by high standards and increasing learner diversity into opportunities to maximize learning for every student. Drawing upon new knowledge of how the brain works and new technologies and media now available for teaching and learning, UDL frames a systematic approach to setting goals, choosing or creating flexible materials and media, and assessing students accurately”

Teaching Every Student website, Retrieved April 7, 2009 from:http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/content/mentors/site_mentor/site_mentor_udl_def.cfm)

UDL and Technology

  • UDL strategies can be no tech, low tech or high tech. We need the flexibility of many strategies.

  • However, today’s digital technology makes it possible to create flexible materials.

UDL is built on the premise that….

  • Learning differs across tasks

  • Learning differs across development

  • Learning differs across individuals

UDL strategies for instruction are frontloaded rather than retrofitted.

  • More efficient in the long run.

  • Benefits more students

  • More acceptable to students

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework for removing barriers by anticipating the needs of all students

Educational reforms that have set the stage for UDL

  • Classroom demographic changes

  • Greater understanding of brain development and learning (multiple pathways for learning)

  • Understanding that one size does not fit all

  • Educational legislation: Emphasis on progress for ALL children:

    • NCLB and AYP

    • Full inclusion ad IDEA -IA

Is UDL only for students with IEPs?


UDL is a framework to support the range of learners that exist in typical classrooms.

This would include gifted students, disengaged students, English language learners, as well as, students with documented disabilities.

Students have:

1. Choices which will engage student interest

2. Options for how they learn

3. Choices for how they demonstrate their learning

Teachers provide:

Flexible options for student engagement

2. Flexible ways of presenting lesson content

3. Flexible methods of expression, and assessment

3 Major UDL principles…

Flexible strategies for all students are the hallmark of UDL

Segment 2


Principle 1: Flexible options for student engagement

Examples of options that engage student interest

ENGAGEMENT:Engaging interest in volcanic activity

Using models that “erupt”

ENGAGEMENT: Using podcasts to introduce a unit on Fables


ENGAGEMENT: Using Kidspiration with an interactive white board

K. Lee & L. String, MCPS MD


ENGAGEMENT: All about folktales using Microsoft PhotoStory3

D. Jackson / MCPS MD


ENGAGEMENT: Interactive whiteboard software to discuss vocabulary using aFreyer Model

ENGAGEMENT: Discussing character reactions using Inspiration

L. Perkins / MCPS MD


ENGAGEMENT:Online game where students classify animals and plants based on characteristics


ENGAGEMENT:Interactive Game on the systems of the body


ENGAGEMENT: Interactive website that demonstrates the energy of roller coasters


ENGAGEMENT:Web-based videos on curriculum themes


ENGAGEMENT:Web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials for mathematics instruction (K-12)


ENGAGEMENT: Choices for practicing skills using a textbook publisher’s online resources


Segment 3


Principle 2: Flexible ways of presenting lesson content

Examples of options for how teachers present information and how students receive information.

PRESENTATION: No-tech way to present reading strategies

Mr. Mayo

Classroom bulletin board

PRESENTATION:Introduction to Historical Fiction using PowerPoint


PRESENTATION:Background information from the Internet


PRESENTATION:Support materials on the textbook publisher’s website

Prentice Hall website http://www.phschool.com

PRESENTATION:Vocabulary Study Guides on American government

D. Gentry / MCPS MD

PRESENTATION:Picture key vocabulary study guide in a Microsoft Word table

PRESENTATION: Using Kurzweil with Public Domain E-Text of the Odyssey


PRESENTATION:Reading with embedded vocabulary supports using Kurzweil bubble notes

PRESENTATION: Greek Myths at a 4th to 5th grade readability level


PRESENTATION: Biodiversity Video Segment with Closed Captions


PRESENTATION: Video reenactments of history


Segment 4


Principle 3: Flexible methods of expression, and assessment

Options for how students demonstrate their learning

EXPRESSION:Alternate way to present a book report

Book report diorama

EXPRESSION:Give students a choice of tools to express what they know

  • Paper and pencil

  • Word processor

  • Portable word processors (Alphasmart/NEO/Fusion)

  • Supported writing software (Clicker, Drafbuilder)

  • Multimedia tools (PowerPoint, Photostory, Windows Movie Maker)

  • Webquests

EXPRESSION: Using a Clicker 5 Word Bank to Support Writing

L Wilson MCPS MD

EXPRESSION: Spelling and vocabulary support using Clicker 5

D Jackson/MCPS MD

EXPRESSION: Inspiration notes to list main characteristics

A. Dentes & R. Briggs /MCPS MD

EXPRESSION: Notetaking using Microsoft Word side-by-side view

EXPRESSION: Using Inspiration as a Prewriting Graphic Organizer



ASSESSMENT:Match pictures and definitions to concepts using Inspiration

K. Grinham / MCPS MD

ASSESSMENT:Using a text reader to read and answer test questions

V. Rosenberg / MCPS MD

ASSESSMENT:Digital worksheets and tests


Segment 5

Implementing UDL in the Classroom

UDL: A national trend

The technology now exists to make teaching and learning more adaptable to meet the needs of a wide range of students.

Proactive curriculum design is essential in light of limited resources and limited time to create individualized accommodations. But it will take time.

One step at a time….

  • Shifting to a more universally designed curriculum cannot be accomplished overnight.

  • It can only be accomplished by committed teachers willing to relook at their instructional strategies, and then begin to design instructional units in ways that provide more flexibility for all students.

First Steps

  • Have a clear understanding of the goals and the tasks that are important to your instructional unit.

  • Identify the nature of the learners in your classroom.

  • Design UDL solutions

UDL Solutions Planning Table


UDL Solutions Table

Educator Strategies

  • Schedule time to collaborate and plan flexible materials

  • Focus on one or two curriculum units per quarter

  • Coordinate efforts; work in teams

  • Set goals and criteria

    • Who is the target group of students

    • What are the learning barriers

    • Identify flexible strategies that will narrow the achievement gap

  • Share materials

  • Sharet ten minute Tech-Tips at monthly staff meetings

  • Tech Tuesdays to share readily-usable, flexible strategies

  • Train students in the use of technology

  • Collect measures of student success (e.g., grades, attitudes, time on task, performance)

HIAT website



  • Casper, B., & Leuchovius, D. (2005, April). Universal design for learning and the transition to a more challenging academic curriculum: Making it in middle school and beyond. Retrieved September 15, 2006, from http://www.ncset.org/publications/viewdesc.asp?id=2165

  • Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Universal Design for Learning (2007). What is universal design for learning? Retrieved August 5, 2006, from http://cast.org/research/udl/index.html

  • Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2007). UDL Questions and Answers. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.cast.org/research/faq/index.html

  • CAST UDL Lesson Builderis a free online resource to help educators create UDL-based lessons. http://lessonbuilder.cast.org

  • CAST UDL Toolkitsare a free online resource designed to support professional development providers and other educators conducting workshops in universal design for learning by providing resources for face-to-face training sessions and ongoing follow-up support. http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/toolkits/tk_introduction.cfm?tk_id=61

Additional Web Resources:

  • http://www.cast.org/research/udl/index.html

  • http://www.cited.org/index.aspx

  • http://www.osepideasthatwork.org/UDL/index.asp


  • Council for Exceptional Children (2005). Universal design for learning: A guide for teachers and education professionals. Arlington, VA: Pearson.

  • Hitchcock, C., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. (2005). The universally designed classroom: Accessible curriculum and digital technologies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

  • Rose, D., & Meyer, A., (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum and Development.

  • Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2006). A practical reader in universal design for learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

  • Sopko (April 2009). Universal Design for Learning: Policy Challenges and Recommendations. Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). Obtained April 20, 2009 at http://www.projectforum.org.

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