Universal Design for Learning
Increasing Accessibility with Classroom Choice
- Universal Design for Learning is a tool to help educators support their diverse students by designing choice and flexibility into the classroom and lessons.
Throughout July we celebrate the diversity of our students in Disability Pride and Awareness Month. Students in our classrooms have always been diverse, and research has shown that most students who request accommodations or special education still learn in the general education classroom. Others who receive exclusive education still engage with general education classrooms and curricula to the greatest extent possible (California History-Social Science Framework, Chapter 20, p 537). This month, we’re featuring Universal Design for Learning as a resource to attend to individual students’ needs, offer a few lessons that support a universally designed classroom, and consider how we might integrate more choice into existing classroom practices to increase access and equity for all learners.
What is UDL?
Universal Design for Learning is a research-based strategy for creating a fully inclusive classroom. Prioritizing student choice is central to this strategy. When we offer students many ways to engage with a subject, we recruit interest, sustain effort, and support perseverance. The UDL Guidelines is a resource that offers specific ways to help us design flexibility into our lessons and offer students choices that support their learning needs and goals. By motivating students’ interests and providing options to engage and understand the material, UDL streamlines students’ workflows and paths toward content and analytical expertise.
UDL and the History-Social Science Classroom
The History-Social Science classroom is well-suited for UDL because primary sources offer creative points to access history through inquiry. Material history offers an opportunity to engage in a tactile experience: for example in analyzing an abolitionist’s quilt, students can learn about how enslaved people created and read coded messages in quilts to guide them to safety. Through the tactile experiences of quilts and the story of the underground railroad, children learn to recognize patterns and make meaningful connections. UCB History-Social Science Project recently held a workshop with the San Jose Museum of Textiles and Quilts, during which they considered how “textiles connect people to family and culture, making them an ideal bridge… [to consider] often unrecognized contributions, especially those by women, to the body of historical evidence that helps us understand other times and people.” Similarly, we use oral histories to bring life to primary source accounts and photographs to help students see themselves in the past.
Many of our lessons integrate UDL practices already. For example, in many virtual classrooms, tools like Padlet allow students to design their own paths and examine materials in a way that works for them. By taking a look at suggestions within the UDL framework, we can consider how our current lessons are supporting and accommodating our diverse students and make minor adjustments. “When initial instruction is planned in such a way that it flexibly adjusts to learner variability, more students are likely to succeed. Fewer students will find the initial instruction inaccessible, and therefore less “catch up” instruction will be needed” (CA HSS Framework, Chapter 20, p 543).
Below is a brief list of additional resources supporting Universal Design for Learning that our regional sites designed, supported, or participated in.
The Student Journal offers multiple options for students to engage with historical thinking skills and express their knowledge in a variety of ways. In this assignment, students are encouraged to document their observations through a variety of media (drawings, photographs, poetry, video, prose, etc.) and platforms (social media, street observations, news, etc). Developed by a teacher leader along with the UCBHSSP, “The journal assignment relies on historical thinking skills to guide student observation even though we don't explicitly tell them that.” For an article on how you might implement the student journal, click here.
Teaching California Source Sets contain six primary sources, teacher information, historical context, and literacy strategies to support inquiry. Because these sets are informed by the California HSS Framework, they also follow UDL Guidelines (CA HSS Framework, Chapter 20, encourages utilizing UDL). This second grade inquiry set has students ask, “How does food get to my plate?” In addition to a culturally-responsive perspective that uses photographs to connect students to the past, this set also supports multiple ways of learning for students from individual to collaborative, builds from concrete to abstract thought, and empowers students to become experts of the material.
Our Current Context series provides an interdisciplinary and culturally-relevant way to help students consider their present moment within the context of the past. Each issue breaks down complex topics, offers classroom activities, and lets students decide how deeply they want to investigate the material by embedding videos and linked resources.
Primary sources are the cornerstone of historical evidence and inquiry. The Inquiry and Primary Source Lesson Template features a Lesson Accessibility Grid, developed by Emerging America informed by UDL guidelines. Formatted as a quick checklist, the Lesson Accessibility Grid is a tool that helps us assess the accessibility of our classroom lessons. You can learn more about how to integrate UDL in the social sciences classroom by clicking here.