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Kingswood Community College

Why UDL?

Why UDL?

UDL and Kingswood Community College

Without a clear understanding of the major needs of diverse students and how those needs will inform the instructional design, it is likely to be rather challenging to apply the principles of UDL - Lopes-Murphy, 2012, p.229.

To apply UDL to our school, indeed any school, it is essential to consider the school itself as well as the student body. Kingswood Community College is a digital, one-to-one iPad school and all staff are qualified Apple teachers. We have students of varying faiths, cultures, languages, backgrounds and educational needs. Our school has robust ASN facilities to support students of varying educational and behavioural needs . At Kingswood Community College, we believe in bringing the learning to every student. We consider all learners unique.

This combination engenders an inclusive school environment, geared toward 21st century learning. From this, UDL makes sense for us for two main reasons:

  1. As an inclusive school, UDL is a sound pedagogical framework through which our teachers can support their students in accessing the curriculum at their optimum level. Through the multiple options for representation, action and expression, and engagement, our teachers can create lessons that will appeal to our diverse student body, be they students with EAL, students with additional support needs, students who are exceptionally able or students with no specific diagnosis.
  2. As a digital school with trained Apple teachers, we had, unbeknownst to us, been implementing many UDL practices through the delivery and reception of content to and from students in a variety of modes (textual, verbal, visual, multimodal). With a supporting framework such as UDL, our teachers can further the potential of learning in a digital school.

What is UDL?

Today’s textbooks and learning materials are as inaccessible to many students as school buildings of old were to wheelchair users. - Pisha & Coyne, 2001, p. 197.

The principles of Universal Design (UD) originate in the fields of architecture, engineering and environmental design as each shared the common goal of creating a more accessible physical environment (Story, Mueller, & Mace, 1998). UD spaces proved to be accessible not only to target users, such as people with physical disabilities, but also other users such as the elderly, people with prams and small children, or your average person (Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose, Jackson, 2002, p.8). From this, it became apparent that environments designed to reduce unnecessary barriers for some could open access for all.

The same objective has been applied to education by the Centre for Applied and Special Technology (Rose, Harbour, Johnston, Daley, & Abarbanell, 2006).Universal Design for Learning (UDL) endeavours to remove unnecessary barriers to learning and to support all learners, not just those with special needs or exceptional ability (Centre for excellence in teaching and learning at Oakland University, 2017).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based set of principles to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and effective for all – CAST, 2018.

How is UDL applied?

First developed in 2009, and evolving ever since, the Centre for Applied and Special Technology (CAST) created UDL guidelines (Appendix 2). These guidelines comprise of three principles related to the three major processing networks of the brain;

  1. Provide multiple means of Engagement (the WHY of learning)
  2. Provide multiple means of Representation (the WHAT of learning)
  3. Provide multiple means of Action and Expression (the HOW of learning)

The UDL Guidelines are not prescriptive, They can be applied in a variety of combinations to reduce barriers and maximise learning opportunities for all learners. They can be mixed and matched according to specific learning goals and the diversity of the learners in any one cohort. Taken together, the guidelines lead to the ultimate goal of UDL: to develop “expert learners” whoare, each in their own way, resourceful and knowledgeable, strategic and goal-directed, purposeful and motivated (CAST, 2018).

UDL should not be considered a checklist. It is first and foremost a shift in perspective, by the educator, to recognise that there is no homogenous core of learners in their classroom (Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose, Jackson, 2002, p.8). All learners have individual learning needs. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the educator to “eliminate barriers to learning by deliberating planning curriculum that all students can access” Novak, p.12.

UDL in Kingswood Community College

Ultimately, the teacher designs effective instruction for a broad range of learners by combining sound pedagogy with UDL. Sound pedagogy is the key when teachers utilize a UDL framework for lesson planning because learning objectives must always drive the design of instruction - (Courey, Tappe, Sike, LePage, 2012, p. 13)

Where are we now?

In 2018, Kingswood Community College founded a UDL committee. This committee is comprised of five teachers and the principal. We offer training to our staff in UDL at the beginning of the school year. This training is to be combined with the teachers’ experiences of effective instruction and their awareness of tailoring lesson plans to diverse student cohorts. As explored in the Courney et al. (2012) quote above, UDL is dependent on and mobilised with a teacher’s use of sound pedagogy. UDL, at Kingswood Community College, is not a tick-box activity but rather a practical framework and mindset for teaching and learning in our inclusive environment.

As our baseline for UDL, we will adopt the advice of Katie Novak, a lead educator at the forefront of UDL - “Since it’s our job to teach all students, we must use multiple representations for every lesson we teach” (2012, p.21). At Kingswood Community College we will ensure that multiple modes of representation are used in our learning, teaching, assessment and reporting - verbal, visual, textual, kinaesthetic.

Where are we going?

To accomplish our vision of a secondary school with a UDL mind-frame as well as recognisable UDL teaching and learning practices, we have selected eight UDL teaching and learning guidelines. The goal will be to have each subject department consider these eight techniques when designing of their curriculum - meaning that from Aug-May all subjects departments will have used each of these strategies at least once.

  1. Instructional tools and strategies that are flexible and engaging and that allow learners to demonstrate learning in multiple ways;
  2. Presentation approaches that, in addition to verbal and written, rely on resources that are appealing to different learning styles;
  3. Alternative ways through which learners can demonstrate their knowledge;
  4. A variety of scaffolding devices that incorporate charts and graphic organizers while material is presented;
  5. Visuals that supplement printed materials;
  6. Classroom configurations that allow for small-group work and collaboration;
  7. A variety of instructional methods that stimulate student engagement and motivation;
  8. The involvement of students through meaningful participation in learning activities.

UDL Principles.jpg


CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from

Centre for Excellent in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. (2017). Universal Design for Learning (Part 1): Definition and Explanation. Retrieved from

Courey, S. J., Tappe, P., Sike. J & LePage, P. (2012) Improved Lesson Planning with Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Teacher Education and Special Education, 36(1), 7-27.

Edyburn, D. (2010). Would you recognize universal design for learning if you saw it? Ten propositions for new directions for the second decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33, 33-41.

Hitchcock, C., Meyer, A., Rose, D. & Jackson, R. (2002). Providing New Access to the General Curriculum Universal Design for Learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, 35(2), 8-17.

Lopes-Murphy, S. (2012). Universal Design for Learning: Preparing Secondary Education Teachers in Training to Increase Academic Accessibility of High School English Learners. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, 85(6), 226-230.

Meo, G. (2008). Curriculum Planning for All Learners: Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to a High School Reading Comprehension Program. Preventing School Failure, 52(2), 21-30.

Novak, K. (2016). UDL Now!: A Teacher's Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning in Today's Classrooms.

Pisha, B. & Coyne, P. (2001). Smart From the Start The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. Remedial and Special Education, 22(4), 197-203.

Rao, K., Min Wook, O., Bryant, B. R. (2014). A Review of Research on Universal Design Educational Models. Remedial and Special Education. 35(3) 153 –166.

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, 135–151.

Story, M. F., Mueller, J. L., & Mace, R. L. (1998). The universal design file: Designing for people of all ages and abilities. Raleigh, NC: Center for Universal Design. Retrieved from

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