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Universal Design for Learning Applications in K-12 Classrooms: Modeling for Teacher Candidates

Author: Ling Zhang

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework is premised to guide instructional designs that support learning for individual learners with diverse needs. Because variability is inherent within and between learners, learning experiences designed according to UDL may look differently across contexts. Below are some research-based examples of UDL implementation and tools that support such implementation in various subject areas across K-12 educational settings. Let’s look at how these examples and tools can be introduced to your teacher candidates.

Elementary schools

To guide inquiry science learning in elementary classrooms, a group of researchers developed a digital science notebook aligned to UDL principles that provides support such as accessibility features, prompts, multimedia response options, and teacher feedback. In another study conducted in a large urban school district in the Northeast, computer science teachers applied UDL into practice in various ways. Some practices include offering choices for students to develop computational artifacts, encouraging collaboration among learners, presenting content in multiple modalities, and providing explicit feedback throughout computational lessons to support student self-assessment. For other science-related subjects, interested readers can refer to the practical guide book Universal Design for Learning Science: Reframing Elementary Instruction in Physical Science. This book provides specific guidance on planning challenging, inquiry-based experiences that align with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Middle schools

In an English language arts classroom, researchers and practitioners worked to cross-pollinate culturally sustaining pedagogy and UDL to support student learning in spoken word poetry. Students with disabilities in this study gained opportunities to create multimodal representations to express diverse cultural and identity affiliations. Here is another example of using UDL in math classes: teachers embedded multiple UDL checkpoints in schema-based instruction that supports students with extensive support needs in learning personal finance skills. Some UDL-aligned instructional components include providing explicit opportunities for students to generalize learning, activating students’ background knowledge, and applying the targeted skills to real-world applications.

High schools

When applied to a reading comprehension program, educators followed CAST’s four-step curriculum design process called Planning for All Learners (PAL), which was developed based on the UDL framework. General and special education teachers in the program collaborated to set standards-aligned goals and identify various evidence-based strategies, multimodal materials, and options in assessing student understanding that would lead to successful learning outcomes for all students. In another study applying UDL to chemistry instruction for students with and without learning disabilities, educators incorporated UDL checkpoints into a self-management strategy, which was proven effective in improving student performance. Some UDL-aligned instructional strategies applied in this study include using interactive videos that provide students background information, opportunities to guide practice problems and review content, and choices to work in small groups or at their own pace.

In our previous Research & Practice Brief “Preparing Preservice Teachers To Be UDL Designers”, we discussed the importance of pairing explicit modeling of UDL processes with reflection. To model UDL implementation, consider how you would use the above research-based strategies and tools as examples in your class. What other strategies could you use to explicitly model UDL implementation in a way that your teacher candidates can transfer effective implementation into their future classrooms?  Join the CIDDL Community to further the conversation.