Differentiated Instruction and UDL

Source:  Novak Education
The above video by Katie Novak explains the differences through a dinner party analogy.


In this activity, you will become familiar with the concepts of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  You will explore the UDL framework and how that can enhance your lesson planning.  You will also explore free technology tools to support the needs of all students. 

UDL Defined

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed.  This approach offers flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it, and show what they know.  Developing lesson plans this way helps all students, but especially helpful for those with learning and thinking differences”( What is Universal Design for learning by Amanda Morin understood.org).  UDL is applied before instruction (lesson design tier 1)  It focuses on designing for all rather than individual students.

You may have heard of another way to meet the needs of individual students - Differentiated Instruction (DI)  They are not the same.  Differentiated Instruction is more reactive and teacher-directed.  DI retrofits instruction by providing accommodations for individual students.  (Tier 2 and 3).

Overview of UDL Video at a Glance:

Source:  UDL at a Glance

The overall reason for UDL is to create expert learners.  UDL defines expert learners as learners who are purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed.  With the understanding that there is learner variability in all learners.  Each learns differently with different abilities, preferences, and are impacted by the context and environment.

Take some time to explore this dynamic chart of the UDL guidelines.  Make sure to drill down to some of the specific checkpoints.  

Here is a checklist of the guidelines that gives a different view

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines Graphic:

Learning Guideline Graphic

Built-in accessibility offers a wide range of options on the many platforms.  Take some time to explore those that match the technology that you are using.  Most of these have some features that address the needs of vision, hearing, physical, and learning.  For more information on built-in accessibility also refer to Thing 21 Assistive Technology.

In addition to the built-in accessibility features, there are multitudes of applications that support the implementation of UDL.  Here will be just a sampling to give potential examples.  There are much more available to explore.

Technology to Support Multiple Means of Engagement

This principle of engagement provides a variety of ways to gain learner interest, motivation, and self-regulation.  Engagement is central to student learning.

For many students, using technology in itself increases engagement.  The ability to manipulate text without recopying, the ability to record audio, video, insert pictures, develop presentations, etc. can provide motivation to many students.  

In addition, interactive tools that provide participation with instant feedback allowing surveys, responses, etc. can provide opportunities for all students to respond.

  • Peardeck  This tool works within Microsoft powerpoint or Google Slides.  It allows the teacher to embed formative assessments, polls, and interactive activities within their presentation.  Students respond with their device, and the results can be seen in real-time.  
  • Plickers   This system allows you to make instant polls and assessments.  No student devices are needed for this system.  Students hold up a special card with a code that can be printed.   The card is read by an app on the teacher’s device.  
  • Poll everywhere Web-based tool for interactive feedback
  • FlipGrid is an interactive website that allows each student to record a short video in response to the prompt. Each grid is like a message board where teachers can pose questions, called "topics," and their students can post video responses that appear in a tiled grid display.

Self Regulation falls under the engagement principle.  The following apps can assist in focus and attention by blocking access to distracting sites.          

Offering choices in the means or method in which an assignment is completed is a key concept in UDL.  Technology offers many ways to provide alternate ways to gain information and express knowledge.  More specific tools are below.

Technology Support Multiple Means of Representation

This principle of representation provides a variety of ways for learners to access information and learning.

Moving text from a paper-based option to an electronic option provides much flexibility in how the text can be manipulated, enlarged, simplified, spoken, highlighted, etc.  Many of these options are built into the operating systems of student’s devices - see built-in accessibility feature links above.

 Some additional tools that might prove helpful: 

Adjusting text 

Beyond the basic adjustment of size, contrasting background color, magnification, etc available, Beeline Reader offers an eye guiding color gradient to make reading easier.  It is available on multiple platforms    

HelperBird - a browser extension for chrome, firefox, or edge that provides assistance to any website to use dyslexia friendly font, zoom, color blindness assist, and Immersive Reader

Remove distractions/clutter/ads  from content 

 Sources for Electronic Text/Books

Electronic books can be purchased, created, or found.  A few free sites to locate an electronic book

Text to Speech The ability to combine the digital text with auditory feedback enhances the comprehension for many struggling readers.  Many of the popular platforms has some form of text to speech built in.  Some addition choices:

Multiple Levels 

Content available at a variety of levels provides an opportunity for students to read similar content but select appropriate reading levels. 

  • Newsela - real life engaging articles, each published at five reading levels
  • Brittannica School includes many UDL features such as three levels of text, built-in read aloud features and translator, citation generator.
  • Tween Tribune Articles from the Smithsonian.  K-12 interest.  Each article presented in 5 lexile levels

 Closed Captioning

Making presentations accessible to all students is now easier with built-in closed captioning   Adding captions is an option in both Google Slides and Microsoft 365 Powerpoint.  Youtube and flipgrid also allow for closed captioning.  

Technology to Support Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Technology provides an awesome array of opportunities to increase options in which an individual can express his/her knowledge.  Current media tools provide a more flexible and accessible toolkit with which learners can successfully take part in their learning and demonstrate what they know. 

Allowing the use of a variety of options including text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, dance/movement, visual art, sculpture, or video as well as a wide range of options for communicating allows students to use a tool that enhances their strengths and preferences.

For those students who find writing/typing difficult, 

simple supports like spellcheck, grammar check, Grammarly, Dictionary features, Rewordify, and word prediction are useful for many.  Speech to text or dictation provides a helpful option. 

Graphic organizers can address all three of the UDL principles.  Teachers can use them to provide alternate means to represent information, highlight critical features or activate background knowledge.  They can also provide an alternate way for students to demonstrate their understanding and organize information.  Some free graphic organizers/mindmaps to try are:

Using the many multi-media production tools for video and audio can be powerful and engaging options for many students.

Choice and flexibility and overcoming barriers are key features in a Universal Design for Learning approach.  Let technology help support your journey to provide access and learning to ALL students.

Move onto Connect DI & UDL