At the beginning of this school year, my students spent some time thinking about and discussing the challenges they face and the strengths they possess when learning new material, skills, and concepts.
As you might imagine, the challenges and strengths were wide-ranging and as unique as my students. Many of my ELL (English Language Learner) students struggled with language barriers. Some students had engaged in “online writing camps” over the summer and were way above grade level in that area. Other students lacked the background knowledge needed to tackle the science articles and historical documents I had planned to use.
As I looked for resources to help me plan and help my students learn, I came across Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In a nutshell, UDL is a framework for designing curriculum and instruction. The UDL guidelines provide step-by-step “checkpoints” that, if followed, go a long way in helping the teacher create a learning-focused, student-centered classroom environment that enables all students to learn. This year, for example, I have been able to improve the feedback I give my students by offering “mastery-oriented feedback” that encourages perseverance and emphasizes improvement.
If you are interested in learning more about UDL, visit the National Center on Universal Design for Learning website. I also recommend the book Universal Design for Learning in the Classroom: Practical Applications edited by Tracey E. Hall, Anne Meyer, and David H. Rose. While it is a title in The Guilford Press’s What Works for Special-Needs Learners, the book is helpful for general education teachers as well.
K.J. Wagner, Education Oasis