A Practical Reader in Universal Design for Learning
David H. Rose and Anne Meyer, editors
HGSE lecturer David Rose and Anne Meyer ask "what if" we knew that our current curriculum and assessment tools – rather than an individual learner's specific disability – are impediments to learning? How could we remove existing learning barriers that result in low achieving learners or dropouts? How could we ensure educational opportunities for all learners?
Rose and Meyer offer a research and practiced-based approach called Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a concept developed and defined in the 1990s by the Center for Applied Special Technology. They argue that by utilizing the principles of UDL, we can begin to address a long-standing educational challenge: expanding learning opportunities for all learners.
The reader may initially question the theory and practicality of Universal Design for Learning. As the reader will discover, the UDL approach is based on classical theory and practical solutions to address the diverse needs of learners. UDL soundly rejects the "one size fits all" approach as a way to "level the playing field" regarding classroom instruction, curriculum, and assessment. Instead, UDL proposes a flexible and multi-faceted approach to support equal access to learning. For example, with the technology of converting print text to digital format, students with reading problems are able to access curriculum material in multiple ways. The digital format allows the student to listen to the information as the computer reads it aloud, and to engage with the text through supportive aids, such as a pop-up dictionary. Thus, in responding to individual learning needs, all students in the class get an enhanced opportunity to understand the lesson content.
Unlike many approaches to improving learning, UDL recognizes that teachers are the key to imparting knowledge and facilitating learning. Classroom teachers' knowledge, expertise, and concerns were used to guide UDL research and development. While UDL utilizes technology to provide information in alternative and flexible formats, the approach also recognizes the importance of the classroom teacher's approach to the selection and design of curriculum and assessment.
Universal Design for Learning is based on extensive research around learner differences, educational technology's capacities, and best practices for teaching and assessment. In establishing UDL principles, Rose and Meyer expand on the classic work of Vygotsky and Luria, while taking advantage of recent progress in cognitive neuroscience. As interpreted by the authors, this research identifies three key elements in learning: recognition networks, or the "what" of learning; strategic networks, or the "how" of learning; and affective networks, or the "why" of learning. In order to minimize barriers and maximize learning through individual accommodation, UDL anticipates individual differences in an individual's "brain networks," and responds by providing multiple, flexible methods of presentation, expression and apprenticeship, and engagement.
UDL principles are designed to work with or without educational technology, but UDL does take full advantage of technology's flexibility to increase educational inclusiveness. Again, "one size fits all" technology is not the answer. UDL considers individualized or alternative technologies as a means to meet each learner's needs.
The book's title phrase, "a practical reader," is an accurate description of the contents. Eleven contributed chapters on the research and practice of Universal Design for Learning discuss applications, case studies, UDL principles, teacher perspectives, assessment, information literacy, reading strategies guided by UDL, and electronic textbooks to improve learning.
Chapters 1 through 3 present practical steps teachers can use everyday in the classroom, with and without technology, to improve learning; a fourth-grade teacher's comparison of a traditional vs. UDL lesson plan, finding a significant increase in student achievement and productivity with UDL; and an interview about assessment, technology requirements, and the applications of UDL to general education as well as special education.
Using case studies, chapters 4 and 5 take the reader into two classrooms utilizing UDL and accompanying technology to increase student reading achievement. A teacher's perspective is captured in chapter 6: she found that Universal Design Learning principles allowed her to tailor the curriculum to each student's learning style. Chapter 7 argues that with the diverse student population in classrooms today, standard forms of assessment do not allow each student's level of understanding and skill to be accurately measured.
An overview of the current educational environment for students with disabilities is presented in chapter 8. With the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, student access to general education curriculum remains a priority. Chapters 9 through 11 focus on issues of reading and literacy. The advantages of electronic text are viewed as a "revolutionary approach" to providing alternative format materials. Research based on the neurosciences continues to inform us about individual differences in reading comprehension. Further, information literacy continues to be an important "literacy task" in the classroom.
The research presented in this publication supports Universal Design for Learning as a practical framework to achieve the goal of giving all students equal access to learning and to demonstrating knowledge and skills. A Practical Reader in Universal Design for Learning is recommended reading for educators interested in improving access to learning opportunities for all students.
For additional information about the principles and application of Universal Design for Learning, consult the Center for Applied Special Technology Web site.
A practical reader in universal design for learning is available from the Harvard Education Press.