The WHY and HOW of Universal Design for Learning : Part 3 of 3

UDL Tools

When introducing and encouraging the use of UDL concepts in the classroom; specifically methodology and tools to embed into curriculum and lessons, I think, just as we do with students, we need to begin with tools that will likely entice and excite teachers and achieve positive results.  By respecting the amount of time that teachers spend in and outside of the classroom to help educate our students, we are more likely to engage the teacher and create a motivation for using UDL tools.

But first, we must determine the individual teacher’s goals and identify their perceived challenges.  Questions like; Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of one on one assistance you spend with individual students? Do you find that students lack motivation? Are students performing well on tests? What are the current methods used for assessment? Etc. These questions can be asked to help assess where the teacher is coming from, what supports they are willing to accept help with, and what tools may best serve the needs of the students and the teacher.

One method that may prove beneficial when introducing UDL to teachers and attempting to get their “buy in” is to have them visit the CAST website and the Curriculum Barriers Tutorial. I believe that often times, teachers don’t see the barriers that students may face, or they only see that barriers that students identified as having disabilities may face and don’t realize that these barriers may exist for all learners in one way or the other.  CAST Curriculum Barriers Tutorial is available at the above link as well as directly at:

One challenge that I see all teachers face with students as they begin their (usually) senior year at our school, is that they are not accustomed to learning.  What I mean by this, is they have often learned to regurgitate information for a test or a culminating project. (i.e. memorizing dates, names, places for a test, spewing it out for the test, erasing it from memory, and moving on to the next chapter). I’ve talked about this in past blogs.  For the first time, many students need to really engage in their learning and to learn for lasting memory.  (No longer short term, rote memorization, but learning to apply, to use, to retrieve down the road). When teachers consider how to shift the students way of learning, they will see that UDL tools can assist them in reaching this goal. Remember, long term learning occurs in the Pre-Frontal Cortex where the executive functioning occurs (Willis, 2012). And, the pathways to reach long term memory are strengthened by the release of dopamine and reinforced by active, repetitive use (Willis, 2012).

Below are a list of tools and strategies that I would like to introduce to the teachers and staff at the school where I teach, addressing the most basic concerns that teachers have expressed.  This is a list of beginning tools; those that may produce the most immediate results, take the least amount of time on the teacher’s part, and reduce the greatest barriers to learning, to better serve all students in the classroom.

Addressing problems of boredom, lack of student motivation, students not engaged in learning or class participation

  • Begin lessons with humor (verbal, visual, video, song)
  • Add technology to the delivery of the lesson (video clips, powerpoint, itunes, photos, youtube, etc.)
  • use quick response systems (anonymous methods of assessing students and engaging students) – ipods, texting, web-based.
  • Add personal stories to lectures.
  • Provide copies of powerpoints/notes so students can follow along, fill in, add to, pay attention to auditory format, etc.
  • Use interactive whiteboards
  • Encourage the use of livescribe pens for students who will benefit from listening to lecture at a later date.
  • Use QR Codes (scan codes) for students to access notes, powerpoints, videos, lecture, etc. at a later time ( , )
  • Supplement lecture/theory with examples and stories.
  • Allow student/s to “teach” or “introduce” a lesson.
  • Use whiteboard paddles or dry erase board to respond to questions (others cant see but students respond and teacher can quickly assess and involved students):
  • Create emails to encourage students to correspond with you when they have questions.
  • Use collaborative seating arrangements (U-shape, Grouped, etc.)
  • Provide opportunities for choice in project/assignments examples: wordles, i-movies, etc.
  • Provide examples of previously completed projects for reference.
  • Provide easy to understand rubrics in advance of assignments (
  • Allow for peer and small group work.
  • Provide visual references for multi-step tasks.
  • Allow use of highlighters and colored folders or paper.
  • USE DVD/CD/Text website provided with most texts to supplement learning,
  • Provide technology to create final projects, encouraging creativity and choice.

Addressing Problems with organization and daily planning and assignment completion (time management) issues.

  • Breakdown assignments into smaller “check in’ chunks (providing opportunities to check in and experience success and receive feedback along the way).
  • Use technology to build in alarm clocks, buzzers, reminders, etc.
  • Have students document and graph their time on tasks.
  • Use color to code types of materials, assignments, due dates, etc.
  • Use ipods and outlook for calendar management.
  • Allow students to identify technology that may help them with organization and time management.
  • Use internet/web/email to send out reminders regarding due dates or homework assignments.
  • Consider having digital format of text or material available on the web for students to access if they forget their textbooks.


Willis M.D., J (2012). Neuroscience & the classroom: Strategies for maximizing students’ engagement, memory and potentials. Integrated Learning Conference. November 7, 2012.

Assessment: The How & Why

Blooms new taxonomy: addressing learning styles and authentic learning and assessment

School. So often in the k-12 experience, teachers provide a text book, assign a chapter or unit, and then administer a written test.  Usually in multiple choice format, maybe matching definitions or dates, a few true or false questions, and perhaps an essay or short answer or two.  The grade supposedly reflects what you learned.  Students study the night before (good students may study a few days in advance). They memorize information (dates, characters, definitions). They then regurgitate it on the day of the assessment.  What is measured? The ability to memorize information?  The ability to take standard, traditional tests? Have students actually learned, and I mean really learned, the information, process, thoughts? How do we know?  My point is, are we measuring learned information and skills or are we measuring strategies of memorization and test taking?

When I was in high school and undergraduate college, I remember taking history classes. I actually enjoy history now, but not in those classes.  We had huge, thick textbooks. We completed a unit on World War II or some other time in history. We memorized important dates, treaties, people, events.  We took the unit test; usually a series of multiple choice questions, a few matching, and a series of short answer or essay questions, all requiring us to regurgitate the information we memorized.  I struggled on these tests immensely!  I did not retain much of anything in long term memory, except when it was something that really interested me. Why? – because I was neither engaged in the learning nor moving any information into long term memory. When we were done with that unit, I didn’t need to know the information again until the mid-term exam or final exam, at which point I would repeat the cramming process. (I didn’t do well on those exams either).

These types of assessments, referred to as summative assessments may have their place, but it is important to know what they truly measure and what they do not.  Summative assessments provide summary information in a formal method, often administered at the end of a unit or course where all students take the same assessment (usually written).   As Rose & Meyer attest in Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning,  most of these types of assessments do not accommodate individual differences.  Furthermore, it’s questionable whether a teacher is gathering the intended data. The summative assessment is not providing the instructor with information on the effectiveness of teacher methodology, it is not identifying the barriers or needs of the individual students, it is not indicating the causes of success or failure. A summative evaluation is providing information related to a student’s ability to be successful in this type of test-taking, the ability for some students to affectively memorize and demonstrate memorization in a summative assessment format, and in cases where being able to take these types of assessment are necessary it will determine the preparedness of this format of testing (for instance a class for the Certified Nursing Assistant will need to ensure a student is prepared to participate in the state-directed traditional format assessment to become certified).

So, in the example above in my experience in history classes, not only should the method of instruction provide for the learning differences among students; multiple means of gaining meaningful information, varying instruction methods, and the like, but the assessment process must be a formative one. In other words, when formative assessments are used, teachers and students both benefit. Ongoing measurement in a variety of formats, as supported by the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), provides for learner differences and provide meaningful information for the teacher to address needed supports and change in teacher methodology to ensure all students are being taught the intended curriculum.

Teaching the content of history with video, story-telling, linking history to current day trends, would have engaged me in the learning. Providing opportunities to create my own story, illustrate time periods, create plays, research music from the different time periods in history, create visual timelines, and provide creative means to express what knowledge I have gained would have accurately taught and measured my success. I would have been ENGAGED. I would have been able to self-assess my progress. The teacher would have known if she reached me and if I learned. She would have motivated me in my own learning. And, instead of memorizing and regurgitating dates and places and names, I would have been able to hold a conversation about a time in history, probably even using those dates and times and places!

We must ENGAGE our students in the learning process and ALSO ENGAGE them in the formative and authentic evaluations of their learning.

Animated video about Authentic Assessment. (

Authentic Assessment Wordle

Next Blog Post: The UDL Framework and Assessment Approach: Strengths and Challenges.

I just made a new Voki. See it here:

Changing how I see my classroom: Looking through the UDL lens

The questions were raised “Think about the strengths and challenges of some of the materials and methods that you have used in your classroom, in your transition setting or in the workplace, How could you enhance those resources through a UDL lens? Who would benefit from these changes?”

I am a learning support teacher, one of two, who supervise 8 paraprofessionals who support approximately 80 students in 20 different classes (19 different career and technical programs).  Students attend out school for one year in hopes of acquiring skills and credentials for employment and/or post-secondary education following their graduation.  Our instructors come directly from industry prior to becoming teachers. Most have chosen to become teachers because they believe in their trade/career and want to educate youth to enter their field.  Once hired, they begin their coursework in Vocational Education.  Having said this, most teachers at our school teach the way they were taught.  For some this means textbook reading, answer the questions at the back of the chapter, write out vocabulary words, listen to an hour of lecture, demonstrate a skill, teach the steps through demonstration, and then have the students perform and practice the skill.  Overtime, most teachers expand their delivery system to encompass “best practices”.

My position is unique as I don’t teach a specific class. Instead I support paras and teachers in helping to convey information to students related to their career, work one on one or in small groups with students to help them complete assignments, prepare for tests, complete projects, or provide support. Often I work with students to help motivate and encourage and build self-esteem.  I help create linkages to agencies for post-school and help them apply to jobs, apply to college, or work on other issues or skills needed for future success.  So, to implement UDL within my daily work, requires me to shift my thinking a bit and actually look at a variety of avenues for implementation, from student to para to teacher. Furthermore, each program is so entirely different not only in their content, but the nature of the skills needed, the expectations of the program, and the style of the teacher, that it is difficult to provide an overview of how expanding UDL techniques in our school could impact our ability to provide successful education to our students.

In Chapter 3 of “Universal Design for Learning in the Digital Age”, Rose and Meyer point out that traditional classrooms use books and lecture as methods of instructional delivery.  These text and print and word delivery methods do not allow for flexibility in learning.  The complexity of the brain requires many skills/abilities to be able to gather information and even demonstrate knowledge which can, for some students, make barriers very evident, when only traditional methods of delivery are used (text, picture, sound).   As an instructor, I am forced to look for those individuals who have barriers and then create other methods of conveying information or assessing those individuals.  But even then, I am missing those who are not identified, but maybe could do much better with other methods of instruction and assessment!  This traditional method of instruction, from the teacher’s perspective, from the learning support teacher’s perspective and even from the student’s perspective is reactionary. In other words, I am forced to react to those who are struggling.  It’s exhausting as a teacher and unmotivating as a student.  UDL strategies can change all of this!  As an instructor, if I could employ new methods of instruction and assessment (websites, wiki’s, video, youtube, blogs, etc.), I could engage students in learning and even create it so they are becoming the learner’s driving their own education with me, as the teacher, facilitating the process!   I, as an instructor or teacher, am no long reacting to the barriers and needs of students after the fact, but preventing the barriers in many cases from taking the front seat. I am ensuring that all students have a chance to learn the material in as many ways as possible.  They are engaging in the learning process.

The student who has ADHD and tuned out during lecture/theory time, is not reinforcing whatever was missed through interaction on the website where he can replay the lecture that was recorded and corresponds to a blog where students are discussing the chapter content and the youtube videos that the students made demonstrating the skills they are learning.  Textbooks exist as supplemental material but not as the only material.  Tests are important in preparation for industry certification testing, but other assessments are used as well.  As Rose and Meyer mention, this new approach offers flexibility in instruction but also requires that educators become flexible in their thinking about instruction.

To answer the final question: who will benefit from this…EVERYONE! Teachers included – think about the time that won’t be spent reteaching and retesting or brainstorming how to support the student who fell through the cracks because the lesson didn’t include an accommodation for a specific need, or the time spent coming up with a “special assessment” for a student with a special need.  And, at the post-school level, we have helped students become learners and self-advocates and motivated and engaged!

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