Universal Design for Learning

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 Other students lacked the background knowledge needed to tackle the science articles and historical documents I had planned to use.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.

udlIf 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

What’s the Big Idea? Active Learning

While perusing my favorite professional books yesterday, and I came across a well-worn, dog-eared copy of James Burke’s What’s the Big Idea? Pink, purple, and green sticky notes stuck out everywhere. On page seven, I found this gem:

“All genuine learning is active, not passive. It involves the use of the mind, not just memory. It is a process of discovery in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.”

With this in mind, I wrote three questions at the top of my monthly planner:

  1. Is the student actively learning?
    2. Does this lesson involve the mind (not just the memory)?
    3.  Is the student making discoveries  about the topic or concept?


My goal for the remainder of the month is to look at each lesson through the lens of these questions and try to answer each in the affirmative. I’ll let you know the results next month. Why not give it a try? Let me know how it works for you.

K.J. Wagner  Education Oasis