I am often asked by educators for tips and techniques to support Universal Design for Learning (UDL). My first piece of advice is to throw away any pre-notions you have on how your students learn best. You don’t! Plain and simple! No one knows better than themselves how they learn. So ask! Don’t be afraid to engage in those discussions with your students. Find out what works for them and then come up with a plan. The most common mistake I see educators making is they tend to favour how they, as individuals, learn best. They take their prior learning experiences and try to instill them in their students. The problem with this is they often do not work. Sure, you may reach a few students, as they learn in a similar manner as you, but do you reach all of your students? UDL is about allowing all students to learn in the best possible way, it is not ‘a one size fitsall’ lesson.
So what is UDL? Let’s start with understanding what Universal means. Students have their own strengths, interests and weakness. In order to reach all students we need to understand these aspects to ensure learning can occur. Once we have a strong grasp of our students’ needs, we can then look at Design. This is where we develop our goals, lessons, materials and assessments with our students strengths, interests and weaknesses in mind.
Many educators often plan their lesson first and then try to come up with strategies to meet different learning styles. To me this is backwards. It is kind of like trying to fit a square into a circle… it can’t be done. Students’ learning styles need to be a forethought not an after thought. We need to be thinking of these styles while designing. There are three things we need to keep in mind (Methods, Materials and Assessments) Here are a couple of tips to think about when designing a lesson:
- What do I want my students to learn/know/get out of the lesson/activity (curriculum expectation)?
- What barriers will stop my students from learning (reading, writing, speaking)?
- Does my lesson allow for engagement in a variety of ways? (offer options such as videos, hands-on activities, books, etc)
- Does my lesson allow for multiple ways of showing knowledge and understanding? (slideshow, written report, diagram, etc)
To me, UDL is essential for all students to maximize their learning and growth. The reason we become educators is to reach all students not just a select few. So the next time you are designing a lesson or activity, think of all your students and ensure it truly is a universal design.
image from woodlywonderworks