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WHAT IS UDL (UNIVERSAL DESIGN FOR LEARNING) THINKING

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework based on learning and neuroscience that aims to create learning environments that are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. At its heart, UDL celebrates the uniqueness of each and every learner.

E koekoe te tūī, e ketekete te kākā, e kūkū te kererū.
The tūī sings, the kākā chatters, the kererū coos.

Just as this whakatauki sees each bird as unique, UDL sees the diversity and variety of students in a class recognising and valuing the individual.

Every student is uniqueUDL thinking — Every student is unique — so, how do I design learning so it works for everyone?

The UDL worldview contrasts with industrial-age education that aimed to build a compliant workforce to work in factories. In this view, students in a class were viewed as essentially the same (same level, same subject).

Industrial age thinkingIndustrial age thinking — My students are essentially the same so I plan lessons for the whole class
and they all learn the same things at the same time.

In the industrial-age education model, students who did not fit into the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach were seen as needing something different and special to help them to learn. They were often not included in classes with their peers because their needs could not be met using the one-size-fits-all approach.

udl thinkingThinking — I plan lessons for the class but I have someone different in my class, so what special things will I do for that person?

UDL IS A FRAMEWORK FOR PURPOSEFUL DESIGN FOR ALL

UDL relies on a strengths-based approach where the focus is on making the curriculum work for students rather than the student fit the curriculum. It is about smart, purposeful design for everyone from the outset. It is the opposite to a one-size-fits-all approach, but it does not mean that teachers are expected to plan 25 lessons for a class of 25 students. UDL aims to build student agency and utilise flexible learning pathways so that everyone can seamlessly access and engage in learning.

For example, if a student cannot access reading material, UDL asks how else the information could be presented, or how the task could be redesigned to cater for anyone who found the reading or content difficult. It does not focus on remediation of the student’s reading difficulties. Of course, I am not suggesting that reading problems should be ignored – they should be addressed as part of a well-balanced literacy programme. What I am saying is that poor reading should not be a barrier to learning.

Flexible options always depend on the specific learning intention for the group but in this example (to access reading material), options could include:

  • students using text-to-speech technology to read the passage aloud
  • offering ebook options
  • adding images to support understanding
  • peer reading (tuakana/teina options).

The aim is to offer flexible options that allow all students to be independent and successful without the teacher having to create multiple resources for multiple individual students.

 

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD

Video: from the TKI website

UDL THINKING — CREATING AN INCLUSIVE EDUCATION

UDL is about what we believe is important and how we address the needs of students in our everyday classes. By working to remove barriers and design for all, we can help all students to be successful learners.

UDL thinking is a personal value and belief that we can apply to everyday decisions about the way we do things and the way we design lessons and curriculum.

 

Source for images:

All images are by: Daniel Nodder (daniel.nodder@gmail.com)

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Lynne Silcock

Lynne Silcock is a facilitator for Learning with Digital Technologies and Connected Learning Advisory. Lynne has a background in secondary teaching and sports leadership. Her teaching experience is primarily in special education, but includes secondary maths, geography, and outdoor education. Prior to joining CORE, Lynne worked in the Ministry of Education as the national coordinator for the NZ assistive technology team. She has expertise in how specialised and standard technologies can be used to support all learners, but especially those with disabilities or special learning needs. She has been an advocate of Universal Design for Learning for many years as she sees the potential for this framework to help teachers support those who have failed to thrive in traditional classrooms.
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Anne Kenneally is an experienced professional learning facilitator. Anne facilitates the effective use of digital technologies to engage and empower all learners. She has been a part of the Learning with Digital Technologies team. She is also a mentor within the UChoose mentoring programme and Virtual Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) programmes. Anne has worked with schools and leadership teams across New Zealand supporting the development of effective use of technology, Google how-tos, and teaching as inquiry, through to strategic planning and school transformation initiatives. Anne has a strong focus on teaching as inquiry, supporting leaders and educators to maximise their potential. She is also passionate about removing ‘barriers to learning’ for students, particularly in literacy.

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