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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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UDL in 15 Minutes with Timmary Leary

Helping Educators Implement UDL

This episode with Timmary Leary emphasizes how Universal Design for Learning is not about making things easier, it’s about making things accessible. Those are two very different things. Easier means there is a lowered level of rigor. Accessible means maintaining rigor (and even promoting higher levels of rigor) while designing an environment so all learners can participate in that level of rigor.

When a lesson is rigorous, it is challenging, but that same lesson is designed to help learners meet the goal. One great way to take that first step is to look at Bloom’s Taxonomy. If you’re only expecting your students to remember, understand, and apply information, that is a low level of rigor. You want them to reach levels of analyzing, evaluating and creating.

The first step is to create the goal for your lesson. This list of associated verbs for each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy can help you write lesson goals that focus on that higher level learning.

The goal needs to be based on a standard or standards. Let’s say that your district has mapped out the standards and wants you to address this standard during the first quarter: Third graders need to be able to “Identify and describe the following: cube, sphere, prism, pyramid, cone, and cylinder.”

When you read it, you realize that you could have students simply match the word of the object to the object and then talk to a partner about it. Sounds straightforward and easy lesson. But then you stop and ask yourself, “Am I asking my learners to analyze, evaluate, or create during this lesson?” You know the answer, so you sit down with the verbs list. You see that compare and contrast are both in the analyze list. You realize that the lesson can revolve around these verbs. You write the following SMART goal: By the end of this two-day unit, students will use provided tools and resources to demonstrate their ability to correctly compare and contrast geometric shapes with 90% accuracy. With that goal, you’ve set yourself up to offer options when it comes to tools and resources, but you also know you need to help every student reach 90% accuracy when they are evaluated. What’s nice is that you didn’t limit yourself to one kind of evaluation, either.

Now, you pull out the UDL Guidelines. You begin pulling from each of the principles. You recruit interest by asking students to help you identify things they know in their own lives that look like the shapes. You help sustain their effort and persistence by giving them clear goals for each part of the unit (you break down the process into smaller steps that have clear actions). You help them self-regulate by setting them up with their own self-assessment graph for both days. You know that they need different ways to interact with the shapes (perception), so they have access to three dimensional representations, two dimensional representations, and they can draw and doodle using the shapes. They need to be familiar with the names of the shapes, so you build in interactive vocabulary activities that incorporate the primary language of your English learners, lots of opportunities for them to practice saying the words and hearing themselves say those words (you use a recording and play feature on the classroom computer), and they can make up songs, rhymes, or raps to help them remember the terms. They return to those familiar objects and begin to brainstorm other objects in the school or community that are also those shapes (Comprehension).

Along the way, they practice comparing the shapes and talking about, writing about, drawing, and even physically showing (with their bodies) how the shapes are the same and different (expression and communication). Throughout the unit, the students use their personal file folders to check off the activities they have participated in and to rank them based on whether the activity helped them learn the skill. They also keep track of their outcomes on the formative assessments. These folders are part of their overall portfolio that they reference when they lead their own parent teacher conference.

This lesson is accessible because of the variety of options. Students who struggle more with vocabulary can choose activities that meet their needs whereas students who are challenged with shape identification can choose the activities that help them. The individual folders guide them toward self-accountability and recognizing their own ups and downs with learning.

I’m sure you can see how this lesson is much more engaging and is much more student focused than the lesson that simply had them match the word to the object and talk to their partner. Your students will recall this lesson and will be much more likely to apply what they learned. Finally, each part of the unit is designed to support each student’s journey toward becoming and expert learner and meeting the SMART goal which is what we want for all learners.