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Chapter 4: What is Universal Design for Learning?

The Framework for UDL: Three Principles

Because all three brain networks are involved in learning, teachers cannot literally "teach to" students' recognition, strategic, and affective networks as separate entities. However, thinking about these networks individually helps us remember that learning is multifaceted and that barriers in the curriculum can arise in a number of places. Broadly speaking, we teach our students to

  • Recognize essential cues and patterns.
  • Master skillful strategies for action.
  • Engage with learning.

A successful learning environment supports and challenges students in each of these arenas while minimizing barriers. And because no two students show the same patterns of strength, weakness, and preference within these domains, minimizing barriers requires highly flexible teaching strategies and materials. Accordingly, the UDL framework consists of three overarching operative principles, each formed to minimize barriers and maximize learning through flexibility. Each of the principles, listed in Figure 4.3, advocates a particular teaching approach for supporting learner differences in recognition, strategy, or affect.

- Figure 4.3 -
Principles of the UDL Framework

Principle 1:

To support recognition learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of presentation

Principle 2:

To support strategic learning, provide multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship.

Principle 3:

To support affective learning, provide multiple, flexible options for engagement.

Background Knowledge Background Knowledge: Additional material about Universal Design or Learning.

The three UDL principles share one common recommendation: to provide students with a wider variety of options. . To accommodate a broad spectrum of learners, universally designed curricula require a range of options for accessing, using, and engaging with learning materials. Like universal design in architecture, with its stairs, ramps, and elevators, these alternatives reduce barriers for individuals with disabilities but also enhance opportunities for every student.

Consider an example. Suppose Mr. Costa is teaching a civics unit on national elections and wants to convey the fundamental importance of voter participation. He chooses to use a chart—an ideal means of representation for some kinds of information and for some students, but a medium that presents learning barriers for other students. Obviously, a student who is blind cannot learn from a visual chart, nor can students who have difficulty discerning colors, interpreting keys and symbols, or deciphering the significance of spatial relationships between elements. For these students, charts actually present a barrier.

What could Mr. Costa do about that barrier? In this case, both his teaching goal and the barriers in the medium he has chosen (images) relate to recognition, the learning networks addressed by UDL Principle 1. Principle 1 recommends that the teacher provide multiple representations of the same information. A verbal description of the chart, a tactile graphic representation, or an e-text version read by the computer would all make the key concepts accessible to students who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. The verbal description would have the additional advantage of helping other students in the class by providing complementary information not contained within the chart and offering a different context and emphasis. This option would also help students who have difficulty interpreting graphically displayed data. These are just a few of the ways that providing two representations of the data instead of one allows Mr. Costa to create a richer cognitive learning environment for all his students.

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