Incorporating Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning emphasizes three main principles that curriculum developers need to consider in order “to provide equitable opportunities to reach high standards across variable students in our schools” (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014, p.4). They include providing multiple means of engagement, expression, and representation and action  in which curriculum designers tap into the affective, recognition and strategic brain networks. The framework and each guiding principle address the why, what and how of learning and take into account the variability of learners and barriers to their success (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014).

In order to address the variability in the recognition networks of learners, curriculum designers must design in such ways as to meet the variations in the way learners process, understand and make meaning from information. By providing multiple means of representation, teachers can ensure that students are able access the information, or the “what” of a unit. In my unit, this can be done by providing options for comprehension. One way to do this is by helping students activate prior or background knowledge. While some students may come to the classroom with a wealth of knowledge, it is often unequally distributed among learners. Many children come to the classroom with no background knowledge. In these cases, teachers must provide it. Some may come with the knowledge, but aren’t sure it is relevant or how to access it. In these situations, we must provide students with strategies and skills to make these connections. One way that I can do this in my unit is through the use of reading journals, which ask students to reflect on their reading and what they know and don’t know in order to think about their learning in different ways. Reading journals allow students to record thoughts, feelings, insights, and questions as they read texts, essentially allowing them to grapple with their knowledge to create new meaning through connections to prior knowledge. This is an extremely helpful strategy, as well, when students are thinking about big ideas that are controversial or don’t simply have a right or wrong answer (Activating prior knowledge, 2015).

Additionally, teachers must provide multiple means of action and expression in order to take into account the variability in learners by turning our attention to the strategic network of the brain. In this network, the “how” of learning is emphasized, to create strategic, goal-directed learners through the provision of options for executive functions, expression, communication, and physical action (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014). My class and units are heavily discussion based, and therefore, it is important that I provide multiple ways for my students to effectively express and communicate their learning in a way that accounts for their various modalities and/or disabilities.  There are several ways I already do this in my classroom and will continue to offer in this unit. First, students always have access to Google Documents for writing assignments, which provides spelling and grammar assistance. With the addition of a free app, Read and Write for Google, students have access to text to speech and speech to text. Throughout a unit, we also have discussions both  verbally and through the use of TodaysMeet, an online platform for discussion much like Twitter. Students also have the ability to demonstrate understanding of stories using storyboards, visuals, book covers, video, or any other medium that suits their need. These tools provide the flexibility learners need to communicate their learning and understanding in a clear and succinct manner (Universal design for learning guidelines 2.0, 2014).

In order to stimulate the affective network, curriculum developers must make clear the “why” of learning by developing student interest, purpose and motivation to learn. Additionally, curriculum must be built in such a way that learners have opportunities for self-regulation throughout the learning process, by providing for variability and eliminating barriers to learning (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014). This is done by providing multiple means of engagement. In my particular unit plan, one way this can be done is by providing options for recruiting interest through the creation of different opportunities and structured student choice in their learning. This can be done by optimizing the relevance, value and authenticity of tasks. In my daily learning activities, I include situations that ask students to consider real world problems and propose solutions in new and novel ways (Universal design for learning guidelines 2.0, 2014). One way I can ensure relevance, value and authenticity is through project based learning, which has been shown to “result in deeper learning and engaged, self-directed learners” (Project based learning, 2015). In project based learning, teachers define a project ahead of time, but requires students to apply their learning to real world situations, contexts, and demands that are complex and even messy, with no clear answer. (Project based learning, 2015; Wiggins & McTighe, 2011). While the problem would be teacher defined, the resulting efforts of students would require them to use their imaginations and creativity to solve the complex problem presented. Additionally, project based learning provides active, authentic and engaging tasks, offering students choice and voice in showing their understanding.


Activating prior knowledge. (2015). Teacher Vision. Retrieved from

Meyer, A. Rose, D.H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.

Project-based learning. (2015). Edutopia. Retrieved from

Universal design for learning guidelines 2.0. (2014). National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from

Wiggins, G & McTighe, J. (2011). The understanding by design guide to creating high quality units: Forms and FAQs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


4 thoughts on “Incorporating Universal Design for Learning

  1. Teresa,

    I love your use of Google Docs to allow your students to show their own means of expression. As well, the use of their phones to reach out further. Providing the Google app that allows them to talk to text gives your students a great way to communicate their ideas and/or writing disabilities or not! I think it is so awesome how you have so many choices for your students to do their work. The TodaysMeet platform sounds really interesting too. I haven’t heard of it before so I will definitely have to look into. I am not sure if I could use it with my second graders or intervention groups, but I think having the knowledge of the websites is really great for future use. Creating discussion that isn’t in one form allows students to sometimes speak more freely and it allows the students that don’t feel comfortable speaking allowed in class to say their input in another outlet.


  2. I use journals in my classroom too! While I do enjoy reading them and get a deeper understanding of what students do/don’t understand, I find myself struggling with feedback. In other words, reading journal for 100+ students is very time consuming and I don’t feel like I give immediate or timely feedback to students especially those that I see are struggling. Do you have this problem?


  3. Fabulous post Teresa. You’ve thought deeply through the 3 UDL neural networks as you consider appropriate guidelines that support your instructional unit. Your consideration of technology tools in several of these areas is impressive and indicates to me that you have already realized the flexibility technology can offer in our instructional designs. I love the fact that you’ve thought through a range of tools that consider learner variability that may be present based on the developmental level, context or preference of the learner. Nicely done!!


  4. Teresa,

    I loved your incorporation of PBL with UDL. I have always been a fan of the guiding question approach to PBL that is essentially presented by the teacher, but manipulated by the student. It reminds me of the multiple ways of expression for students as they use their resources to demonstrate their own comprehension of the task and/or content.

    The use of self-directed and self-regulated learning seems to be a non-negotiable in your classroom. I admire that. Especially since you yourself stated that with most discussions in your classroom there is no right or wrong response, just personal convictions that can be supported with facts. I think you have incorporated Guideline 7.3: Classroom Climate, where students feel safe and comfortable to take risks regardless of how others will view them.



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