Universal Design for Learning

When a person walks into a classroom, things appear to look pretty normal. There may be vocabulary words on the wall with pictures, a timer on the teachers desk and maybe some headphones hanging by the computer area. What this person does not realize is that all of the ordinary classroom objects they see are accommodations that teacher is making for his or her students. The vocabulary words on the wall with pictures are there to support the English Language Learner. The timer on the teachers desk is for the student who needs 15 extra minutes to complete a task. The headphones are there for the student who needs to listen to audio recordings instead of reading text.

Today was the first day I heard the term, “Universal Design for Learning” or “UDL.” UDL is an educational framework that guides educators to create a flexible learning environment that supports all different types of learners. I now know that the UDL is the reason for the accommodations I make in my classroom and accommodations I have seen in other classrooms. David H, Rose, Ed.D. first defined what UDL was and today in class we watched this video where he presents and speaks on behalf of children with special needs. He discusses a case where he worked with a boy named Matthew who had a very severe physical disability that prevented him from walking and talking. Matthew needed a wheelchair to function. Matthew’s problem Matthew’s schools problem was that there was no handicap accessible entrance to the school.



The entrance the Matthew’s school












As you can see, I crossed out above that this was “Matthew’s problem.” Dr. Rose goes on to talk about how there are two ways to look at this issue. It is either Matthew’s problem because he is handicapped or it is the schools problem for not being handicapped accessible. Which problem is easier to fix? The school’s problem. So, the school went on to build a ramp and unfortunately it was an expensive and ugly fixer-upper. Worst of all, the corners were too sharp for Matthew to make a turn in his wheelchair.

curb cutThis is when Dr. Rose makes his case for a universal design. Everyone has a choice. You can choose to not build in universal accommodations at the start…and deal with the cost, inconvenience, and scrutiny down the road. Your other choice is to build accommodations in from the start…a cheaper, faster, more beautiful and convenient approach. An example he gave that really helped me to understand Universal Design was the curb cut (seen right). Not only do curb cuts benefit those in wheelchairs–they benefit rollerbladers, bikers, scooter riders, parents pushing kids in strollers, and more recently: blind peopleSome curb cuts are now being made with bumps to alert a blind person that they are about to cross a road. These accommodations that I am exposed to every day are ones that I did not even recognize or think twice about. I am not handicapped–so I had never thought twice about appreciating this Universal Design.

So…how does this relate to teaching? As I reflect on UD and UDL, I think about all of my students. All the accommodations I make for them can seriously make or break how and if they learn. I also think about all of the accommodations I have failed to make–and what a disadvantage my students would have because of it. Just like contractors have a UD choice when they are building a structure, we as teachers have a UDL choice when teaching. It makes sense for us to accommodate from the start of the school year, rather than waiting until a student is seriously struggling and falling behind. Be proactive. Thankfully, there are three guidelines for creating a Universal Design for Learning in my (or your) classroom.


1.) Provide multiple means of Representation: To develop resourceful, knowledgeable learners. You can provide options for comprehension, options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols, and options for perception.

2.) Provide multiple means of Engagement: This is so we develop purposeful, motivated learners. You can provide options for self regulation, provide options for sustaining effort and persistence, and provide options for recruiting interest.

3.) Provide multiple means of Expression & Action: To develop strategic, goal-directed learners. Provide options for executive functions and options for expression and communication.

As I work on my Maker lesson and implementing the Maker Movement in my classroom, it is so important that I take the UDL framework seriously. It is also important that as a novice teacher I continually reference the UDL guidelines and be sure to accommodate whenever possible. My professors, Chris & Alison, provided us with a UDL Guidelines Educator Worksheet in the form of a google doc. The worksheet breaks down all of the UDL guidelines and leaves space for me to comment and take notes. It will be an awesome reference point for me as I continue my teaching journey.

For more information on Universal Design for Learning and how you can accommodate students in you classroom, I suggest visiting this website.


About Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). 15 July 2015. Cast, Inc. Retrieved from <http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.VaZvdhNVikq&gt;.

(2009, August 24).  Dr. David Rose on UDL Part 1. (fcsnvideos). Retrieved from <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2B-K1RjDL6M&list=PLBjBNmLP05buSce_hdMZUvc78H0CxrwKZ&gt;.