So you think you understand UDL?

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

How shifting to a UDL mindset enhances Common Core

When special and general ed teachers collaborate, everyone benefits

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards has been met with anxiety from administrators and educators at every level, because, like any major change, it can seem scary and overwhelming. General education teachers have had to learn and apply new instructional strategies to address the new standards and the vision that the standards embody, particularly universal design for learning. Special education teachers have been required for the first time to become pseudo subject-area experts to help struggling students and those with learning disabilities meet the standards.

This can be a stressful time for everyone. However, when educators are empowered to share their expertise with one another, and given the time and place they need to collaborate, they surpass expectations and their students soar.

At Sweetwater Union High School District, located near San Diego, we bring general and special education teachers together to meet the needs of students through a framework known as universal design for learning, which provides something of a blueprint for creating learning goals and materials that work for all learners. We accomplish this through carefully-designed cohorts, teacher-led “zones,” online resources support, and by fostering a collaborative culture.…Read More

10 steps for making your online courses accessible for all students

New report highlights 10-step plan to applying Universal Design for Learning online

universal-UDL-learningAccording to a new report, incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in online courses not only benefits students with disabilities, but can have significant benefits for all students, ultimately increasing retention and improving learning outcomes. UDL is tough enough in a face-to-face environment, but the real challenge might be how to implement the principles in an online world where students’ abilities and learning styles differ drastically.

The recent report, written by three professors at Montana State University, aims to help educators involved in online learning implement UDL for teaching both general and diverse populations, including students with disabilities.

The authors note that while, ideally, UDL allows students with disabilities to access courses without adaptation, it can also help to improve learning—and, therefore, retention—among all students.…Read More

Five ed-tech topics you’d like to see covered—and how we can help

Here are stories and resources that pertain to the five ed-tech topics readers say they’re most interested in.

You’ve spoken, and we’re listening.

Each year, we survey our readers to find out what ed-tech topics you’d like to learn more about. This year, you’ve told us you’d like more information about Common Core standards and testing, free websites and apps for education, special education and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and more.

In response to this year’s survey results, we’ve put together this handy guide to stories and resources we’ve published that pertain to the five ed-tech topics you’re most interested in reading about.…Read More

Universal Design for Learning: The next big thing in school reform?

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has seen an 11-percent increase in the number of students with disabilities passing standardized tests since implementing UDL two years ago.

As educators brace for new reforms, what will these changes look like? How will assessments and curriculum differ from previous versions? How can all students get the best education possible? The answer, some experts believe, lies partially in Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a framework that’s quickly gaining momentum across the U.S.

A new report indicates that many states and school districts have implemented UDL with support from Race to the Top monies or federal stimulus funds as they move forward with their education reform efforts. The report was discussed during a May 15 webinar held by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.

UDL, according to CAST, is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.…Read More

Six great special-education resources for parents and teachers

This list of six resources aims to help special-education stakeholders.

According to some education stakeholders, it’s not always easy finding information on special education, especially when it comes to technology tools. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of six special-education resources that provide vetted tools and technology that can help in many aspects of a child’s learning.

From video reviews of the best special-education apps to advice on professional development in a special-ed classroom, and from Universal Design for Learning (UDL) tools to an index of instructional technology for varying special needs, we hope these resources (listed in alphabetical order) give you a good starting point for your questions and interest.

1. AbilityHub Assistive Technology Solutions…Read More

Educators respond to national ed-tech plan

Stakeholders say the NETP has much potential.
Stakeholders say the NETP has much potential, although putting its recommendations into practice could prove challenging.

While many school stakeholders say there’s a lot to like in the new National Education Technology Plan (NETP), such as its emphasis on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and using open educational resources to improve instruction, others are concerned about what they see as a fundamental conflict between the plan’s call for innovation on the one hand and the Obama administration’s continued focus on testing and accountability on the other.

In their blueprint for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for higher standards, particularly in the core academic subjects of reading and math, and better use of data to make sure students are meeting these more rigorous standards.

The new NETP, released last month, refers to these broader administration goals—but it also calls on school leaders to reinvent teaching and learning, with a focus on personalizing instruction and infusing 21st-century skills into the curriculum.…Read More