- Universal Design for Learning
- Bloom's Taxonomy
- Tomlinson's Differentiated Instruction
- Schumm's Planning Pyramid
Universal design for learning (UDL) involves taking traditional educational materials and making them multi-modal in order to provide access for a broad range of students regardless of their learning styles and needs. "Providing access, however, involves much more than supplying every student with a text book or computer" (ERIC, 1999, p. 1). Program planners must safeguard that students are engaged in the learning process and the subject matter is appropriately challenging regardless of the cognitive ability or current level of performance.
Note. From Essential Qualities of Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved July 1, 2005 from the CEC Web site: http://www.cec.sped.org/osep/ud-fig2.html
UDL (universal design for living) originated as a way to reduce architectural barriers that individuals with physical or sensory disabilities encounter in the community. "When universal design principles are applied to physical space layout, accommodations are built-in rather than added as an afterthought" (Research Connections, 1999, p.2). This principle has resulted in the use of curb cuts, automatic doors, and ramps to public and private facilities. UDL has not only enhanced the quality of life for individuals with disabilities, but also improved mobility for those pushing strollers, rollerblading, pulling suitcases, or just walking.
Within the world of education, UDL (universal design for learning) involves taking traditional educational materials and making them multi-modal. Just as universal design in architecture incorporates features that allow access to a greater number of people, UDL is a tool that provides methods and materials allowing access to a greater number of students.
UDL was not possible before the technical revolution but the age of digital information has changed what is possible. Digital formats provide the greatest flexibility in presenting and using curricular materials. Digital materials are transformable for teachers so they can be easily changed from one form of presentation to another. Furthermore, digital materials are transportable because the amount of content can be customized for the individual needs of the student. Finally, digital material is recordable which enables the student to learn and remember patterns. Therefore, educators can track patterns over time and identify the student's strengths and difficulties longitudinally (Essential Qualities of Universal Design for Learning, 2002).
Teachers who apply UDL principles plan presentations and materials by considering a wide range of visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive challenges that students have in the class, thereby reducing the need to make case-by-case accommodations after the fact. For example, incorporating text-to-speech, enlarging print, and brailling texts can meet the needs of students with visual limitations.
An example of UDL in a practical situation might include a typical third grade classroom. In the era of full inclusion, the make up of the classroom consists of one teacher, a part-time paraprofessional, and twenty-four students. The students' reading abilities range from early first grade to sixth grade. One child cannot write fluently because of a physical disability (cerebral palsy), and one child has severe dysgraphia. Another child has a moderate to severe unilateral hearing loss and two are on IEPs for learning disabilities. When the lesson plan calls for the reading of a class novel written at grade level with a series of writing assignments, the teacher can provide access in the manner that suits each individual. She can start with an alternative to conventional print: she has the text on line and on audiotape. When writing is assigned, in addition to providing a variety of writing implements and lined paper, she can provide word processing with text to speech feed back, word banks, and word prediction software as needed.
UDL has many applications in all aspects of the school day. In a high school setting a student with low vision can benefit from using an electronic white board. This permits the teacher to present an entire lesson to the class, but the same presentation is presented on a computer linked to the white board. This enables the student with visual impairments to focus on the content close up and be unhampered by her disability. Rather than providing an individualized accommodation for a single student with a visual impairment, UDL lessons that are created on the electronic white board can be employed throughout the school year for all students.
The examples noted here are just the tip of the iceberg. UDL is an instructional design model that anticipates learners' needs and styles by designing the curriculum with intrinsic features rather than an after-the-fact accommodation.
Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) developed a system for categorizing levels of cognitive activity and organized then into a sequence from easy to hard. The levels of cognitive thinking in Bloom's taxonomy are knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation and are presented below.
|Knowledge||Memorize & recall facts & information||match, recognize, outline, identify, list, state, name, define, show, give, record, select, recall, underline||report, map, worksheet, chart|
|Comprehension||Understand meaning & relate information to other material or use info to solve problems||explain, generalize, infer, demonstrate, tell, translate, describe, paraphrase, locate, discuss, review||diagram, model, game, picture, teach a lesson, diorama, timeline|
|Application||Use rules, ideas, theories & principles in unfamiliar, but concrete, situations||classify, organize, group, code, carry out, apply, convert, construct, illustrate, draw, measure, perform||diary, journal, scrapbook, photographs, stitchery, cartoon, construction, learning center, mobile|
|Analysis||Break material into parts & identify relationship of parts via resources outside of data at hand||take apart, analyze, diagram, diagnose, solve, dissect, compare, contrast, edit, differentiate, point out||graph, survey, report, timeline, family tree, commercial, fact file|
|Synthesis||Combine what is known to make something new||compose, create, design, imagine, produce, explain, predict, write, invent, hypothesize, adapt, plan||story, poem, play, song, news article, invention, radio show, comic strip|
|Evaluation||Judge outcome, value of product, service or idea||argue, assess, evaluate, debate, criticize, judge, justify, prove, give an opinion, choose, compare||editorial, essay, survey, panel, self-evaluation, letter, conclusion, court trial|
Some program planners working with heterogeneous groups of learners have found this hierarchy to be helpful in considering different outcome objectives for individuals within their group of students. Using this conceptual framework, teachers can identify differing outcome objectives for students within the same subject matter. For example, a unit of instruction may be designed in which it is expected that some students will learn to identify key figures or a story, while other students might be expected to make comparisons between two or more stories, or analyze the style of writing as compared to another author.
In a differentiated classroom, teachers plan and carry "out varied approaches to content, process, and product in anticipation of and response to student differences in readiness, interest, and learning needs" (Tomlinson, 1995, p. 10).
according to students' . . .
Through a range of instructional and management strategies such as:
Differentiated instruction is the planning of curriculum and instruction using strategies that address students' strengths, interests, skills, and readiness in flexible learning environments (Gartin, Murdick, Imbeau, & Perner, 2002). Differentiation is not individualized instruction (Tomlinson, 1995), however, by using the concept of differentiated instruction, teachers have a framework to address individual student needs within the context of a classroom.
Tomlinson (2000) described differentiation as "a way of thinking about teaching and learning" (p. 6). The guiding principles of differentiated instruction (Tomlinson & Kiernan, 1997) are:
- Student strengths are emphasized.
- All students participate in respectful tasks.
- Learning experiences are based on student readiness, interests, and learning profiles.
- Students work in a variety of group configurations. Flexible grouping is evident.
- Time use is flexible in response to student needs.
- Teachers are primarily coordinators of time, space, and activities rather than primarily providers of information. Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies to target student needs.
- Clearly established criteria are used to help support students' success.
- Assessment of students' needs is ongoing, and tasks are adjusted based on assessment data.
Teachers can offer varied routes to learning by differentiating content, process, and product in response to student needs. Content is what is taught as determined by the teacher, school and/or state standards; specifically it is what a student should learn. Process refers to the activities, lessons, and interactions that help a student make sense of the content being presented. Products are the results of the process; in essence they are the means by which students demonstrate learning and teachers can evaluate student learning. Although content, process, and product may be addressed individually, these components are fundamentally interrelated. Teachers must consider each of these components within the context of the students' learning environment.
Differentiation decisions regarding content, process, and products are made according to student differences in readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Readiness refers to a student's ability to learn a given skill or concept. Interests are what a student finds relevant, fascinating, or worthy of his or her time. A student's learning profile includes his or her learning style (e.g., visual or auditory learner) and how he or she takes in and processes information.
A flexible learning environment is an essential component of a differentiated classroom. This involves arranging the physical space so all students have access to the teacher and materials, and the use of flexible groupings based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile. Using a wide variety of grouping strategies, where configurations are flexible and changing, avoids students being labeled solely based on their group membership and allows students to work with a range of peers.
"There is no recipe for differentiation" (Tomlinson, 1995, p.22). Teachers construct differentiated classrooms in varying ways using a wide range of instructional and management strategies to support students learning. Differentiation can be used as a framework for teachers to provide their students with access to the curriculum in ways that meet the needs of all students.
- Gartin, B.C., Murdick, N.L., Imbeau, M. & Perner, D.E. (2002).
How to use differentiated instructions with students with
developmental disabilities in general education classrooms.
Arlington, VA: Division of Developmental Disabilities of
the Council for Exceptional Children.
- Tomlinson, C.A. (1995).
How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Tomlinson, C.A. (2000).
Reconcilable differences: Standards-based teaching and differentiation.
Educational Leadership, 58(1), p. 6 - 11.
- Tomlinson, C.A. & Kiernan, L.J. (1997).
Differentiating Instruction: Facilitator's Guide.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriclum Development.
- Additional Resources
- ASCD. (2000). Differentiating Instruction.
Retrieved February 27, 2003 from
- Scherer, M.M. (2000). How to differentiate instruction [Special Issue].
Educational Leadership, 58(1).
Teachnology (2002). How to differentiate instruction:
How to plan for differentiated instruction.
Retrieved February 27, 2003 from
- Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The differentiated classroom:
Responding to the needs of all learners.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Schumm presented the planning pyramid as a model for designing instruction for heterogeneous groups of students.
The Planning Pyramid is a "template" (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 610) for creating lessons, weekly plans, and unit plans that are designed to promote access to the general education curriculum for all learners. The pyramid can be used to prioritize the content area concepts for instruction and to create multi-level lessons. Furthermore, by using the pyramid, adaptations can be planned systematically rather than being made spontaneously through "incidental modifications" (Schumm, 1999, p. 30).
The key elements of the pyramid are the "points of entry" and "degrees of learning" (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 611). The five "points of entry" (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 611) are symbolized by the axis of the pyramid. These points are the factors that must be considered in the process of planning for the delivery of instruction to heterogeneous groups of students. The three "degrees of learning" (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 611) are depicted by the horizontal layers of the pyramid. Each layer represents the proportion of the class that is expected to learn the concepts.
Teachers can begin planning their lessons and unit from "points of entry," which are factors that are essential for consideration (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 611), and they include the following: 1) the teacher, 2) the topic, 3) the context, 4) the students, and 5) the instructional strategies. When reflecting about the teacher, it is necessary to consider the background knowledge about the topic, prior experience teaching the topic, interest, and availability of time and resources. When thinking about the topic, it is necessary to examine familiarity, previous exposure, necessary background information, interest, quantity and complexity of the concepts, connection to prior topics, and its significance relative to other topics that must be covered throughout the year. When thinking about the students, various factors including physical needs, language and communication needs, distractibility and other behavioral profiles, interest, and cultural and linguistic diversity amongst others must be considered. For the instructional context, it is important to think about the scheduling, student grouping, availability of materials, and social aspects of the classroom environment. Finally, when examining the instructional practices, it is necessary to bear in mind the manner in which materials can be introduced, consistency of strategies with previously used techniques, adaptations, assignments and extension activities at home and in the community, as well as assessment (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994).
Teachers using the planning pyramid can then take their thoughts about the aforementioned factors or "points of entry," and make decisions regarding the "degrees of learning." This involves determining what concepts that a teacher wants all students to learn, wants most to learn, and wants some to learn. Then, the teachers can make the decision regarding the actual delivery of instruction and the necessary adaptations. Since all students will learn the knowledge and skills that are at the base of the pyramid, it is important to remember that "more intensive adaptations are necessary for the base of the pyramid" (Schumm, 1999, p. 32).
When thinking about these curriculum content and the expectations for students, it is crucial to remember that the pyramid is designed for the placement of concepts rather than a way to group students into levels by ability or perceived learning potential. The pyramid is not a way "to lock students into Pyramid levels ... track students or limit expectations" (Schumm, 1999, p. 32). While the instruction may be delivered in various ways, all of the students should be presented with the same information, and access to materials at the middle and top should not be restricted. Furthermore, the kinds of activities should not be determined by the level. For example, Vaughn, Bos, and Schumm (2003) cautioned against using handouts and worksheets that are less exciting at the bottom of the pyramid and using more hands-on, "creative, fun" activities at the top of the pyramid (p. 190).
The Planning Pyramid is a "flexible tool" not a "rigid formula" (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994, p. 610); therefore, it should be used as one way of "thinking about planning instruction for all learners" (Schumm, Vaugh, & Leavell, 1994, p. 611).
- Schumm, J. S. (1999). Adapting reading and math materials for the inclusive classroom.
Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
- Schumm, J. S., Vaugh, S., & Leavell, A. G. (1994).
Planning pyramid: A framework for planning for diverse student needs
during content area instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47, 608-615.
- Vaugh, S., Bos, S., & Schumm, J. S. (2003).
Teaching exceptional, diverse, and at-risk students in
the general education classroom. 3rd Ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.