Viewing the Universal Design for Learning Series’ online module, I was struck by the emphasis placed on teacher and administrator buy-in and ownership in the UDL implementation process. Smith’s study (2012) also highlights the affective aspects of UDL. When participants (teachers, students, etc.) are given a voice in the decision-making process, as well as choices for how they receive and present information, they are more engaged in learning, and this may make learning more meaningful and influential. It is not enough to stand before a group of teachers and talk about the benefits of UDL; teachers need to experience these benefits firsthand in their own learning experiences. Darling-Hammond et al. reiterate the significance of linking theory and practice through modeling, collaboration, learning in practice, reflection, and careful assessment and feedback; while this chapter on “The design of teacher education programs” does not specifically identify these practices as UDL, the methods it advocates certainly align with its principles. One of the problems in learning to teach is the “apprenticeship of observation,” the idea that much of what teachers believe about teaching comes from their own experiences in the classroom. If we want teachers to develop the skills they need for 21st century schools and classrooms, teacher-educators must themselves provide models that incorporate multiple means of instruction, opportunities for expression, and engagement. Both Smith (2011) and Rose et al. (2006) demonstrated the effectiveness of UDL in postsecondary education through its application in university courses. The reauthorization in 2008 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) defined UDL and included guidelines for teacher preparation programs related to UDL. This represents a substantive change in the way that new teachers are trained, but teachers already in the field also need exposure to UDL and instruction in how best to implement its principles. There are a number of challenges related to teacher development methods, and translating research into practice is one that remains a daunting task. When groups of pre-service teachers enrolled in a class, working together to develop inclusive lesson plans, they have the research at their fingertips and the time and support structures necessary to create a thoughtful, well-developed product. Courey et al. (2012) showed that teacher candidates incorporated more differentiated learning into lesson plans after UDL training. While this study illustrates the benefits of instruction in UDL, it would be useful to conduct a long range analysis of the methods used by these teachers once they move from the university setting into the classroom. Experienced teachers know that studies like this take place in a somewhat artificial setting; schools and classrooms are complicated and busy places, and the demands placed on teachers often do not allow for this type of planning on a daily basis. Some teachers have multiple preparations on any given day, extracurricular responsibilities, and professional isolation. How do we encourage and support teachers in becoming adaptive experts who can take what they have learned in teacher education or professional development and put it to work on a daily basis amid a myriad of other, often conflicting, factors? UDL implementation is a process that may take years, and in order for it to be fully integrated into educational practices, we will need creative solutions to provide ongoing resources, training, and support for educators.
Courey, S. J., Tappe, P., Siker, J. & LePage, P. (2012). Improved lesson planning with
universal design for learning (UDL). Teacher Education and Special Education,
Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2), 17.