Remote Learning A-Z: U is for UDL

What Is It?

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework was created by research organization CAST. UDL helps educators approach their teaching to meet the needs of all learners. The idea is that while the classroom environment may be the same, the learning experience of each student within the classroom should not be.

There are three fundamental guidelines in UDL, and the key idea behind each of the three big umbrellas is designing for multiple means.

Multiple Means Of:

  • Engagement: capitalizing on student interests and motivations
  • Representation: presenting and providing content to promote higher-level thinking
  • Action & Expression: allowing students to demonstrate and apply learning actively

Why Do It?

Outcomes of UDL

UDL done well benefits everyone. In a UDL classroom:

  • All students are clear on the learning outcomes
  • Multiple options for learning are available to all (through intentional planning)
  • Students have access to supports and resources throughout their learning (not only at the beginning, or at test time)
  • Students build their own knowledge, internalize it, and are able apply learning and see its applications to the real world

You can read more at CAST, and with a post from Understood. Below are tips for applying those principles in the design of your remote classroom.

Engagement

Capitalize on Student Interests and Motivation

We know when students are connected to the content, they are more engaged learners. In UDL, engagement involves capturing student interests, clearly defining learning outcomes, fostering collaboration, and self-assessment. See our posts Teaching Responsively and How are You Doing? for more on connecting with students.

Remote Engagement Tools for Synchronous Instruction

There are absolutely times when you need to be face-to-face with your students. There are times when direct instruction is needed. Even so, be cautious your online instruction isn’t always active teacher lecture and passive student learning. Try some of these tools to spice up your direct instruction and keep engagement high:

  • Games: Games just make everything more fun! Reading a nonfiction text becomes more engaging when it’s a scavenger hunt. Learning multiplication facts is more fun as a card game. And a little healthy competition with the teacher is always a engaging! See our post on Games for more ideas.
  • Interactive Slide Presentations: Student visuals are key, and it isn’t just because you can’t always count on your sparkly personality to hold the room. Visuals provide students with something to connect with as they are learning. Ask questions, play games, involve students in the teaching. See our posts on Presentations and Student Visuals for more tips.
  • Access: This would make me cringe too. But when you do present in real time, think about recording your lessons. This allows kids to go back and watch anything confusing. Did you know Google has a closed-captioning feature? Turn this on help support the processing of new information.
Remote Engagement Tools for Asynchronous Instruction

One benefit of asynchronous learning is that it allows students to move at their own pace. This frees you up to support and challenge individual students throughout. Many parent and educators are reticent about this form of instruction because it feels like without a teacher, how can students be learning?

Intentional Planning

But the beauty of asynchronous learning is that the teacher is very much still there. They just aren’t using precious time to stare at kids working independently. The teacher has designed lessons allowing students to show what they know, is giving individual guidance, AND collecting assessment data to plan and refine future teaching.

  • Screencastify: This is an incredibly easy to use tool to create narrated demonstrations and videos to accompany your slide presentations. It works with Google Chrome and the free version is solid. (More on that in the V is for Video post coming soon!)
  • KWL Charts: One of our favorite standbys, the KWL Chart, can easily be done in remotely. See our KWL post for ideas and tips.
  • Google Slides: We’ve sung the praises and versatility of slides in many of our posts, but one tip we haven’t mentioned is the ability to add videos (yours or someone else’s). You can even share these slides in present mode to students, building in pauses to solicit responses or give a task along the way.
  • Hyperdocs: These online tools have the principles of UDL built in. With Hyperdocs, students move at their own pace. They also explore material designed specifically to move them through the learning process. See our post on Explorations for more tips.
  • EdPuzzle: This is a nifty tool for using video for self-paced learning that also allows teachers to track views, narrate, and add questions. (Again, you’ll have to wait for V for more!)
  • Wonderopolis: This amazing program builds on students’ natural curiosity and is an excellent lesson starter to get students asking questions and seeking answers.

Representation

Provide Content to Promote Higher-level Thinking

Now students are thoroughly hooked, but we still have to teach them something! Research tells us this involves a combination of varied content, opportunities for inquiry, and student choice to construct knowledge. (See our post on Rigor for more information.) The UDL framework emphasizes rich content and rigorous tasks that encourage choice, critical thinking and comprehension, as well as ensuring access for all.

Remote Representation:
  • Student Choice: Student Menus and Choice Boards have been around for a long time. We like to use the Google Gameboard (pictured above) for a visually appealing option.
  • Real World Connections: Many websites have been stepping up to provide students with a ways to connect with the real world. The Smithsonian provides amazing virtual tours, and apps like Google Expeditions even incorporate VR into the mix. Here’s a roundup of 25 Ideas from We Are Teachers.
  • Newsela: If you don’t know about Newsela, stop reading and go there now! (Just kidding, go there after!) Newsela has tons of student-friendly, current event articles and ability to vary by grade/Lexile level within an article. It’s amazing!
  • Listenwise: Similar idea as Newela, but Listenwise adds the component of auditory comprehension. They offer podcasts and narration, as well as listening assessments.
  • Infographics: There so much learning in teaching students to read infographics. There’s even more learning in students creating them! (Think about how much synthesis, data, and visual representation goes into making one.) Programs like Canva, Easelly, and Venngage can help.

Action & Expression

Demonstrate and Apply Learning Actively

Even in a remote classroom, we can still provide students with ways to apply learning and show what they know. In UDL, we want students to communicate their learning, apply it, and reflect on it strategically.

  • Multimedia Presentations: Presentations are a natural tool for demonstrating learning in this environment. Be careful: without explicit parameters, the learning can be lost. See our post for how to support both the presenter and the audience for maximum learning.
  • Kahoot! I love the quiz program Kahoot! for all ages. It’s engaging, easy to use, and students can respond using any device.
  • Video Response: While I do suspect we’re going to see a little video fatigue soon, in this environment video is another way to everyone to connect. Programs like Flipgrid and SeeSaw are really useful for this.
  • Peardeck: This program works with Google Slides and also allows for videos, narration, and creation of formative assessment.
  • Socrative: Secondary teachers love this program for quick assessments and feedback.

In a remote world, teacher time is an even greater commodity that it used to be. In the end, designing UDL lessons can free you up to support the needs of your individual students. Time well spent!

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