Meeting the Needs of Exceptional Students: The Importance of Technology in Teaching and Implementing Universal Design for Learning Principles

Meeting the Needs of Exceptional Students: The Importance of Technology in Teaching and Implementing Universal Design for Learning Principles

Timothy J. Frey, E. Ann Knackendoffel
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4502-8.ch008
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Today’s K-12 classrooms are learning environments that present teachers with the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of learners. Utilizing technology and the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help teachers to meet the exceptional needs of learners in a variety of areas. This chapter presents ideas and strategies to utilize technology to facilitate the implementation of UDL principles (using multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression in the design of instruction) in teacher education and K-12 classrooms. Each principle of UDL is described, and examples of technology that can support implementation of the principle are shared. The chapter concludes with considerations for teacher education programs including providing modeling of UDL instruction and designing instruction with UDL in mind.
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The Problem: One Size Does Not Fit All

The achievement gap in schools is well documented. In Figure 1 the diagonal line illustrates the expected level of achievement of students where students gain one year of academic achievement for each year they are in school. The dotted line illustrates the pattern of achievement for many under-achieving students. Rather than offering multiple pathways to help students learn, the “one size fits all” printed textbooks and other traditional resources that typically comprise the general curriculum often serve as barriers to many students in classrooms today (Rose & Meyer, 2002). This pattern of underachievement results in students falling further and further behind.

Figure 1.

Achievement gap (Edyburn, 2006a used by permission)


The area between the dotted line of performance by low achievers and the diagonal line of expected grade level is known as the “achievement gap.” The graphic reveals the cumulative effect of students’ underachievement. Chronic academic underachievement is a significant educational problem. In fact, concern about chronic underachievement is one of the core tenets of the federal education reform law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), as illustrated in the law’s emphasis on measuring adequate yearly progress (Edyburn, 2006a). NCLB mandates increased expectations for all students, including those with disabilities, “to access, participate in, and progress in the general curriculum” (Pisha & Stahl, 2005, p. 70). According to Edyburn (2006b), the lessons one can take away from the achievement gap phenomenon are very clear:

  • Current teaching practices are not effective for some groups of students.

  • Continuing to operate in the same manner, doing what educators have always done will perpetuate rather than eliminate the gap.

  • Repeated failure over time creates an achievement gap that is so entrenched that it becomes exceedingly difficult to close.

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