As TK-12 math coaches one of the most common questions we are asked is, “What am I supposed to do with my students who are struggling? How do I differentiate for them?” Unfortunately, the answer is always pretty unsatisfying to the teacher: Avoid needing to differentiate in the first place.
Now what does that mean? How does one do that?
Universal Design for Learning or UDL.
Let’s start with some definitions.
UDL + DI = Success for ALL!
What is the difference between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiated Instruction (DI)? How to they complement each other?
Both have the common goal of meeting the individual needs of students such that all students can access the same high-quality content. It is the role of the teacher to assess student progress during learning and then adjust as needed, provide multiple ways for students to develop and express concepts, and to emphasize critical thinking.
There are significant differences between UDL and DI, largely with respect to when and how student differences are addressed. In Differentiated Instruction the teacher modifies content and/or process in response to the student’s needs identified during the instruction. By contrast, UDL is a framework for the teacher to proactively customize/create the lesson for the broadest range of students from the beginning.
In other words, UDL proactively evaluates the classroom instruction and environment and provides access to the content on the front end; DI reactively evaluates individual students and retrofits and modifies on the back end.
This is a good time for a Venn diagram…
There are three principles of UDL. These three principles are in response to potential barriers that might get in the way of our students learning.
|Goal: To create purposeful and motivated learners.|
How: Stimulate interest and motivation for learning.
|Goal: To create resourceful and knowledgeable learners.|
How: Present information and content in different ways.
|Goal: To create strategic and goal-directed learners
How: Differentiate how students can express what they know
|Increase interest through individual choice and autonomy, relevance, and lowering affective filter|
Sustain effort and persistence with goals and objectives, appropriate challenge, collaboration and community, and mastery-oriented feedback
Options for self-regulation via growth mindset, personal coping skills, and metacognition
|Increase the variety in which the content is received by student: visual and auditory|
Options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
Strategies to increase comprehension by transforming accessible information into useable knowledge
|Provide options for physical action
Provide options for expression and communication using multiple-media, creation tools, and scaffolds
Provide options for executive functions: goal-setting, planning, graphic organizers, metacognition
But to implement these principles into your classroom, it does NOT require the teacher to learn a bunch of new techniques. Rather, UDL is a mindset in which the teacher intentionally creates variety and choice by inserting already familiar strategies into in the classroom.
Some classroom strategies of each of the three principles…
Sustaining effort and persistence
Rubric for self-monitoring
Language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
Word Wall – Cognitive content dictionary
Warm-up problem (Application problem)
Act out a problem
Use online tools
Expression and communication
Record on video
Let’s wrap up this brief overview of UDL with the punchline…
It’s important to realize that UDL is not some new idea that you have to add to your plate. Really it is just an intentional mindset in which we are always asking ourselves, “Are we providing students a wide variety of classroom strategies in each of the three areas (or principles) to ensure that all students get their needs met? Moreover, are students given choice in these areas, so that they can do some of the choosing?”
Take a few minutes to explore these links:
- How do you teach? A checklist
- Increasing student engagement with Eureka Math
- A nice overview (with lots of specifics) of Universal Design for Learning
- UDL-aligned strategies – big list of actual classroom strategies