UDL Assessment in the Common Core

My UDL action plan will involve marrying unit 1 of the 6th grade Common Core to UDL. The capstone of the plan will outline how I will incorporate assessments within the unit to monitor the progress of the plan and support the UDL framework.

The majority of assessments within the plan will be formative, on-going, and embedded into the curriculum. Key attributes of every assessment will involve student choice, authenticity, and personalization of expression. As Dr. Pam Leconte said during her lecture, authentic formative assessments allow students to be engaged and learn during the assessment process. My general goal is to create assessments that serve this multi-faceted approach.  

Students will demonstrate their understanding of the unit’s primary book, Tangerine, by creating a final composition. Students will be allowed to self-select one of four composition prompts. They will be provided with time to navigate the steps of the writing process. If a student prefers to supplement their work with an image, movie, or poem he or she may do so, which could in turn shorten the length of their composition. In addition, students will work in groups to re-create a scene from the book using video, animation, self-writing a script and acting it out, or creating a visual representation. The writing component of the composition will be supported with graphic organizers, word banks, paragraph starters, and word processing. These supports will be available to all students, with the intent that students who find writing to be challenging will make use of them.  The culminating summative assessment will be a portfolio on the unit’s theme “I won’t grow up.” Students will need to include their final composition in the portfolio and will self-select at least 3 other examples of their learning. In addition, they will complete  a self-reflection on their learning from the unit. This self-reflection will be done in a format of the student’s choice. The personalized assessments should provide students with greater access to demonstrating their full capabilities as well provide their teachers with more meaningful and valid information (Russell, 2011).

Students will be occasionally assessed on their summative knowledge of sections of the book in short 5 question quizzes; these assessments are being implemented in order to hold students accountable for reading assigned passages each night. Yet the format in which they “read” or listen to the story will be personalized based on preference and need.

Students’ understanding of vocabulary from the unit will be assessed on a weekly basis. Students will have the option of completing a graphic organizer on 3 of the weekly words, acting out a word and orally describing its meaning, or generating a list of synonyms and antonyms. The graphic organizer option will ask students to define the word, draw an image of the word, and use it in a sentence. During some weeks students will show their knowledge by playing vocabulary charades in which students act out the words they are given and classmates respond.

Students’ oral reading fluency will be monitored through efficient weekly assessments. Each student will read aloud 3 different grade level passages for one minute each. The data will be entered into Aimsweb, an online data collection system. Students who appear to need more support in their reading fluency will be able to read Tangerine in a digital format that highlights the words being read and can customize the words per minute pace. Besides Kurzweil 3000 and Ipad aps, what are some tools I could use to achieve this technological support?



Russell, M. (2011). Personalizing assessment. In T. Gray & H. Silver-Pacuilla (Eds.), Breakthrough teaching and learning (pp. 111-126). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.


CAST Strategy Tutor

Cast Strategy Tutor (cst.cast.org) is an online tool for educators who wish to access and design UDL lessons and materials, especially for students in middle school and beyond.

During our five-minute break in class I spoke with the presenters. I mentioned how Bookbuilder and UDLstudio seem to have a great deal of pre-made content for the lower elementary grades, but there were only 2 online pre-made books for grades 6 and higher. I also felt that uploading or creating a supported chapter book would be much more time consuming than creating a supported picture book. The presenters agreed and directed me toward CAST Strategy Tutor.

CAST Strategy Tutor has many components and built-in supports for learners to engage with explicit reading strategies in more complex texts. The aspect of CST I am going to discuss teaches students how to read content on the web strategically and how to extract information from complex websites. CST allows teachers to create supported lessons in which the teacher constructs a lesson title, goals, and directions. The teacher can then add in online supports with the “Background Builder tool and Vocabulary Builder tool.” Within the Background Builder tool the teacher can post a URL to a website which features content related to the lesson. The teacher also creates embedded activities that align with the website and goal. Teachers are also able to review student work and creating an account and lesson is simple and easy. To view the database of lessons go to: http://cst.cast.org/cst/teacher/QUERY,db (but you might need to create a member login).

The interactive website support provided by CST would enable me to support my students’ research projects. This year I had my students research one of several events, people, or places of the American Revolution. While students googled their events, a teacher had to sit with them to help them read the content and determine if the site was truly useful. Then we had to ask them specific questions about the content while they organized their thoughts and we typed up their responses. CST would allow a teacher to create a lesson that embedded all of those supports, with the exception of being able to read aloud the text on the site. This is CST’s major setback. In order for me to use this tool with non-readers, I would need the text to be read aloud. For students who are already reading, however, this is an excellent tool to help scaffold research skills.

In general, CST provides more support for complex web-based texts. However, I have not been able to have the site’s read aloud. Is it possible to use CST in conjunction with voice thread? CST is also limiting in it’s note-taking capabilities. Students cannot engage directly with the website by jotting notes in the margins. Can CST be used in conjunction with Diigo? Could the designers of CST just incorporate these two missing UDL elements to improve its capabilities? 

UDL Goals for Final Project

My final UDL action plan will examine the 6th grade ELA Common Core Standards for unit one. My intention is to make unit one universally designed for all learners in my 6th grade class for the 2012-2013 school year.

Next year I will be teaching this content in a full inclusion classroom with a wide range of learner variability. At least 6 of the 48 students will have significant global intellectual disabilities and approximately 10 other students will have an IEP for a more mild disability. And of course, every other student in the class, regardless of disability, will present variability on how he or she can best access the content.

The Common Core standards and curriculum maps can be accessed at: http://commoncore.org/maps/ , but you have to pay to actually see the standards (hmm, we are switching to a national curriculum, and someone is making money off of it). I can view the 6th grade maps because my school has paid for a username and password, but I can’t share the maps here. (There are, however, some examples in the following discussion).

You can learn more about the Common Core for free and in video format at:


In general, a key feature of adopting the Common Core maps is to move schools towards thematic teaching in each grade, centered around six, six week themes. Each theme has an essential question that is supported through exemplar texts for each grade level.  The common core in ELA focuses deeply on text complexity and teaching students to rigorous grade level standards.  It also integrates reading and writing through teaching content.

The first six-week curriculum map for 6th grade is titled: I Won’t Grow Up. My overarching goal is to closely examine this unit and make it aligned with UDL. The map is only a broad outline of what is expected to be covered in six weeks and I am fortunate to teach at a school that allows for instructional flexibility.

I plan to incorporate UDL guidelines and principles throughout each lesson. My personal instructional goal is to ensure that there are multiple forms of engagement for students, multiple ways to represent their learning, and multiple means of expression. Some of the Common Core standards are written as UDL goals, while other have the “means” embedded and act more as traditional teaching objectives.

For example:

L.6.1(a): Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).

This Common Core “focused standard” is written without a means and reads like a UDL goal. A teacher could adapt this “standard” to his or her students. Students could show that their pronouns are in the proper case through discussion, written examples, peer editing, etc.

Yet many standards have the means embedded.

For example:

W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

In this case students have to “write” in order to show their learning. While I do not want to alter the new national standards, I will have students in my class who cannot write. My goal is to incorporate technological supports in order to make this standard accessible to all students.

The Common Core Maps also have more specific learning objectives which incorporate limiting means for demonstrating knowledge.

For example:

Research the relationship between authors’ lives and what they write about through reading author biographies, autobiographies, letters, and interviews; present findings to the class.

My goal is to take the Common Core standards and enhance them to be more UDL aligned. I then plan to look at the objectives and ensure that if the “means” require a student to have a discreet skill that I also have supports to ensure that all students can access a specific skill. For example, using the objective stated above, I might state:

“Students will be able to research the relationship between author’s lives and what they write about by reading the aforementioned texts, reading with a peer, using assistive technology, and finding videos on the authors. Students could also present their findings to the class in a poster, song, rap, poem, letter, essay, collage, timeline, or video.”

My goal is to make sure that there are enough accessible means embedded in each objective to allow students to present their learning in a variety of meaningful ways.

UDL Principles and Guidelines Informing My Practice

UDL principals and guidelines have influenced my instructional practices as a full time special education and ESL teacher at Gardner Pilot Academy.

Our school implements Response to Intervention (RTI) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS); these policies support a UDL framework and learner variability (Hehir, 2009). “RTI seeks to identify students who need additional learning support, scaffolds appropriate interventions, and monitors student progress” (Hehir, 2009). I use weekly data on oral reading fluency, math computation fluency, and reading comprehension check-ins in order to assess my students’ growth and inform instruction for the following week. This helps direct my students’ weekly goals and IEP goals; informed goal setting aligns with UDL guideline 6: provide options for executive functions.

After learning more about UDL guideline 6, I plan to be more explicit with my students on their personal goals. While my students realize we track and collect data they do not seem to have a personal motivation or connection to the assessments. Dr. Todd Rose spoke on this topic when he emphasized that good UDL means being clear about your goal, realizing that UDL is iterative, and that as a teacher you cannot accomplish all the guidelines at once.

 In the coming weeks I plan to have each student create a bar graph or other visual showing their growth over the course of the year in order for them to be able to create their own end-of-year learning goal. Implementing student friendly visuals of their data should make their goals more relevant and hopefully motivate them to excel even further.

PBIS also creates a learning atmosphere that aligns with learner variability and connects to the engagement guidelines of UDL (Hehir, 2009). My classroom uses a clearly defined token reward system for students who show their ‘core values’: respect, responsibility, honesty, caring, and academic excellence. Students can earn individual stickers or tokens for showing an exemplary level of one of their core values. When they reach ten stickers they earn a small incentive from a prize box. In addition, each time they earn an individual token they also earn a whole class token, which supports a whole class behavior goal and incentive. Expectations for behavior or achievement vary from learner to learner, which allows all students to feel successful.  For example, one student might earn a token for making an obvious effort to control aggressive behavior while a different child might be expected to go beyond self-control and volunteer to help a peer calm down. PBIS is personalized and can adapt to a wide range of learners. Pictured below are some students adding stickers to their charts and the whole class incentive chart. Also pictured is our classroom consequences chart (far right). I recently added the visuals to make the chart less print-oriented. Students who do not show their core values can have their star (pictured at the top of the chart) fall to a tiered level of consequences.Image



PBIS increases student engagement primarily due to the use of incentives, however, behaviors gradually become internalized and the incentives are given for increasingly more challenging goals. Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann started her presentation by stating that the UDL guidelines only work if students are first engaged. I could not agree more. There are times when I have tried to teach without making their learning relevant and the lesson typically fails. Gabrielle’s discussion of making sure that the learning is centered on each child’s unique skills and interests directly aligns with the engagement tier of UDL guidelines.  Furthermore, programs like PBIS and RTI are founded upon the belief that there is no “average student-that is the nature of variability” (Rappolt-Schlichtmann).

Finally, I have recently been reflecting on how to make language more accessible for my current group of students. The UDL guideline 2.2: clarify syntax and structure, has been especially helpful in helping me improve how I expose my students to information. For example, I seem to constantly be asking my students to “listen” and have regularly engaged them in listening activities and skills. Listening, however, is a challenging task, and I realize I have taken for granted their understanding of what it means to listen. They told me that listening means to “sit still and be quiet.” Of course there is a huge metacognitve element to listening in which the listener internalizes what a presenter is saying and then synthesizes the information for memory.  I have now explicitly discussed other qualities of good listening and we refer to the classroom chart we made on a regular basis (see below). It was my attempt to make listening more universally designed and to incorporate more representation into my instruction.Image


Hehir, T.(2009). Policy foundations of universal design for learning. In D.T. Gordon, J.W. Gravel & L.A. Schifter (Eds.), A policy reader in universal design for learning (pp. 35-­‐45) Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.                 

• What are the basic components of the UDL framework?

UDL looks at learning by addressing 3 networks of the brain:

  • Recognition networks:  The What of learning
  • Strategic networks:  The How of learning
  • Affective networks: The Why of learning

When implementing UDL educators should ask themselves:

What’s your learning goal, what barriers might interfere with your learning goal? To overcome curriculum barriers that limit learning use the 3 principles of UDL to rethink how objectives might be taught and assessed.

3 Principles of UDL:

  • provide multiple means of representation
  • provide multiple means of action and expression
  • provide multiple means of engagement

My struggle with UDL is that those 3 principles just seem like excellent teaching practice (a multi-tiered combo deal of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, Vygotskyian scaffolding, and an awareness of Bronfenbrenner’s Social Ecological Model all balanced out with the use of technology to enhance learning for all students). Have we re-packaged basic principals of exemplary teaching and just called it UDL?

Inclusion and UDL

Hi All,

Here is a link to a youtube video that shows the power of inclusion and the often untapped potential of special education students.

This video has always made me question “Why wasn’t Jason included in games more often?”

We can make curriculum universally designed; I know we can make basketball universally designed, so why not do it more often so that more kids get the chance to show their skills and talents?


Questions about UDL

I simply want to list a series of lingering questions I have about UDL:

1. How does UDL look differently in a full inclusion educational setting vs. a general ed. setting?

2. Does it make sense for a school to implement UDL if their special education students are still pulled out or learning in sub-separate classrooms?

3. How do you have parents buy-in to the concept of UDL? How can you prove to skeptical parents that learning in this new format is fundamentally better than the general conception of what education looks like today?

4. Besides the use of technology, how is UDL different from good teaching practice in which all lessons are differentiated and scaffolded to meet the needs of all students in the classroom?