Understanding the #UDL Guidelines: Part 1 - The Three-Legged Stool

My friend Loui Lord Nelson describes a typical classroom environment as "an ecosystem with a constant interplay between students, the resources, the teacher, and expectations of the environment." Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a scientifically-based framework for addressing learner differences in this classroom ecosystem, with the goal of providing access to ALL learners by eliminating barriers.

In my travels as "UDL evangelist" (a term coined by my good friend Jon Mundorf), I have found that teachers have a difficult time understanding the difference between the UDL principles and the guidelines. In my next few posts, I want to help you gain a deeper understanding of these nine UDL guidelines that support each of the three principles of UDL.

Aren't Principles and Guidelines The Same? 

The answer to this question is no. There is a difference. To illustrate this point, I would like you to think of a three-legged stool.

The base or seat of each of the 3 stools represents the UDL principle, which helps break barriers in the classroom. There are three UDL principles:

1. Multiple Means of Representation

2. Multiple Means of Action / Expression

3. Multiple Means of Engagement

You can't just sit in a chair without legs. To support these principles or help them stand up, you need legs or the UDL Guidelines. For each UDL Principle, there are three legs (or Guidelines) to help support learning.

For example, let's say that you are teaching your students about a particular concept and want to represent it in different ways (aka Principle # 1: Multiple Means of Representation). You may begin by thinking about the potential learning barriers that exist in your classroom. Some of your students may have visual or auditory difficulties. Others may lack the background knowledge necessary to understand this concept. You have to teach your students this concept, so how would you do it? One way of teaching may not work.

To provide students with different ways of representing material (aka Principle # 1: Multiple Means of Representation), you may want to think about:

1. How students perceive information through their senses. You may need to think about how your blind students will "see" and your deaf students will "hear" a particular concept.

2. How you may need to define or use language, symbols or expressions to make meaning. Do you have to explain certain terms or can you create a cool acronym like PEMDAS to help you? 

3. How you will use or develop background knowledge for your students to comprehend a particular topic. Think about how some of your urban students may not have experiences with farm animals. 

These strategies represent the guidelines that support providing multiple means of representation. In our visual, they are the legs that support the chair. 

Want More Information? 

As I had mentioned earlier, I will continue this series throughout this week and next. I will be discussing actual high-tech and low-tech ways of using these guidelines to help students learn. Check out my next few posts.
I also want to invite you to a free webinar that I will be giving on Wednesday, August 14 at 4 pm EST.  I will define each of the 9 UDL guidelines, share how you can use them to support student learning, and discuss how they support the 3 principles of UDL.

For more information or to register, click here.

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