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UDL 101 for Parents

What is UDL?

Many schools are embracing UDL these days, and for good reason. But what is it? And how can I support it at home?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) empowers educators to use a variety of teaching strategies so that all students can succeed. For far too long, traditional school adopted a one-size-fits-all model with the assumption that most kids will learn if you design your lesson for the “average student”, and that was good enough. Well, that’s not good enough.

The foundation of UDL is embracing the fact that not all learners are the same. There’s no such thing as an “average student”. If we could measure every student on the many things that impact learning (problem solving, reading ability, attention, study skills, curiosity, childhood trauma, memory, social skills, self-regulation, and many more), there would be zero students that are average on everything. All kids have what we call a “jagged edge” -- good at some things, challenged by others. Diversity is the norm not the exception. (Check out this AMAZING video from Tod Rose breaking this idea down.)

Thus, UDL tells us that educators should intentionally and proactively design their lessons to reach the “jagged edges” so all the kids in the room have the choices and supports needed for them to be successful. If you design instruction to reach the edges and hit ALL the pins, you will naturally catch all the kids in the middle. (Learn more about this "bowling" analogy from Shelley Moore.) Thus, a UDL classroom provides:

  • Multiple Means of Engagement - many ways to get kids excited about the topic,

  • Multiple Means of Representation - many ways to learn new concepts, and

  • Multiple Means of Action/Expression - many ways to demonstrate what they learned.

What can you do to support UDL at home?

  1. Know your kids and support their “jagged edges”. When your kids have homework, help them find a creative way to make it more engaging. Find ways to play to their strengths while they grow their weaknesses. For example, my son had to write a “how to” paper and deliver that in front of the class. He dreaded public speaking and thought he didn’t have anything to share. But he loved silly jokes and computers. As we were making lunch, we joked about how a computer might take an instruction like “put the peanut butter on the bread” and try to put a jar of peanut butter on top of the loaf of bread. We found his “how to” report: the right and wrong way to program a computer to make a PB&J. The class thought it was hilarious, and public speaking lost it’s aura of fear.

  2. Offer multiple ways to deliver information to your kids. For instance, if you’re discussing the plan for a weekend trip, present that to them in multiple ways. My daughter loves checklists. My son prefers we have a conversation where he can ask a million questions. For littles, you could draw a picture or role play your trip with plastic dinosaurs. Then tell your child’s teacher what works for them at home so we can use that in the classroom.

  3. Offer choices that allow your child to arrive at the desired end goal in their own way. If the end goal at home is picking up their room, give kids a choice of how and when that can be done. Right now or after dinner? Start by picking clothes or toys? If possible, make it engaging by knowing your kid and providing a matched incentive. My son is all about rewards (“cookies and stories at 8 pm for kids with a clean room”). My daughter is all about relationships (“let’s clean your room together”). Others love competition (“who can clean their room fastest, you or me”). Again, tell us what strategies are successful at home so we can build on that at school.

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