I thought I had a pretty good handle on universal design for learning (UDL), but after chatting with Katie Novak, Ed.D., I realize I didn’t understand the framework at all. Novak, author of UDL Now! A Teacher’s Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning in Today’s Classrooms, Second Edition and assistant superintendent of schools at the Groton-Dunstable (MA) Regional School District, helped me truly understand what UDL is and, perhaps more important, what it isn’t.
Q: What exactly is UDL, and why does it matter?
A: Our classrooms today are incredibly diverse. As we embrace equity and inclusion, we have to meet the needs of all students. To do this, we have to change the way we “do” school. When I was young, we were tracked, starting in first grade, into “high” or “low” reading groups, gifted, etc. Now we know that’s not good for anyone. Classes have a wide mix of strengths and weaknesses, and a one-size-fits-all curriculum does not meet most children’s needs.
In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) renewed our national focus on the least-restrictive environment. As more and more students were educated with their peers, we started to realize that having all students read the same book and take the same test doesn’t work. We began providing accommodations through differentiated instruction and teachers figured out what to change or modify to accommodate “disabled” learners. Although this allowed students to access knowledge, they weren’t empowered to become learners and make choices for themselves. Instead, the curriculum was compartmentalized and decisions were consistently made about students without their voice.…Read More