Universal Design for Learning


A brief introduction to UDL to help all SKI Academy teachers learn new and exciting ways to reach all of their students.

How To Read This Book

You will have noticed that this is not your average on-line book. There are a lot of cool features for you to check out.


At the bottom of every page you will see Pedro and Hali. They are there to help guide you through the UDL process.  Pedro will ask you questions regarding your current teaching practice to get you thinking about the UDL method.  Hali will give you some ideas about things you might add to your classroom right now to help you reach more of your students. Just click on either of the coaches for their input related to the page you are on.  Go check them out at the bottom of this page.

TextHELP Text-to-Speech (TTS)

You may have already noticed that there is a TextHELP toolbar floating over your Book Builder story.  This is a "Text-to-Speech" tool (also known as TTS).  You can use TTS to have the computer read the page text aloud.  Just highlight the text you want it to read and then click on the play button. Go ahead and try it, it's really cool!

Response areas

Below the coaches you will see there is a responses section, here you can write down your answers to Pedro's questions or ideas you have for your classroom or anything else that you would like to remember.  Anything you type in here will be saved temporarily while you are using this book.  Make sure to copy the work to a word document each day before you leave the book so that you retain all that you have learned.


Any words that you see underlined and in a bright blue color that look like a hyperlink are exactly that!  I've linked some of the text to websites that I think will help.


You want to hear the best part? This book is created in a UDL manner (in case you couldn't already tell!).  So once you have read through this and explored all of the great features, you will be able to sign up for free and use the UDL Book Builder in your classroom with your curriculum! Isn't that great!


So let's get into the nitty gritty of Universal Design for Learning. 

Originally formulated by Ron Mace at North Carolina State University, universal design in architecture "creates structures that are conceived, designed, and constructed to accommodate the widest spectrum of users, including those with disabilities, without the need for subsequent adaptation or specialized design." http://fame.oln.org/udl/f2_17_160.html

Examples of universal design in architecture and product development include ramps, electrical doors, buses that can lower to curb level, writing assistance tools (triangle shaped plastic tools that you add to pencils to help students with grip), closed caption television and speakerphones.

Universal Design for Learning takes the principle's of universal design further and applies them to learning.  "“Universal” does not imply a single optimal solution for everyone. Instead, it is meant to underscore the need for multiple approaches to meet the needs of diverse learners." http://jmundorf.edublogs.org/udl/

UDL uses technology’s power and flexibility to make education more inclusive and effective for all.

There are three principles to Universal Design for Learning. 

Principle 1: Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Principle 2: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Principle 3: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Each of these three principles is based on brain research and deserves a closer look.

Principle 1: Provide Multiple Means of Representation

All students comprehend information that is presented to them in different ways. Some need to see it, some need to hear it, some need to touch it, some need to talk about it and some need to do all of the above and more before they fulling understand what is being asked of them.  Think of that student that asks you to repeat the task at hand long after you thought everyone was on task and you could sit down and start marking! He or she needs multiple means of representation!

To do this you need to offer:

Multiple means of perception - present information using all sensory modalities (or as many as possible) - present information so that it may be adjusted by the students to fit their needs (this font, size, volume, etc.)

Options for language and symbols - present information using a variety of symbols and pictures that may be universal (think about a thumbs up sign or a happy face) - use multiple graphs and graphics

Options for comprehension - activate background knowledge by discussing previous lessons or experiences - highlight critical features, key ideas and relationships - provide plenty of support for retention and transfer of ideas

Principle 2: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Students need to be able to show what they know in a variety of ways in order for us as teachers to really know what they have absorbed during our lessons.

To do this you need to offer:

Options for physical action

Options for expressive skills and fluency - use a variety of media for communication and provide scaffolding to help students with new or different media

Options for executive functions - guide effective goal setting (and teach why it is important) - support planning and strategy development - facilitate managing information and resources - enhance capacity for monitoring progress (a lot of these skills are assumed as students get older and/or are overlooked because there is so much "curriculum" to cover, but they need to be explicitly taught at all grade levels)

Principle 3: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

All learners retain more when they are motivated to learn (including teachers) and providing multiple means of engagement fives students a variety of ways to be connected and engaged in their learning.

In order to do this provide the following:

Options for recruiting interest - increase individual choice and anonymity - enhance relevance, value and authenticity - reduce threats and distractions (remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs if the basics aren't being met students will not be enlightened)

Options for sustaining effort and persistence - vary levels of challenge and support - foster collaboration and communication - increase mastery oriented feedback

Options for self regulation - guide personal goal setting and expectations - scaffold coping skills and strategies - develop self assessment and reflection

So how do we apply all of these principle's in our classroom (without adding more work to our already busy schedules)?


All of our laptops, projectors, Smart Board, and various website supports can be put to even better use so that we can reach even more of our students! Isn't that incredible!

If you look back at the principles of UDL it is obvious how technology needs to be a central part of creating inclusive classrooms.  And technology makes it so much easier for us as teachers! Laptops inherently have options for text font, size and colour, options for volume control, options for text to speech, options for various media for presentations and creativity by students, options for links to various websites to help students with goal setting, self evaluation and organization.  Check out this incredible site for more specific examples of how technology can help increase UDL everywhere in your classroom.


A question you may be asking yourself is why should we use UDL? Aren't we doing enough already?

Well the answer is that there is lots of research that tells us how the brain works and UDL is based on this research so it will only make our teaching even better!

There are three brain networks:

Recognition Network - this is the what of learning

Strategic Network - this is the how of learning

Affection Network - this is the why of learning

According to the research we need to be using all three of these networks in order to reach all of our learners with our teaching. 

Notice how each of these three areas align with the three principles I told you about earlier!

See I told you UDL was based on scientific research!

So we all have these three networks. Does that mean we all learn the same? Of course not, you know that better than anyone. All students learn differently.

"Although all brains share these general characteristics, individual brains differ substantially-a point that bears critical implications for teaching." http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/chapter2_2.cfm

There is a lot of fascinating brain research that explains why each of us has a recognition network, but why each of us recognizes pictures, for example, in different ways (your past experiences, you interest, your attention to details etc. all affect how you see something as simple as a picture).  If you would like to learn more about this click on the link above. For now however let us say that we all interpret information in different ways, we process that information in different ways and this of course means that we all learn differently.  

Like I said at the top, you know this better than anyone, each of your students learn things in slightly different ways. So we have to provide as many avenues for teaching and learning as possible so we can reach all of those different learners!

"Recognition represents one way of "knowing" the world: building factual knowledge and relating new information we encounter to what we already know. Traditional curricula focus primarily on recognition, at times overlooking the other kinds of "knowing" served by strategic and affective networks. And yet these networks are no less important to effective learning." http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/ideas/tes/chapter2_2.cfm

"Knowing how the three brain networks function suggests different approaches for teaching information (what), for teaching skills and strategies (how), and for teaching students to love learning (why)."

So now we know that there are three brain networks that affect how we learn, and that we all learn differently based on our cultural,ethnic, linguistic and academic backgrounds. 

What does this mean to our teaching?

It means that if we use the UDL principle's everyday in our teaching we will be able to engage and excite more of our students every day. 

It means that we need to use technology and all of the benefits it brings with it to help our students learn to the best of their ability.

It means that we need to support each other with new information and tools that we discover to ease the "overload" of information that is out there and to make incorporating UDL into our classrooms easier. 

It means that our students will be reaching the stars even sooner!

Some great tools to get you started can be found at the CAST website www.cast.org.

Of course this book was made in Book Builder which is a fantastic tool as you can see. You can create a book on anything you are working on in the curriculum and it has built in features that make it UDL friendly.  The other great thing is that it is free and on-line so you can work on it from anywhere and students (and parents) can access the books from anywhere so no more excuses that I forgot my homework!

Another fantastic tool found at the CAST website is the Lesson Builder.  You have to sign up separately, but again it is a great tool because it has UDL principles built right into it.  You can explore sample lesson plans that might fit into what you are doing or create your own. There is a UDL connections link beside each aspect of the lesson planner that is a constant reminder of UDL principles.  Maybe we could make a goal of all creating one lesson in here and then sharing them at our next staff meeting!

The tool I think we should all use right away is the self check.  It is a great way to see what you are already doing (and pat yourself on the back for being so great) and areas that you need to work on to implement UDL throughout your classroom.  Again this can be found on the CAST website under learning tools.

Thanks for reading and listening! I hope that you have learned a lot and I look forward to creating with you!