Ask Me Why I "UDL"
Hopefully, when you read that title, you knew what I meant by "UDL". If not, you're in good hands! UDL is a vital aspect of our classrooms, and it's important for educators to have a firm grasp of as they move through their classrooms further into a space of "learning" rather than "lecture".
UDL stands for Universal Design for Learning. This might sound a bit vague and wordy, but when you break it down it's really simple. UDL is all about creating universal (something that can be used by or worked by anyone and everyone) tools and designs in our classrooms to enhance our students' learning.
UDL is specifically broken down into "Engagement", "Representation", and "Action and Expression".
This is an easier way of looking at UDL in your own classroom. Something that fits into UDL Guidelines will provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression.
UDL aims to make the classroom a welcoming and productive environment for all students who enter your classroom, and by hitting each of these target areas, you're able to ensure all learners feel welcomed, challenged, and supported.
Everyone is different. That's the issue with "learning styles", they're limiting. Even though they can cover most people fairly well, they're still excluding some people. Everyone is their own type of learner, and there's no generic term that can fit them well enough. Our students are individuals and need to be seen as such.
Some students coming into our classroom are differently abled than other students, but that doesn't mean they're disabled. It means they need to learn in a way another student doesn't, but it doesn't mean they're incapable of learning. UDL seeks to be that bridge between all students and their learning.
UDL means providing simple tools in the classroom, or incorporating simple design, that is useful to everyone in the class, and especially benefits people who need to learn in that way. It isn't a special circumstance for "special" students. It's providing an equitable playing field to all students.
UDL can come in so many forms, but here are some ideas of how you can make your classroom more UDL-focused.
This is such a simple tool that a lot of teachers tend to forget, but it can make a world of difference. If you're providing video content, try to find content that has captions. If you're creating video content, try to provide captions for it. If having students listen to audio content like a podcast, ensure that podcast has a transcription available.
This one is huge! Not all students excel in the five-paragraph essay, but all students can excel in writing. Allow students the chance to make a website as a book report, or write a script for a video, or submit a poetry collection. As long a student can defend their creation and how it can fit into the goal of the assignment, allow them that creative choice and the option for further expression.
Multiple Topic Choices
This is easily just as important to your students, and it actively aligns with the "Engagement" aspect of UDL. Students aren't engaged if they don't care about the topics. Allow students to come up with their own topics. Allow them to defend a unique position and encourage their creative thinking.
This, again, goes into the idea of why learning styles aren't enough for students, but learning styles are perfect for helping form your units. You want every lesson to at least have something visual, written, auditory, or kinesthetic. All of them if you can.
So, one of the easiest ways to add VARK systems to your lessons and make them more UDL is imagery. You can add this to absolutely everything. A very simple way to add imagery and make your content more visual is presenting lessons in presentation format, using Google Slides or Powerpoint. This makes the information more engaging and breaks it up. Want a hassle-free way to make presentations? Check out SlidesCarnival!
This is another easy way to include more VARK styles in your lessons is auditory additions. The easiest way to add audio to your lessons? Say things out loud! It takes no extra work for you to verbally state instructions, rather than just have them written.
Another easy way is providing students with access to audio books. Show them where they can get these resources, or talk to your district about providing copies to students.
You can even let students listen to Podcast content instead of just reading if the content is relevant to the same written content.
Kinesthetic Classroom Time
This is probably the hardest style to add into your lessons, but it's still doable to get in there and can be incredibly positive on your students!
An easy way is to either begin class time with movement or interrupt halfway through for some movement time! Students sit for so long - let them get some movement into their day, especially in our secondary students who don't get that movement time outside of P.E.
UDL can be such an easy idea to incorporate as teachers, as long as it's on our minds. It can make a world of difference to our kids, and it's a great teacher tool to keep reflecting on.
Do you already use UDL practices in your classroom? Maybe you're already a Universal Design expert, and I'd love to hear what resources you enjoy using!
Want to contribute to the conversation? Don't forget to scroll all the way down to comment!