UDL: The Pieces of a Puzzle Come Together
by Liz Lane, Associate Professor of English, Goodwin University
Now more than ever, educators are called upon to expand opportunities and break down barriers for all learners. Implementing holistic approaches based in science is the optimal goal in order to address the whole human, regardless of age or learning style. With this objective as the impetus for mindful change in my work, I decided to bring Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to my English 103 course at Goodwin University.
Poe and Inoue (2016) identify writing as a potential tool of social justice, though course design for writing classes in higher education historically has been inherent in sustaining inequality. English 103 Writing a Life: Biographies/Personal Narratives is a course that directly supports Goodwin University’s mission as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and the overarching goal of social justice. Students with a wide range of skills often find greater success in courses that require academic writing while still calling for students to draw from personal experience. In examining English 103 through a social justice lens, I determined that it was the course I most wanted to develop through UDL.
The critical event in English 103 relates to alignment issues: there are identifiable course-level alignment gaps. Of the five learning outcomes outlined in the syllabus, two of the stated outcomes do not link to assessments or activities in the course. Gaps are present between the following two learning outcomes and any assessments in the course:
- Identify the uses of historical perspective, research, and interviews in written texts
- Articulate figurative language in writing
To address these learning barriers, I have applied checkpoints from each of the UDL principles and guidelines.
When considering engagement, Checkpoint 7.2, optimizing relevance, value, and authenticity was useful. Because the course materials do not reflect the outcomes for students focusing on historical perspective, research, and interviews in written texts, I added assignments using the scaffolding method that calls for students to locate historical perspectives, research, and interviews related to the topic they chose for their final term memoirs.
Furthering the development, I made adjustments focusing on representation with specific consideration of Checkpoints 2.5, 3.1, and 3.3. Building resources on figurative language included written definitions and examples of cartoon video and graphic charts. It was also important to expand opportunities for deeper comprehension by including interview and research assignments related to their memoir topics. Students can then choose how to demonstrate the new knowledge through writing, video, audio, or graphic organizer.
Under the third UDL principle, completing the picture required providing various methods for action and expression. Linking to the new assignments in the course, I applied Checkpoint 5.3, which allows for students to consider options for completing an assignment. I included varied models for utilizing an interview, as well as multiple methods for accessing relevant history. These methods demonstrate outcomes through varied strategies. Additionally, evaluating English 103 while considering Checkpoint 6.4 was useful. There were already a number of existing assessment checklists, scoring rubrics, examples of student work, and opportunities for reflection. Regularly encouraging the use of these tools in order to facilitate students’ own progress monitoring is the ongoing goal. Check-in videos, announcements, and the use of prompt questions will heighten students’ awareness of self-monitoring components.
Thus far, students in English 103 have responded with significant enthusiasm. Greater alignment and variation have bolstered the students’ choice and critical thinking. Here, a recent student reflection best captures the reason for the work.
“The weekly assignments and taking part in discussions helped me in ways I never thought a class would. One of my biggest fears in life was that my thoughts and opinions were either always going to be wrong, or they would not matter to anyone else. Having discussions and seeing the responses from others made me realize this is not true. I learned how to write better overall. It helped me see that we all interpret things differently. I believe this is going to help me be a better husband, father, and person in general.”
I will close this article on three key points that I take from this learning experience. UDL applications as part of course design:
- Expand my opportunities for ensuring compassion, respect, and empowerment
- Further a classroom culture of reciprocity, confirming the interdependent relationship of teacher and student
- Facilitate mindful and holistic approaches to education where learning moves beyond the mere acquisition of facts, and educators recognize that emotional well-being directly correlates to successful learning
My intention in practice is to always treat students as I would want to be treated in any situation.
Liz Lane is an associate professor of English at Goodwin University, where she has taught since 2005. Her doctoral research focused on the impact of trauma on retention in higher education. She completed the Trauma-Informed Organization Certificate Program through the University at Buffalo, which deepened her awareness of trauma’s role in educational settings. She is a firm believer that understanding the impact of trauma on educational and vocational pursuits is integral to transformative education. Her ongoing professional studies focus on the influence of trauma on the teaching and learning experience for both students and instructors, and approaches to address these needs, including UDL and Social Emotional Learning methods.
Poe, M., & Inoue, A. (2016). Toward Writing as Social Justice: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. College English, 79(2), 119-126. Retrieved July 21, 2021, from www.jstor.org/stable/44805913
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.