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Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Implementation
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I had the great pleasure of writing a foreword for the first edition of Design and Deliver by Loui Lord Nelson, a colleague, friend, and mentor for decades. In that original foreword, I included an analogy comparing her book to Seamus Heaney’s then-new translation of Beowulf. My point in doing so was to emphasize that Design and Deliver was a rigorous and essential translation of the ideas and practices of universal design for learning or UDL—a framework that had been developed by my colleagues at CAST—but, like Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, her thoughtful and inspiring translation brought new meaning to the original and opened it up and enriched it for a much larger audience. Her first edition was not only accurate and authentic, it was also well-imagined and well-told.

This new edition has all of that quality again. But it is also much more than that. In the intervening years since the first edition, Loui Lord Nelson has taught, developed, consulted, collaborated, and listened to teachers, students, principals, administrators, school systems, and national and international educational organizations who have sought to implement UDL in practice. From all of that experience she has learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. Most important, she has reflected on what works and what doesn’t directly with the teachers and students themselves. Those reflections, and the voices of the teachers themselves, have infused every chapter of this new edition.

But this edition is much more than an update, even a highly reflective one. Much more than the first, it is not primarily about UDL but rather an embodiment of it. Where the first edition was strong in its exposition of the principles of UDL, this one is much stronger in explicitly incorporating and modeling them. It feels more like UDL, and it feels more transformational than merely translational.

Let me highlight that feel of UDL with a few examples that illustrate just one of the principles: multiple means of engagement. As a first example, the voice has changed throughout. It is now much more personal and conversational, recruiting and promoting a more active and mutual exchange between teacher and teacher. For another, the main text is complemented by many supplemental prompts and supports that are designed to initiate and sustain reflective engagement rather than passive reading. There are prompts to “Ponder This,” suggestions for trying out activities and thought experiments, links to further background or extensions in multiple media, queries to guide reflection and next steps, and so forth.

Finally, the book also embodies one of the key aspects of designing for engagement: providing meaningful choice to the learner. The new addition is loaded with choices, a clear expression of the UDL guidelines. On the one hand, there are many choices in how to interact with the text that are embedded alongside the entire pathway through the text. And they are clearly open to individual preferences and abilities: no reader will choose them all, and some options will be much more appealing to some readers than others. At a much higher level, but perhaps less obvious, is the way that the overall structure of the book is designed to encourage and support individual choice: choice among different points of entry, among different sequences or pathways toward mastery, among different options for increasing the depth or breadth of exploration of resources, and so forth. All of these help to both demonstrate and embody the UDL approach to engagement.

With all this transformation in mind, I can’t help “updating” my analogy to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf in the first edition. Two years ago, a brilliant new translation of another classic—Homer’s Odyssey—was published by Emily Wilson and celebrated widely. It too was transformative, breathing new life and meaning into an ancient epic that has been translated about 60 times already. Some have noted that the author is a woman, the first among all those others, and that there may be something significant about that perspective that makes her work so transformative, so illuminating and original. That is a good expression of what UDL is intended to foster—and it is a good reminder of why this new edition is so fresh and important.

I would recommend that you read both Emily Wilson’s Odyssey and Loui Lord Nelson’s new edition of Design and Deliver. I would start with the latter if time is short and your students are waiting.

David H. Rose, Ed.D.
Cofounder and Chief Education Officer, Emeritus