Universal Design for Learning vs. Differentiated Instruction

First off, let me say I found the clarification between Universal Design for Learning (UDL )and Differentiated Instruction (DI )to be instructive. I hadn’t realized it, but two terms had merged together in my mind to become the gestalt idea of using diverse means of instruction to teach a diverse student body. While this is a useful idea in and of itself for an educator, as I am also someone who writes about education, having the clarity to see the two terms as two distinct and different parts of the process is useful. UDL is about designing curricula to meet the diverse needs of a diverse student body, while DI is about using diverse methods of teaching while using any curriculum to teach a diverse student body. This is to say they are similar but different ways of addressing the diverse needs of a diverse student body.

The shared truth of the two theories is that learners come in many sizes and many flavors- and that although we group students by age level, our classrooms are filled with kids who as learners are more different from each other than they are alike. Each student brings with them to the classroom different interest levels, different background knowledge, as well as different learning styles and abilities. For this reason teachers need to be able to teach allowing for multiple levels of engagement, using multiple methods to represent the information being taught, and allowing their students multiple means of interacting with and expressing the information they are learning.

Having been a both classroom teacher and a home school teacher I can say that I have firsthand knowledge of how much easier it is to meet the learner where they are most able to learn when you are designing lessons for individuals rather than groups. However, as this chapter emphasized, teachers in the 21st century have more tools than ever before to use in their attempt to reach the broadest range of learners possible.

Using technology to support the 3 core principles of UDL

UDL Principle 1:  Multiple Means of Representation

Six words* : Interactive White Boards and the Internet

 The ability to import multi-media presentations directly from the internet to the classroom whiteboard, means that teachers can easily enhance their lectures with slideshows, video clips, and graphic images, and  thereby offer learning experiences that are more stimulating than the traditional “talk and chalk” approach. Additionally  the multi-sensory approach of these multi-media presentations means that students with different learning styles ( visual vs auditory) can gain knowledge from the same presentation, at the same time, in their preferred learning modality.

*An alternate six words could be: a computer with a video projector

Then when you include the world of assistive technology where classroom teachers have access to the technology to provide individual accommodations such as electronic textbooks with text-to-speech, the idea of multiple means of representation opens up into a whole new paradigm of learning.

(Note to self: Check out Readability- a free utility that is added to the toolbar in a user’s browser and can be used to remove distracters such as advertisements and displays the remaining text in a format style specified by the user)

UDL Principle 2: Multiple Means of Action and Engagement

By approximately the middle of second grade written output is the means by which a student’s academic proficiency is measured. And yet many bright, intelligent students struggle to create a written product that is representative of their learning. Now with the advent of digital tools teachers have a huge variety of ways to invite students to demonstrate their learning. Teachers can easily invite their students to build on their strengths and to design projects that are individually geared to match their talents, preferences, and learning styles.

I myself have had success by inviting reluctant writers to create a three sentence report where they go online, grab three images and add a caption to each. From there is an easy step to turn the sentences into the supporting details of a five sentence paragraph.

(Note to self: check out netTrekker-a website that supports students in avoiding copyright violations by offering image searches for images that are topical AND copyright free.)

Additional Sources for Public Domain (copyright free) images:

A community Indexed Photo Archive of Public Domain Photos



A Collection of high-resolution digital stock photography

(Additional note to self: Check out Glogster EDU-where students can create an interactive poster or Glog)

UDL Principle 3:  Multiple Means of Engagement

Need I say anything here…screen time is so much more appealing and engaging to student’s then just about anything else, certainly more than paper and print for the digital natives of the 21st century.  How awesome that savvy educators can take advantage of the intrinsic stimulation of the digital world and use it to motivate and engage students.

I am really interested in checking out Quest Garden and getting links to ready –made WebQuests as well as resources and inspiration for creating my own. Oh,
and look what I found online- a quick tutorial on using QuestGarden for creating WebQuests.

Additionally- there is a wealth of great non-digital materials out there that educators can easily access by learning about them and ordering them online through their websites: Borenson’s Equations Hands-On Algebra comes immediately to mind.

(Note to self: check out Classical Comics)


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