Universal Design for Learning may help students meet Common

Key points:
Experts say Universal Design for Learning could help all students, not just students with
Personalized learning model would help reach different types of learners
Model shifts role of teacher to facilitator
Universal Design for Learning may help students meet Common Core, experts say
Two Universal Design for Learning experts touted the benefits of the personalized learning model in a
recent webinar hosted by SchoolsMovingUp. They said UDL may help students master expectations of
the Common Core State Standards and alleviate teachers from the burden of meeting diverse student
needs by placing more responsibility on students to understand how they learn.
UDL is often tied to its use among children with disabilities, but it's gaining widespread attention for
addressing variability in student learning across a wide spectrum of learners and contexts, explained
Kathleen McClaskey, founder and president of EdTech Associates.
She said the creators of UDL at the Center for Applied Special Technology have said the personalized
learning strategies utilizing digital tools are necessary for today's education environment because
individuals bring a variety of skills, needs, and interests to the classroom. Decades of neuroscience
research has revealed that "these differences are as varied and unique as our DNA or fingerprints,"
McClaskey added.
The personalized learning model puts the student at the center, and shifts the role of the teacher to
facilitator, explained Barbara Bray, creative learning strategist for Rethinking Learning. It also requires
that teachers fully understand how their students learn based on three "learning networks" upon which
UDL is based.
Indeed, the UDL model says that individuals typically learn and demonstrate competency utilizing three
primary networks in the brain:
1. Recognition networks, or the "what" of learning. This includes how students gather facts and categorize
what they see, hear, and read. Identifying letters, words, or an author's style are recognition tasks,
McClasky said.
2. Strategic networks, or the "how" of learning, includes planning and performing tasks such as how
students might organize and express their ideas. Writing an essay and solving a math problem are
considered strategic tasks.
3. Affective networks, or the" why" of learning. This includes how learners are engaged and remain
motivated. The ways in which they are challenged, excited, or interested are affective dimensions.
Once the teacher understands how students learn, another important aspect to the success of this model
is that the learner comprehends how he learns by "looking through the same UDL lens," said McClaskey.
In implementing this model in classroom settings, she said, students should eventually be able to
articulate what their strengths, weaknesses, and passions are; be able to identify their talents, interests,
and aptitudes; and understand their personal academic preferences, such as how they would like to
interact with instructional materials and express what they know.
Bray said if educators expect to use UDL to guide instruction based on the Common Core, it's important
to first understand how instruction should look within the context of UDL.
Teachers, she said, should expect to undertake the following steps: Understand how a learner learns
best; review the new benchmarks together with the student; identify the student's learning goals; redesign
the learning environment to meet that student's strengths and weaknesses; and choose appropriate
resources to help the student attain mastery.
In the process, the learner contributes to the design projects and activities, and the teacher and learner
act as "co-designers" to the learning environment based on the student's strengths. The teacher also
becomes the facilitator of learning, and the learner begins to learn at his own pace using technology to
collaborate, create, and publish to meet academic goals, she said.
Student learning profile
Bray provided an example of the UDL model in which a fictitious student named John is instructed to
undertake a lesson based on an English/language arts standard in the Common Core, but has difficulty
focusing on the text.
He's also unable to write or speak descriptively, gets frustrated when writing his ideas on paper, and
cannot sequence what's happening in a story. On the other hand, John is very comfortable working with
Based on this brief learner profile, which identifies his strengths, weaknesses, and aptitude, Bray said a
teacher can determine what types of tools, learning strategies, and learning environment would help John
be successful in this lesson.
Bray concluded by saying that John's learning strategy involves pairing him with a fictitious student
named David who knows how to focus on a topic.
In this scenario, John is responsible for typing in a Google Doc, while David guides their brainstorming
and comes up with questions about the story. Meanwhile, John is able to demonstrate his talent by
showing David how to use Google Docs.
This is an example, she said, of personalized learning, where a student is given specific objectives and
goals and the instruction is customized for him.
It's not based on the Carnegie unit, but rather is competency-based and harnesses the child's interests
and strengths, Bray said.
Special Ed Connection® related story:
Key areas of personalized learning to meet Common Core (June 20)
*For more stories and guidance, see the Assessment Roundup.
Emily Ann Brown covers competitiveness issues for LRP Publications.
June 20, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications