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Workshop Series on Universal Design for Learning

A select group of educators from the Hartford Public Schools, area community colleges, the University of Hartford, and the University of Connecticut participated in an introductory workshop on Universal Design for Learning on Friday, November 1, 2013. Hartford Public School educators will participate in four follow-up workshops taking place in fall 2013 and spring 2014. The series is co-sponsored by The Institute for Translational Research in the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Hartford and the A. J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service at the University of Connecticut.

Allison Posey, Director of Institutes and Workshops for CAST, lead the introductory workshop. Posey is pictured below (far right).

UDL Workshop UDL Workshop UDL Workshop

Left and center: Participants in the initial workshop collaborate on an engineering project. 

The first in the series of four follow-up workshops will focus on brain-based teaching and learning (i.e., the neurological science behind universal design for learning). The second through fourth workshops will focus on one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning. These sessions begin with a facilitated discussion of a principle and related guidelines. Participants are asked to reflect on ways they might be currently applying the principle and ways they might be able to incorporate related guidelines in their teaching. After the first through third workshops, attendees are expected to engage in take-home follow-up activities, which consist of suggested readings and selecting a lesson to be modified during the next session. Session presenters assist with lesson modifications, ask the group to brainstorm ideas, and attendees present their ideas to the group. The first follow-up workshop is scheduled for late afternoon on Thursday, December 5 in the Woods Family Classroom, Mortensen Library, University of Hartford. The remaining three workshops will be scheduled for spring, 2014.

An underlying assumption of Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2011) is that students learn best when provided with multiple opportunities and a variety of methods to access and apply knowledge. The model encompasses three broad principles and nine related guidelines that center on using a variety of ways to (a) present information and content, (b) provide opportunities for students to express what they know, and (c) stimulate interest and motivation for learning. The principles and guidelines outline strategies that faculty can use to build a flexible, learning environment to scaffold and differentiate learning for a broad range of students. Refer to table 1 below.

The workshop series format is based on the work of researchers that have identified important features for effective professional development that are associated with improved student outcomes in K-12 settings (Trivette, Dunst, Hamby, & O’Herin, 2009; Wei, Darling-Hammond, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos; 2009; Wei, Darling-Hammond, & Adamson, 2010). Of note, professional development is most effective when it is focused on curricular and instructional strategies that are needed to teach all students effectively. This includes helping participants identify a clear and direct link between their classroom work and professional learning. The learning experience should be sustained and intensive over time (i.e., 11 hours to 40 hours), and include follow-up sessions or activities that explicitly connect initial and on-going training.

Table 1 Principles and Guidelines of Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2011)

Principles and Guidelines


Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation

Provide content and materials in a variety of formats, including physical, symbolic, and linguistic examples.

Guideline 1: Provide options for perception

Offer content and materials in multiple, flexible formats (audio, visual, tactile).

Guideline 2: Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, or symbols

Clarify language, mathematical expressions, or symbols and scaffold understanding with alternative or multiple representations.

Guideline 3: Provide options for comprehension

Build on or supply background knowledge, emphasize important ideas, and support cognitive and metacognitive strategies.

Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Provide multiple and varied opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Guideline 4: Provide options for physical action

Use varied and alternative ways for students to physically interact with instructional materials or complete instructional tasks.

Guideline 5: Provide options for expression and communication

Offer multiple media, tools, opportunities, and formats for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of a subject.

Guideline 6: Provide options for executive functions

Support students’ goal setting, planning, information and resource management, and progress monitoring.

Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Provide students with multiple and varied opportunities to develop and sustain interest in a topic, as well as monitor their skill and knowledge development.

Guideline 7: Provide options for recruiting interest

Present relevant learning activities with authentic opportunities for students to make choices, while reducing threats and negative distractions.

Guideline 8: Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence

Build in reminders, vary the level of task demand, and foster collaboration among students.

Guideline 9: Provide options for self-regulation

Foster self-reflection present opportunities for students to monitor their knowledge and skill development.

For further information about the workshop series, contact Diana LaRocco, director of the Center for Public Health and Policy at