“Proactive versus Reactive”: How UDL is Helping Teachers Bring Learning to Every Student

How a concept called Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help teachers brings learning to every student.

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2021 • Collin Yoxall : patrick.yoxall@uta.edu

Among the great questions of the education field is “How best do we teach content?” With so many students of differing abilities in our schools, using a standard, one-size-fits-all approach is not good enough. Fortunately, as Dr. Bree Jimenez showed in her latest published work, a concept called Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help teachers reorient their instruction and testing methods to include all students in learning, regardless of ability level.

UDL’s origins come from the ideas of Universal Design in architecture. As an architecture philosophy, Universal Design encourages architects to design buildings with accessibility for every occupant and visitor in mind, including those with differing mental or physical abilities.

The same idea applies to UDL’s approach to learning. According to UDL advocacy group CAST, UDL is “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.

UDL is about being “proactive versus reactive,” according to Jimenez, an associate professor of special education in the College of Education. The guidelines set out by UDL encourage teachers to design instruction and testing of knowledge around what will include the greatest number of students, with students’ varying abilities in mind.

Instead of only lecturing about history and using a multiple-choice test to determine students’ retention of knowledge, a UDL-inspired history lesson would use a creative rap to teach students and allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of formats for example.

In her latest work for Inclusive Practices, Jimenez and her coauthors demonstrated that incorporating UDL practices in planning mathematics lessons benefited all students, “including students with extensive support needs.” The manuscript outlined how the practice of UDL also engaged educators’ ability to “to build contextualized, intentional, and flexible instruction that engages all learners.

According to Jimenez, UDL can be applied to almost any subject that a student may learn in school. UDL instruction and testing provides educators “more bang for your buck,” according to Jimenez because it allows students flexibility to learn and show their knowledge to teachers with less focus on providing something different for students with disability.

Individualized learning is, in Texas and many other states, a legal requirement of public instruction, but UDL encourages teachers to adopt a flexible and conscientious tact when designing lessons and testing. The result of successful UDL-inspired lessons and testing are better learning outcomes for students.

The outlook for UDL is bright according to Jimenez. “My hopes are that all classrooms utilize UDL as a framework for designing learning environments that promote access and inclusion for ALL learners!” she said. “When we plan with everyone in mind, we are reducing barriers and roadblocks so often put up for learners, before they ever enter the classroom.”