In an interview with Janea Menicucci, Coordinator for New Mexico Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at Central Region Educational Cooperative (CREC), Benetech examined the importance and impact of Universal Design for Learning. The following are their responses, with an overview of how the CREC uses Universal Design for Learning to improve literacy among students.
What is the goal of UDL?
The primary objective of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is to develop an educational framework that accommodates the diverse needs of all students. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle is designed to ensure equal access and opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities, different learning styles, and diverse backgrounds. The goal of Universal Design for Learning is to identify and remove learning obstacles. UDL strives to create an environment that allows all students to access the curriculum, regardless of their individual distinctions, regardless of those barriers, whether they are physical, cognitive, emotional, or cultural. By promoting flexibility and personalization, UDL promotes the development of educational materials, teaching methods, and assessment techniques. Students are empowered to customize their classroom learning experience to match their unique needs and preferences. By offering multiple ways to present information, act, and express themselves, UDL seeks to enhance student engagement. It provides diverse approaches to understanding and demonstrating knowledge to promote active learning and motivation.
A key component of UDL is the promotion of independent learning and the development of self-regulation. The program equips students with the skills, tools, and strategies required to become effective, self-directed learners. To foster fairness and inclusion in education, UDL strives to ensure that all students can succeed, regardless of their backgrounds, abilities, or disabilities. To accomplish this, barriers to learning are actively removed. In addition, UDL encourages educators to continuously evaluate and refine their teaching methods and materials so that they can be adapted to meet the evolving needs of their students. It is the overarching goal of UDL to provide an educational environment that is accessible, engaging, and effective for all students, thereby fostering a more equitable and inclusive education system.
How does UDL especially support students who learn and think differently?
The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides significant support to students who learn and think differently, including those with learning disabilities, neurodiverse conditions, and diverse cognitive profiles. Several strategies and principles are employed by UDL to accomplish this goal. Through UDL, students who learn or think differently are given the opportunity to make choices. It is important to ensure that students have access to and engagement with content in a variety of ways so they can learn what works best for them. UDL allows students to express their learning through a variety of flexible means after they have learned. When students are provided with the opportunity to voice their opinions and participate in decision-making, they will be able to connect their learning and become active participants in their educational community. The first advantage of UDL is the flexibility with which information is presented. Various formats are available for representing content, including text, images, videos, and audio. Students who learn differently will be able to access information in a manner that meets their preferences and needs because of this flexibility.
The framework ensures that learning environments are physically and digitally accessible, benefiting students with physical disabilities and those who may rely on assistive technology or specific accommodations. Personalization is another critical aspect of UDL, offering individualized learning pathways that cater to specific student needs. By allowing customization, UDL helps students who learn and think differently thrive in their unique ways.
UDL promotes engagement and motivation by providing options for how students engage with the content and make choices about their learning. Lastly, UDL encourages continuous assessment and adjustment. Educators can collect data on student progress and adapt their teaching strategies to meet individual learning needs better, ultimately ensuring that all students, including those who learn and think differently, can succeed, and access a high-quality education.
Can you tell us more about the work you do at Central Region Educational Cooperative (CREC) as a coordinator for New Mexico Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
As Coordinator of New Mexico Universal Design for Learning, I oversee a team of seven UDL instructional coaches. We collaborate with school districts throughout New Mexico. The districts have chosen to partner with us for a year-long program of Universal Design for Learning coaching and support. Our commitment to enhancing educational accessibility includes equipping them with a number of valuable tools, such as Snap & Read Universal, Co:Writer Universal, uPar, Equatio, and Bookshare. Additionally, my role involves engaging in dialogue with superintendents from various districts within our state as well as working closely with school districts. Creating these connections is essential to aligning our efforts and fostering collaboration across different educational departments and initiatives within the Department of Public Education. Using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens, we aim to simplify and improve the educational landscape, ultimately relieving educators of some burdens and empowering students to take charge of their education. Our overarching goal is to advance student agency and ensure an inclusive and effective educational experience for all students.
What is the best place to start for a school or educator looking to begin implementing Universal Design for Learning in their curriculum?
To begin, the educator should select one area or standard of the framework to focus on. One idea or strategy should be implemented at a time, followed by a reflection. Is there anything that worked well, and what could be improved? You should then add and revise until you have found the best solution.
Are there any examples of how UDL has benefited students’ educational experience in New Mexico?
A student who transferred into one of our districts was labelled as a junior because she was not capable of reading for comprehension at a 12th-grade level. As a result of completing the uPAR, it was determined that her audio comprehension was above the 12th grade, and she was moved to the 12th grade level, and with the help of the tool resources, she was able to graduate on time.
Benetech experienced the impact of New Mexico’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) first-hand during a series called “Ignite Sessions” hosted by Janea Menicucci and her team. This series brought together educators, advocates and instructors who believe education should be celebrated more. Several schools and districts came forward to share their personal experiences about implementing new advanced learning technologies in classroom settings.