Universal Design for Learning in the
Language Arts Classroom:

Meeting the Needs of Adolescents in
Reading and Writing Instruction

Every learner is unique, and every student can succeed.

"Fair doesn’t mean giving every child the same thing, it means giving every child what they need."

Rick Lavoie

In our English department, we can provide multiple options in instruction, curricular materials, and assessments so that every student can meet the language arts standards in his or her own way. In fact, the principles of UDL can be applied across the curriculum, as all subject area teachers can improve their instruction using these basic principles of student learning.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

UDL is the development of curriculum that meets all students' learning needs. No matter their learning style, behavior, background, culture, race, gender, or physical difficulties, all students have a right to quality instruction that helps them meet their learning goals. The diverse students we teach come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Each student has specific learning needs, each student has learning strengths in every subject area, and each student brings unique prior knowledge to our school. We can not reach every student using a "one-size-fits-all" approach to our curriculum.

UDL is achieved when teachers present
information in many different formats, appealing to diverse learning styles and learning preferences. Teachers must also provide assessments that work for different types of learners, and teachers must attend to students' levels of motivation and engagement.

When a student is interested in the materials, sees and hears information, has the opportunity to work with the materials, and expresses understanding through a means that displays his or her strengths, then a student learns.

Brain imaging shows that we use different parts of our brains when gathering facts, completing actions, and experiencing emotions. Activating these three brain networks helps students learn.

Research about how the brain works suggests the importance of UDL for reaching and engaging all students.
Visit the National Center on Universal Design for Learning and read the UDL Guidelines 2.0:


Technology plays a central role in UDL, as it allows teachers to provide multiple means of representation to meet diverse learners' needs. Instead of relying on textbooks, teachers can create and share multimedia resources with students. Technology also allows students to apply learning through multiple means of expression. Students can create digital stories, podcasts, blogs, and wikis, for example. Technology motivates students and gets them engaged in learning. It provides a wealth of tools for student expression.

In Maine we are fortunate to have a laptop for every middle school student (thanks to Maine's Learning Technology Initiative: http://www.maine.gov/mlti/index.shtml ). We are under-utilizing these tools if we are using the laptops only for word-processing tasks. Using their laptops in our classrooms, students should be collaborating online, exploring online resources, and creating authentic products to demonstrate learning.

Follow this link to hear Dr. David Rose discuss the role of technology in UDL:


CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) provides many online tools that our middle school students can use to meet their individual learning needs and to meet the standards with the aid of technology.

Follow this link for UDL Toolkits: Digital Content in the Classroom and learn to integrate digital content into your own classroom, such as multimedia and etext tools:


UDL Book Builder is an exciting tool developed by CAST. Book Builder allows teachers to create digital texts with comprehension and vocabulary supports built in for students. This allows us to modify our instruction for each student, and to teach reading comprehension strategies along with content. Subject area teachers can include explanations alongside text, to aid in understanding.


Another great tool from CAST is UDL Editions by CAST, which provides online texts with supports built in to support reading comprehension. Readers can select "maximum support," "moderate support," or "minimum support" to view "stop and think" prompts about the text that are appropriate to support their reading comprehension. This helps create active learners:


Complete this activity from CAST to discover your own
learning strengths and challenges:


A Little History: The principles of Universal Design originated in the fields of architecture and engineering, as designers wanted to create public spaces that would best meet the physical needs of the most people. This means spaces are created with the people who will be using them as the top consideration, rather than the building itself. Guidelines for Universal Design include handicap accessibility, for example. Similarly, we must ensure our curriculum is designed with the needs of our students as the top consideration, rather than the content itself.

Read this article from the Center For An Accessible Society for further information on Universal Design in architecture:


Google Site Translator