Success for All Learners
Part I: From Dream to Reality using Universal Design for Learning
By Carol Seibert
This four-part series discussing Universal Design for Learning first appeared in the Don Johnston Incorporated LeaderLink
eNewsletter, November 2006 through February, 2007.
I have a dream... a dream I share with every other educator I've ever met. It's the dream of providing the coaching,
mentoring, tools, strategy and motivation that EVERY student needs in order to become a successful, life-long learner.
Our commitment to making all learners successful is evident in the abundance of learning approaches and initiatives —
multiple intelligences, learning styles, brain-based learning, differentiated instruction, integrated curriculum, curriculum-
based measurement, response to intervention (RTI), and more — that our schools are working hard to implement. Yet if
we're honest, many of us have to admit that no matter how hard we try, the daily realities of making these initiatives work in
our real-world classrooms is an ongoing challenge. For teachers and administrators everywhere, finding an effective
framework for applying these initiatives successfully in the context of our busy, diverse classrooms is tantamount to finding
the quot;holy grail.quot;
One of the most exciting and promising frameworks that has been created to help us achieve our dream is Universal Design
for Learning, or UDL. The beauty of UDL is that it's not just another initiative to add on to the ever-increasing list. This
framework brings our learning initiatives together and provides strategies for successfully integrating them into our day-to-
What is the focus of Universal Design for Learning?
To remove barriers to learning
To provide supports where they are needed
To engage every student in a successful learning experience
How does the UDL framework help us to do these things?
By providing tools for building flexibility into the educational curriculum
By supporting improved access to information and—more importantly—to learning itself
By providing multiple approaches to learning that will result in success for diverse learners
What tools and strategies does the UDL framework provide to help us accomplish these
Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know
Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation
Copyright 2007 Don Johnston Incorporated 1
Part II: Providing Multiple Means of Representation
In Part I, we began to explore an exciting and promising framework that has been created to help educators meet the
learning needs of the diverse learners in today’s classrooms—Universal Design for Learning, or UDL. Many of you thought to
yourselves, quot;Great framework, but how the heck can I make this work in MY classroom?quot;
Principle #1: Provide multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of
acquiring information and knowledge.
Multiple Modalities Means More Learning for EVERYONE!
Research is clear—teaching in multiple modalities increases access for struggling learners and improves learning generally for
ALL learners. Increase the level of success for every one of your diverse learners by providing choice and flexibility in the
ways you present information using multiple formats and media to:
Highlight critical features (e.g., Use different colors of highlighters to identify the title, headings, main ideas and
supporting details in an expository text)
Present multiple examples and non-examples of a concept (e.g., Some examples of conflict are arguments and war.
Non-examples of conflict include cooperating to solve a problem and working together to help someone.)
Support learners’ background knowledge
Yes, you CAN Provide Differentiated Instruction
When you offer learners a choice of materials from a combination of traditional text, presentation and digital media, you can
realistically provide differentiated instruction within the context of your busy, diverse classrooms. Use multiple formats and
media like these to support learner differences:
Textbooks and Trade Books
Newspapers and Magazines
Considerate, age-appropriate texts (like Start-to-Finish® books)
Web content on any subject at a variety of difficulty levels
Audio books (free, via subscription or CD-based such as Start-to-Finish books)
Software programs that translate printed text into speech (like SOLO®, Read:OutLoud, Aspire Reader, WYNN,
TestTalker) used with text files available through the Internet and/or directly through publishers (NIMAS)
Graphic organizers—both print-based and electronic programs (like SOLO, Read:OutLoud, Draft:Builder®,
Inspiration, Kidspiration, Visual Thesaurus).
Considerate, age-appropriate educational videos intended for use as learning quot;anchorsquot; (like Incite!) and/or full-
length videos or video clips (available free or by subscription)
Graphics libraries that include photographs, illustrations and animations (available free or by subscription via the
Internet, on CD)
Multimedia—Text, sound, graphics, animation and video software (like PowerPoint, HyperStudio, Kid Pix)
Try Digital Media
Digital media is tailor-made to present information in multiple modes and with multiple levels of support to challenge as well
as scaffold learners across a wide range of needs and abilities. And digital resources can be saved, shared and used from
class-to-class, teacher-to-teacher and year-to-year, expanding the options you have available to individualize learning in your
classroom. This will save you time while assuring that more learners are successfully included in meaningful learning.
Copyright 2007 Don Johnston Incorporated 2
Part III: Providing Multiple Means of Expression
Any teacher or parent can tell you that no two children learn in the same way or at the same time. This diversity among
people is what makes our world so interesting, our relationships so unique, and teaching so challenging!
In Part III, we are going to offer some ideas about integrating the second Principle of UDL into your curriculum.
Principle #2: Provide multiple means of expression to give learners alternatives
for practicing, applying and demonstrating what they know.
Leverage Learner Strengths…
Diverse learners benefit from choice and flexibility in accessing information/knowledge (principle #1). So too, individual
learners demonstrate their knowledge, thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills in uniquely-individual ways. They will
experience greater learning in an environment of choice and flexibility when practicing, applying and demonstrating their
skills and knowledge.
As the teacher, you can create this environment by using multiple formats and media (print, electronic, audio, video,
multimedia, internet, computer software, etc.)
Learners can practice and apply new skills and knowledge with appropriate supports.
Computer software supports expressive tasks, allowing learners to brainstorm and organize their thoughts; plan a
project/written report; overcome mechanical barriers to writing such as spelling and word selection; perform
mathematical functions; use charts/graphs/graphics to support their thinking; edit and revise using text-to-speech
support, and much more.
A variety of grouping, teaming, mentoring and peer tutoring opportunities leverage and build individual learner skills.
Learners can benefit from ongoing, timely and relevant feedback to stay on track as they practice, apply and
demonstrate their skills and knowledge in a variety of contexts and to a variety of audiences. Learners use modes of
expression that challenge, engage and motivate them, acknowledging their diverse interests, personalities and ability
FORMAT MEANS OF EXPRESSION EXAMPLES
TEXT Write a(n)
Printed/Handwritten caption for a picture
Electronic Support paragraph or essay
Alpha Smart/Dana/Neo report
Franklin Electronic Dictionary song
Computer Software: article
SOLO (Read:OutLoud, Draft:Builder, poem
Word Prediction Support (Co:Writer) survey
Web-based dictionary and thesaurus letter
Spreadsheet journal entry
Graphic Organizer poster
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FORMAT MEANS OF EXPRESSION EXAMPLES
Presentation Live presentation such as a(n)
radio news report
Digital (MP3, .snd files, etc.)
Recorded presentations such as a(n)
public service announcement
radio show (circa 1940’s radio)
Still Images Still images without sound such as a(n)
Moving Images (with/without sound) chart/diagram/table
Moving images with/without sound
Interactive Create/participate in simulations
Live (internet, computer-based or off-
Computer computer activities)
Internet Peer mentoring
Collections/Displays Create an exhibit
Live Plan and carry out a service project
Digital Create and display a collection
Research and display a timeline/family
Variety is the Spice of Life… and Learning!
I have always been extremely jealous of people who can draw. My expressive strength always seems to center around words—
both written and spoken—but I would dearly LOVE to illustrate my ideas with visual images. Drawing my own pictures would
be the coolest thing ever, but the advent of computer technology has come to my rescue. I can find and incorporate clip art,
illustrations, photos (even great digital photos I take myself!), simple animations, sound and even video into my writing and
presentations. This has greatly expanded my ability to effectively express my thoughts and ideas in ways that will engage a
more diverse audience.
When you offer your learners a variety of ways to practice, apply and demonstrate skill and knowledge using a
combination of traditional text, interactive and digital media, you open whole new worlds of learning, expression and
communication. You can use multiple formats and media to motivate diverse learners and support your learners’ diverse
Copyright 2007 Don Johnston Incorporated 4
Part IV: Providing Multiple Means of Engagement
If you could listen in on the thoughts and conversations of diverse learners in your classroom, you might hear the following:
“Why do I have to learn this? I can’t imagine WHEN I would ever need to know about
“I can’t understand that textbook no matter HOW hard I try, so why bother?”
“Oh great… another boring video. TIme for a nap.”
“With everyone talking and moving around in this classroom, I can’t concentrate. I’ll NEVER
finish my part of this presentation!”
“This is so cool! I’ll check it out on the Internet later.”
Which learner do you think will experience the greatest learning success?
Engaged Learners are Effective Learners
The importance of student engagement and motivation in successful learning is well documented. In their book Learning to
Read in the Computer Age (1998), Anne Meyer and David Rose cite several studies to emphasize the importance of
engagement and intrinsic motivation in learning success.
Intrinsically motivated students tend to persist longer, work harder, actively apply strategies, and retain key information
more consistently (Guthrie, McGough, et al., 1996; Guthrie, Van Meter, et al., 1996; Malone, 1981; Piaget, 1951; Shulman &
Research is clear: learners who are not engaged and motivated are not learning as effectively as their engaged and motivated
peers. In Part IV, we are going to offer ideas for integrating the third Principle of Universal Design for Learning into your
Principle #3: Provide multiple means of engagement to connect learners to the “why” of
learning, provide resources at appropriate levels of difficulty and challenge, and address
learners’ diverse interests and learning preferences.
Engage and Motivate
Environments that offer multiple means of engagement connect learners to the curriculum in the following explicit and
Choice of Content and Tools
Offer choices of content and tools to provide diverse learners with the opportunity to engage in learning that is most
meaningful and motivating to them.
Print, audio and/or computer books, magazines and newspapers
Internet resources (such as web quests)
Digital cameras (still images and video)
Audio recorders and players (including iPods)
Graphics libraries (photographs and clip art)
Instructional, word processing, presentation and simulation software
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Adjustable Levels of Challenge
We each learn most effectively when the challenge is enough to stretch us beyond our current level of functioning while still
being within our capacity to learn effectively (Vygotsky, 1962). Offer multiple resources at a variety of levels to meet the
unique needs of individual learners.
Learning software/games with multiple difficulty and content levels
Choices in explicit learning goals that allow learners to set realistic goals and appropriate challenges themselves
Print content at a variety of difficulty levels
Variety of scaffolds to support learning (e.g. audio to support print text, graphics to illustrate complex information,
Choice of Rewards
Individual learners have different ideas about what motivates them in terms of external rewards and/or punishments. In
fact, research suggests that emphasizing extrinsic rewards can diminish a learner’s motivation, and even reduce the
quality of learning outcomes (Condry, 1977; Corno, 1993; Kohn, 1993; Lepper & Greene, 1978; Malone, 1981). A more
effective strategy provides the learner with immediate feedback, not unlike the immediate feedback the learner receives
in a much-loved video game. Such feedback builds a learner’s awareness of his or her own personal accomplishments,
challenges and progress.
Choice of Learning Context
Diverse learners have unique preferences and requirements regarding their learning context. Address this diversity by
offering a variety of options:
Individual, small group and whole group tasks, discussions and projects
Choice of environments that offer a range of noise and activity levels (e.g. interactive classroom environment, quiet
study areas, etc.)
Multiple levels of scaffolding, instructions and/or task structure (e.g. designing a web quest or internet research
project with several levels of structure, from independent web searches to teacher-guided links with scripted
questions and tasks)
Learners As Unique As Their Fingerprints
Brain research is making it increasingly clear that no two individuals experience, learn about or respond to the world around
them in the same way. Our response is as unique as our personal fingerprint.
This presents educators with an exciting challenge: to create a learning environment in which ALL learners can be successful.
As we learn to apply the three principles of Universal Design for Learning in our classrooms and instructional design, more
and more learners will begin to experience success. Success in the classroom builds lifelong learners.
Meyer, A. and Rose, D. (1998). Learning to read in the computer age. [online book]
Rose, D. and Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, VA:
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
UDL Support is a Mouse Click Away
In response to current research, government mandates, school/district initiatives and educator demand, educational
publishers are offering an increasing number of tools to help you offer multiple means of information presentation in YOUR
Don Johnston Incorporated provides FREE templates, eText and multimedia resources to help you quickly and easily provide
UDL instruction and/or content in multiple formats and media. To learn more, go to www.donjohnston.com
Copyright 2007 Don Johnston Incorporated 6