Allan Lial

Henry Elementary School


Walden University

May 2010

In 1984 the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) began researching and developing ways to meet the needs of all learners.  Their educational solutions are based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  Basically, this means that lessons, from the outset, are designed to consider the needs of the greatest number of students, much like architecture includes access ramps as part of the design for a building’s entrance, thereby eliminating the costly, inconvenient and unattractive adaptations later. 

Our one-size-fits-all approach to education does not work.  UDL provides us with a blueprint for accommodating learner differences.  The three principles of UDL call for multiple means of representation, multiple means for action and expression, and multiple means of engagement.

Multiple means of representation means that information is presented in different sensory modalities so that all students have easier access.  For example, this presentation is an example of multiple means of representation.  It can be read, listened to, and manipulated with touch.  It offers vocabulary development as well as translation for Hispanic students learning English.  All of these provide better access for all learners.


Multiple means of action and expression allows students to navigate the learning environment in different ways.  Not all students have the necessary motor control to turn pages or click a mouse.  Similarly, some students can express themselves well in writing, but not in oral speech, and vice versa.  Properly designed curriculum includes options and assistive technologies so students can navigate and interact.  Examples include joysticks, adapted keyboards, and manipulatives, to name a few.  To express themselves students need to be introduced to a full range of media.  Students may prefer text, speech, drawing, building 3D models, video, multimedia , music, or art to express their learning.  For example, Voicethread is an audiovisual tool that allows students to express themselves through writing, verbally, and/or with drawing tools.

Multiple means of engagement implies that, what engages or motivates one student to learn may cause other students to become disengaged.  Choices and opportunities recruit student interest.  Students are more interested in topics that are seen as relevant and valuable to their learning goals.  To sustain their efforts some students need “reminders” of the goals and its value.  Others sustain their engagement through collaboration and communication.  Short term goals, rubrics, models, and prompts must also be varied to help students self-regulate and self-reinforce.  We must employ differentiated models, scaffolds, and feedback to meet these diverse needs.  A key factor in developing a student’s capacity for engagement is through self-assessment and reflection.  Recording devices, charts, and journals should help students monitor and understand their progress.

The UDL curriculum consists of goals, materials, methods, and assessment.  Overall, the goals are to provide challenges for all students.  Materials are flexible and support multiple representations of the content.  Methods are also flexible and provide learning experiences, challenges, and supports for all students.  Flexible assessments provide teachers with ongoing information to allow them to adjust their delivery systems to maximize learning.

Technology plays a central role in UDL.  The examples I have given are implemented with technology.  The rapidly expanding capabilities of technology allow us to design and develop a curriculum that will address varying student needs.  Digital media and assistive technology are critical implementation features of UDL.


In our school the potential impact of UDL on student learning is that we will no longer see our diverse student population as a problem.  Rather we will see that diversity as the norm and that our curriculum is too inflexible to support that diversity.  We can design our curriculum from the start with flexibility and high expectations rather than accommodate and modify it later with lowered expectations for achievement for some learners.  UDL will allow us to appropriately challenge all students while offering choice, support, and engaging learning experiences.

Research shows that the brain processes through three primary networks.  Recognition network is how we identify patterns in what we see, hear, or read.  For example, when we hear a doorbell ring, we recognize that pattern as a doorbell, even if the ringtone varies.  Strategic networks allow us to plan and perform tasks.  This network is how we engage and express our ideas.  The third network is our affective network.  This is how we become engaged and motivated to the task or activity.  UDL helps us customize our teaching for individual differences in these brain networks.

Consider this presentation I created using UDL Book Builder.  This tool can help our students improve their reading and writing skills while offering experience using 21st century technology.  Not only that, but the completed books can become part of our school's library for all students to read and enjoy. 

Another valuable tool provided by CAST is a UDL Class Profile Maker.  What this allows teachers to do is identify their students’ strengths, needs, and interests according to the three brain networks.  This information is then merged into a class profile.  The teacher can then analyze curriculum materials or methods often used and identify barriers and missed opportunities to consider in future lessons.

The UDL Goal Setter helps teachers set clear, focused learning goals that work for all learners.  One just enters the benchmark or standard, determines the main goal, and identifies instructional components and possible scaffolds. 

In conclusion, I firmly believe that it is imperative that we implement the principles of Universal Design for Learning in our school.  We’ve been tasked to find a focus for the upcoming school year to exit out of the Low Performing School scenario, and this is the direction I think we should go.