How Universal Design for Learning resets school systems

UDL offers solutions for behavior, hunger and other issues

Universal Design for Learning applies to more than just academics, says James Basham, founder of the UDL Implementation & Research Network.

Educators can apply the approach to any problem that’s interfering with instruction. For example, in a district that was too affluent to qualify for a federal breakfast program, teachers were quietly spending their own money to bring in snack bars and other food for chronically hungry students, Basham says.

“This was a barrier that was systemic, and not something teachers should have had to do on their own,” he says. “When we implement UDL, we look at whole system transformation. We look at how we reduce barriers in the classroom, the school and the community.”

The schools was able to set up a breakfast program with help from the community.

Educators who have implemented UDL have also seen reductions in behavioral problems because students have gained a sense of purpose in what they’re learning and have grown invested in education. It’s also important for educators to consider how to give parents—who might have given up on school because it had failed their families—a belief that school actually works, says Basham.

Kathleen McClaskey, co-author with Barbara Bray of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning, says agency is one of the most important skills UDL teaches students.

“If you can’t support your own learning, you don’t have a lot of choices in life,” McClaskey says. “We want kids to say, ‘I want to learn how to do this’ or ‘I struggle with this.’”

A simple shift in language can help teachers make this transition. “When the teacher says to a child, ‘You need to learn this,’ the word ‘you’ removes ownership from the child,” she says. “You want kids to say ‘I’ so they can understand who they are and support their own challenges and enhance their own strengths.”

Read the full story: Universal Design for Learning removes all barriers

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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