Let us say that you have heard of UDL and have an interest in making some modifications to your curriculum. You may have students whose learning needs have confounded you. They may be language learners or may have accommodation plans that you struggle to implement. You might have had a class with poor participation (or outright distraction) or a class where it was a struggle to meet everyone’s needs during and outside office hours. You may be answering thousands of emails about assignments. You may have students who talk to each other instead of you when figuring out the course expectations.
There are lots of reasons why instructors consider a change, so if this is you and the term UDL flitted through your mind, keep reading for THREE UDL starters.
PROVIDE A RATIONALE FOR EVERY ASSIGNMENT
FIRST. Look at your course presentation and pick out the assignments. Not tests and exams, just assignments (for now). Make a handwritten list of the title of the assignments (yes, you should actually write them out).
SECOND. Describe out loud, to yourself, or better, a friendly face what the assignment is about. Why did you give this assignment? Was in for interest? To make a connection? To develop deep knowledge? To familiarize students with what they might meet in a workplace? Is it an assignment typical of your field? Were you stuck and this seemed like a good option (this is totally ok, by the way). This exercise will provide a rationale for the assignment.
THIRD. Once you are clear on the rationale, convey it to students explicitly and transparently, which will help them see that there is rhyme and reason to the assignment. We all like to know why we’re doing what we’re doing and the first step as an instructor is having a sense of purpose yourself.
PROVIDE ONE CHOICE FOR EVERY ASSIGNMENT
Now that you have voiced the rationale for your assignments, it’s time to take a deeper look. You have probably chosen to have students do one of the following:
write a paper
do an oral presentation
produce a group project
For each of those assignments, students will typically have the choice of oral or written presentation.
When you think about providing choice, draw a chart with three columns. Choice one can be conventional (as above), or what you were already planning. Choice 2 can be where you push the assignment design a little bit.
To develop a deep understanding of behaviorism
CHOICE 1 (HOLD)
Write a paper on the role of behaviorism in ordering food and a drink at Starbucks.
CHOICE 2 (PUSH)
Over a week, observe interactions at Starbucks where principles of behaviorism are at play. Make a video explaining to a friend which interaction is the best example of behaviorism.
Creating a strong sense of rationale for the course assignments and providing alternative assignments will set you up for the third UDL starter. When we’re teaching in post-secondary, there is the temptation to present vocabulary and either have students memorize the terms or acquire them through the experience of being in the course. Intentional, deliberate vocabulary student is key in helping student understand why they are learning specific terminology and how to use it best.
So how do you do it? Start slowly. Select five to ten important vocabulary terms in the course. These may be vocabulary terms that are historically important, contextually bound, contentious, or divisive. Present the vocabulary term at the beginning of the class, explicitly define it, and demonstrate why it is a pivotal term in your field. Help students see why a keen understanding of the term is important in connecting with other key concepts. Since the term will be imbedded in the rest of the lecture and activities you have planned, the seemingly innocuous vocabulary study will support students in representing both their knowledgeable and the assignment rationale in flexible ways.
TEST IT OUT AND REPORT BACK
I would encourage you to try out these three UDL starters for your upcoming courses. Together, they hit all the UDL buttons: engagement, representation, action and expression. They dovetail nicely so you can make some small changes with some big impacts. If you decide to try all three pieces or one component, please get in touch to let me know how it goes!