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Universal Design for Learning in action

27/11/15 | 7 comments

Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, is a framework that helps teachers recognise and minimise barriers to learning, and create more flexible and inclusive teaching environments. But what does UDL actually look like in action?

This blog, the second in a three part series, features the stories of two teachers who use UDL. These teachers share their understandings and application of UDL, and offer a smorgasbord of inclusive ideas and strategies for you to take away and trial in your own classrooms.

What does UDL look like?

Linda Ojala is a teacher of year 3 students at Silverstream Primary School. She has spent several years exploring ways Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help her meet the needs of all the learners in her classroom. Rather than trying to continually adapt learning to meet the specific needs of each and every learner in a classroom, UDL enables Linda to create an environment that is accessible for all students. She explains how UDL assists teachers in engaging students in learning, presenting learning opportunities, and supporting them in their response to learning.

What does UDL look like? from EDtalks on Vimeo.

Guiding questions  – Ngā pātai ārahi

In the video, Linda presents a series of questions that are fundamental to UDL. You can use these questions to discover your strengths and possible next steps with UDL:

  • How am I engaging my students?
  • Do I have multiple ways of representing the context of what we're learning?
  • Am I presenting it in one way or am I offering a variety of ways?
  • Am I encouraging my students to share their understanding in multiple ways?

Taking the first steps with UDL

Roxy Hickman describes how a beginning teacher used the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the writing process. The teacher identified that some of her students needed some scaffolding in order to gather their creative ideas. By providing many options for the students to build on their thoughts and ideas, barriers to writing were removed. The teacher could then look at ways of expanding that activity so that it became a pathway for learning for all students, rather than just a one off activity.

Roxy Hickman from EDtalks on Vimeo.

Guiding question – He pātai ārahi

In the video, Roxy describes the variety of options offered to students to express their thoughts and ideas.

  • What options do you give your students to express themselves or take action?
  • Could you offer more options to enable students to participate in learning in ways that best suit them?

Supporting resources

Inclusive Education Guides for Schools – Universal Design for Learning
This comprehensive education guide provides practical strategies, suggestions, and resources to help you learn more about UDL and plan for all learners at the outset.

Universal Design for Learning VLN
This virtual learning network provides a forum for discussing Universal Design for Learning, offering connections with other educators throughout New Zealand.

Inclusive classroooms
This section of enabling eLearning provides ideas, resources, and stories to support you to use technologies as part of your learning design.

Other blogs in the series

Introducing Universal Design for Learning
In this blog you can find out about the origins and principles of UDL, and learn how UDL supports the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum.

My journey with Universal Design for Learning
In this blog primary school teacher Adele O'Leary shares her first steps in UDL, describing the impact on her teaching and her learners.

Share your ideas

  • Computer keyboard.
    In what ways do you already apply UDL to your practice?
  • What changes might you introduce to your classroom in response to what you have read?
  • Do you have any questions or comments about Universal Design for Learning?

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions. Please leave a response in the comments.


Comments (7)

  • Samantha Gonzales - Apr 24, 2017 at 9:19am:

    I use UDL in my writing by having students draw a picture, use the key board, or pencil and paper to get their thoughts on paper. I love the idea of using a video clip and asking students to predict what will happen as a prompt. I have used Kid President videos in the past and asked students to tell me what they thought of his ideas; which they enjoyed a lot more than a verbal prompt introduced by me.

  • Misha Padilla - Apr 14, 2017 at 11:26am:

    I am a first-year SAI English III and IV teacher. I love the idea of designing pathways for student learning using the UDL model, rather than only using isolated lessons sprinkled throughout my yearly lesson plan. I now know that can create universal designed lesson plans by asking myself "What are the barriers?" and, "How can I overcome these barriers?" before creating the lesson plan. Coming from the general education classroom, I find that often we ask our students to "color in between the lines" all too often. Rather than offering students a variety of modalities to express their creativity, we are pressured to foster in them a sense of mastery of the traditional way of academic production, namely, essays, presentations, and speeches. The older model of direct instruction asks students to create appropriate products that we have asked of them, rather than to observe their thoughts and ideas and allow them the freedom to express these ideas in a creative way "out of the box'. As a teacher, we are often surrounded by a whirlwind of chaos, expectation, and information. To simplify my life, I will always make sure I do three things to create the best lesson plan I can: Engage all students, present information in a variety of ways, and give them options for sharing their knowledge while always remembering to focus on what a student CAN do rather than what he CAN'T.

  • Julie Pressley - Apr 12, 2017 at 12:20pm:

    I am a special education teacher servicing students grades K-6 in a learning center environment. I currently have a student that needs assistance in the area of writing. I look forward to utilizing the Universal Design for Learning strategies that I listened to on the video clip. Offering multiple ways to approach writing to an unwilling student is imperative. In doing so, I hope to find his particular learning style and engage him in the writing process making it fun.

  • Kandece Prince - Apr 04, 2017 at 10:58am:

    I am a SPED teacher and I teach at the middle school level (7th and 8th grade). I am still consider a new teacher and I am still learning new ways of reaching my students on various levels. I am currently teaching ELA and Social Studies the subjects that many of my students find difficult due to all the reading that has to be done. I have found that doing interactive notebooks really help my students in all areas. My students get to be hands on, which allows those that need to move the opportunity to do so. It also gives my visual learners something to look at as well as gives my auditory learners the chance to hear instructions and overviews of the lessons. I allow my students to use their interactive notebook on quizzes and test, which is less overwhelming because the information they need to focus on is right there, textbooks sometimes have to much information which causes confusion. I continue to use and add to interactive learning.

  • Clay Cochran - Mar 31, 2017 at 10:27am:

    I am just educating myself on the fantastic UDL resources that are out there. The need to deliver curriculum to my students in as many modes as possible is significant, and these UDL strategies and tips and comments from other educators are invaluable. Thank you all!

  • Alexis Rubio - Mar 31, 2017 at 10:17am:

    I am a Special Education teacher for the Deaf in high school. I have been working with students that have different needs. Many of my students thrive using hands-on experiment/experience and visual through pictures/videos. I have different supports specific student. For example, one of my student does well with task box activities. While others will choose their own preferences of presenting what they have learned through books, youtube, and from lessons. We have several manipulatives for math activities available. When we go cooking, some students prefer to follow a picture visual directions while others might prefer to use video step directions. We are currently waiting for access to IPAD for all students. I know my students will greatly benefit from IPAD.

  • MIchelle Sliwienski - Feb 14, 2017 at 6:00pm:

    I am a Special Education teacher in a K-12 school. My focus area is K-6th grade. I have been working with and teaching SPED students for several years. I have learned to have different items (hands on materials) available to use in my classroom. For example, last year I taught SPED middle school math, and had ELL students. When my students started the year, some could not add. By the end of the year some of students were able to divide. I have counters, number lines and lots of visuals that the students used for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I have learned to be prepared and have multiple modalities available for students because students learn differently. What works for one student, may not work for the next. I have learned to over prepare on lessons and have numerous manipulatives and visuals available not only for my SPED students, but my ELL students as well. The materials were available for all the students to use as they needed. I never singled out any student, and the materials were for all students. The students learned that the materials helped them learn and master skills. By the end of the year, some students did not need to use any of the manipulatives or visuals when they divided.


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