Image for post
Image for post
A classroom with all sorts of wonderful UDL-supported activities going on.

Just Ask

Joni Degner
Feb 1, 2019 · 7 min read

I have long been an advocate of seeking learner input in the design of learning environments and learning opportunities. In fact, when I’m coaching teachers, they often ask, “Should I do ________?” I always base my responses from the lens of the learner. In doing so, one of my most reliable pieces of advice for my teachers and facilitators is, “Ask your students.” If we have their input, we can create lessons, resources, spaces, and opportunities that are more meaningful and valuable to our learners than we might otherwise.

If you’re designing a learning environment through the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, a framework designed to optimize teaching and learning for all learners, you may have already realized that this sharing of power is intentionally built into UDL implementation.

Take a look at the newly designed Guidelines from CAST. By its nature, the “access” row (the top row) is the work of the designer (the instructor or facilitator). This makes the first row a great starting place for new practitioners and those who are experimenting with UDL for the first time. Why? This row is exclusively about the learning environment (the part that you’re fully in charge of).

As you graduate your design practices to the “build” row, you’ll notice that these are Guidelines and checkpoints that you’re partially in charge of. In order to build a truly empowering learning experience, this row insists that you engage your learners in the design as well.

The bottom row — the “internalize” row — of the UDL framework rests primarily in the hands of the learners and how they make choices and utilize the tools and resources provided to them. Much of the work described in these Guidelines and checkpoints isn’t as visible as others. You can’t always see things like comprehension, executive functions, and self regulation. In fact, at this depth of implementation, students are operating at some level of autonomy as expert learners, purposefully using tools and strategies that most appeal to their needs and preferences, connecting prior knowledge and transferring new learning, and setting goals and creating and revising strategies to reach them.

Designing with UDL ensures flexibility, accessibility, and high expectations for all learners. Engaging learners in the design of their own learning sends a clear message: what you think matters. This is precisely the message we want to resonate with all learners. All learners need to know that when they are absent from the learning environment — when we don’t have their insight and their input — the learning environment and the learning experiences are fundamentally different.

How do we send that message? Check out my favorite ways to get learner input and engage learners in the design process!

10 Ways to Engage Learners in Design

Goals

Image for post
Image for post
A student adding a goal to a goal-tracking board

Class expectations and agreements

In addition to the agreements and expectations that serve as the general climate control in your environment, take time to ask learners to frame up expectations around specific work and activities in the classroom. For instance, if learners are going to spend 30 minutes rotating through revision stations for an essay they’ve been working on, take a few minutes and ask, “What will expert learning look like in these stations? What do you think purposeful will look like? What do you think resourceful will look like?” Put the language of the expert learner in their hands and ask them to help define it. Display their input on a board or overhead so that the expectations are visible and easily accessed as they work.

Image for post
Image for post
A student and teacher working on setting expectations together

Resources

Image for post
Image for post
A student choosing resources relevant to the task, including printed books and digital resources

Tech Tools

Image for post
Image for post
A tech-savvy student using a handheld device and a laptop computer

Evaluation

Image for post
Image for post
Two students raising the bar for high expectations!

Grouping

Image for post
Image for post
Students grouping desks together for collaboration

Seating Arrangements

Image for post
Image for post
A student holding a map to help direct seating arrangements in the classroom

Use of Space

Image for post
Image for post
Students designing spaces for learning on a chalkboard

Deadlines and Work Time

Image for post
Image for post
Students juggling deadlines with calendars and clocks for time management

Rewards

Image for post
Image for post
A student holding a backpack up in triumph with a huge gold star overhead

Do you have a UDL-inspired idea you’d like to share? Email us at udlcenter@cast.org and pitch your blog post!

UDL Center

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning at…

Joni Degner

Written by

Recognized expert in learner centered design and UDL. Passionate disruptor of the status quo in education. Check out the DTour on Medium for PL resources!

UDL Center

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning at CAST. Together we can change the world.

Joni Degner

Written by

Recognized expert in learner centered design and UDL. Passionate disruptor of the status quo in education. Check out the DTour on Medium for PL resources!

UDL Center

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning at CAST. Together we can change the world.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store