Universal Design for Learning: A Framework for Supporting Effective Literacy Instruction

Universal Design for Learning: A Framework for Supporting Effective Literacy Instruction

Jodi Pilgrim (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, USA) and A. Kris Ward (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2520-2.ch012
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An inclusive curriculum values diversity and addresses barriers to academic success. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) introduces a framework for inclusive instruction, which transforms the systems and structures in schools to help make learning more effective and efficient for all students. Because Universal Design supports the literacy component of classroom design (Rose & Meyer, 2006), this chapter provides insight into instructional strategies that reinforces these essential skills. This chapter offers the background and framework for UDL, including research-based literacy instruction which ensures materials are accessible through multiple forms of representation, expression, and engagement of information.
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Differentiated instruction addresses students’ diverse and unique strengths as well as their challenges. Inclusive practices rely on four primary principles: 1.) Equal access for all learners; 2.) Sensitivity to strengths and challenges; 3.) Reflective practices and differentiated instruction; and 4.) Established community where collaboration among those involved is essential (Salend, 2011, p. 8). According to Salend (2011), the movement toward inclusion was fostered by the application of Universal Design principles to educational settings. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a movement that reflects a world that is accessible and usable to a greater portion of the population, including those with disabilities (Ralabate, 2011). The concept of UDL can be equated with the design of a building. Adaptations, such as ramps and elevators, provide access for those with mobility challenges in a physical building. Just as buildings must be adapted for accessibility, the school curriculum must be adapted to meet all learners’ needs. With UDL, teachers design lessons in such a way that all learners can access the material, engage interest, and express knowledge. As a result of intentional planning with universal materials to meet a variety of learning needs, all students gain access to the curriculum, creating an inclusive environment.

One of the challenges for educators is to provide learning opportunities in the general-education curriculum that are inclusive and effective for all students (Ralabate, 2011). Teachers encounter varied reading levels in the classroom. For example, a fourth-grade teacher may have a classroom of students ranging from non-readers to high school reading levels. Supporting the needs of all learners sounds like a simple and common-sense goal, but the question for educators is how to design reading instruction for a diverse classroom of students, especially when for many children, reading ability is a barrier to learning. Reading instruction, examined through a UDL lens, provides insight into ways to support all learners, in all content areas. This chapter describes ways UDL decreases potential barriers to reading and learning while increasing opportunities to learn (Ralabate, 2011). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) leads contemporary efforts to create universal access to educational curricula for all students, including those with disabilities. Universal does not imply a single approach for all students so much as the intentional integration of teaching and learning that meets the needs of different kinds of learners (Rose & Meyer, 2006).

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