In today’s classroom, the mix of students is more diverse than ever. A “one-size fits all” approach to education simply doesn’t work. Teachers are challenged to teach students with many different learning styles, strengths, needs, challenges, and interests. Given this challenge, an approach to teaching known as “Universal Design for Learning” is becoming more common in Iowa classrooms. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) increases the likelihood of all students succeeding while maintaining high educational standards. Teachers using the UDL approach consider how barriers to learning might be reduced by increasing classroom supports. The barriers and supports are taken into account in the planning of the lessons rather than after material has been presented. A UDL approach begins with a clearly defined goal and considers a variety of materials, methods, and ways of testing needed for students to reach the goal.Teachers present materials in multiple ways, allow a variety of opportunities for students to show what they have learned, and provide different ways to involve them in the learning process.
Educational technology is playing a huge role in the success of this varied approach to learning. Technology is flexible and can be used by teachers to give students various ways of gaining the knowledge, expressing what they have learned and getting involved. Area Education Agency 267 staff members are trained in the UDL approach and also have knowledge of educational technology. Staff members from AEA 267 are heavily involved in supporting classroom teachers in this method.
Whether through the use of technology or not, using UDL principles recognizes that the supports that are essential for one student may indeed benefit other learners at the same time. For example a student with a visual-impairment may require digital text on a computer or device so it can be enlarged and/or read aloud, but this same digital text might benefit students who struggle with reading, students with attention deficit, students learning English, or students who want to proofread a paper they have written. In this case, digital text used as a means of representation or expression allows for all of the above students to benefit, although the initial intention may have been for a single student.
Area Education Agency 267 Assistive Technology Team and other support staff members have received initial UDL training from the Center for Applied Special Technologies. This training will assist the AEA in supporting schools in applying the UDL principles and guidelines. For more information regarding UDL visit www.cast.org.