Building UDL Fluency
Do you speak two or more languages? For example, you grew up speaking one language and then learned another as a subject in school or maybe you grew up in a bilingual or multilingual household (if so, I am totally jealous of you). Regardless of how you learned the languages, you communicate using different languages.
When you tell someone that you know a different language, they will probably ask, “Are you fluent?” Other than turning to validated language assessments, you can only go with your interpretation of your knowledge to answer that question. You probably think about your emotional reaction to speaking and writing the language(s). Maybe you think about grammatical structure and the finer nuances of language learning. Ultimately, you have your own sense of your fluency, but to truly assess your fluency you have to put yourself in the middle of others who are fluent. That’s the lens I use when I think about how to help others learn about and apply Universal Design for Learning.
Knowing the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints is one part of UDL knowledge. Connecting to the analogy above, it’s like knowing the vocabulary of a language. You learn a term (e.g., the guideline of physical action) and you learn what it is and what it isn’t (e.g., currently, this guideline is not about general body movement. It is about alternatives to physical movement and lowering barriers to provide access to technology). It’s the base information one needs to fluently apply the framework and talk about the framework. But is that where you stop when learning about UDL or any language? No. You must learn the underlying rules of the language, the nuances, the contextual applications.
Another part of fluency comes from the way you think. When you learn another language, you gain the cognitive flexibility to not only come up with the language to form and read sentences, you move beyond just the words and into the culture. All languages have a culture around them which affects when you use formal or informal words or when you choose analogies over literal descriptions. What is that like with UDL?
Many of us in the UDL field talk about the teacher’s toolbox. If you are someone who has benefitted from attending an undergrad or teacher training program, you’ve continued to attend workshops, and/or you are connected with other dynamic adult learners, you’ve probably added to your toolbox over time. You have strategies that you like to use across content and your environment. Typically, those strategies don’t shift too much until student outcomes or behavior shift. Now you need the cognitive flexibility to consider how the culture of your classroom has changed. That, right there, is UDL fluency based on the way you think.
All classrooms/learning environments have a culture and that culture is established by the designer (you) and everyone else in that environment (your learners and other adults). If you are fluent with UDL, you focus on the barriers learners are facing in the environment. You use the principles, guidelines and checkpoints to help you identify and address those barriers. You apply the mindsets, skills, and practices that align with UDL.
Anne and Chantill modeled their knowledge of UDL language and UDL thinking via their business design during Part 1 of their interview. They introduced us to their use of UDL as a design pillar for their business and course designs. When thinking about UDL fluency, this quote from the podcast the caught my attention:
“And what I love about it is we’re so deeply dedicated to transformation, both for ourselves and for the people who are offering education, but then to also translate and transfer that to the people we are touching and reaching. And to support our entrepreneurs and coaches and leaders you know, and educators in doing the same, UDL has become like a language that we just speak and we speak it through all of the aspects of our business.”
UDL is a language they speak through all aspects of their business. They use the framework to guide all aspects of their business. They are fluent.
What is your fluency with UDL? Are you deeply familiar with the UDL Guidelines? Do you see how your environment and lessons either lower or set up barriers for your learners? And, do you use the concepts from the Guidelines to lower those barriers? There is no fancy tool to help you discern your UDL fluency. So, how can you do that? I suggest placing yourself in contexts that model UDL. If you don’t have local examples, let technology be your friend!
UDL in 15 Minutes gives you lots of opportunities to hear how other teachers around the world have implemented UDL. You’ll hear their decision-making process, the language they use, and the outcomes they’ve experienced. Check out the YouTube versions of the podcasts to see the guest-selected photos and images.
CAST has their YouTube Channel which has exemplars. Understood.org has a video that represents one teacher’s experiences with UDL. There are many, many other examples out there. Initially, you’re looking for what makes sense to you and then you’re looking for something that helps you shift your designs. You’re looking for something that helps you transform.
Transformation is when you experience a marked change in your character or appearance and it’s typically for the better. When you transform your design through UDL, you are changing your language and you are changing the way your think. You are becoming fluent in lowering barriers, welcoming all learners, and building opportunities so all learners can become expert learners. I look forward to hearing about your transformation and how you build your fluency!