Universal Design for Learning: Cognitive Theory into Practice for Facilitating Comprehension in Early Literacy

Article excerpt

Introduction

"If our teaching is to be an art, we need to know we can draw from all we know and believe and see in order to create something beautiful." (Lucy Calkins, 2001, p. 6)

Universal design for learning is a teaching and learning approach that helps to ensure that high quality literacy and learning experiences are multi-dimensional, multi-sensory, satisfying, meaningful, and exciting for every child. Universal Design began as an architectural concept that involved planning the environment for optimal accessibility and productivity. Recently, it has become extended and infused into learner-centered classrooms, involving the carefully planned arrangements and applications of space, materials, curriculum, technology, and personnel. "Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design" (Mace, 1996).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) encourages the "design of instructional materials and activities that allows learning goals to be attainable by individuals with wide differences in their abilities to see, hear, speak, move, read, write, understand English, attend, organize, engage, and remember without having to adapt the curriculum repeatedly to meet special needs (Orkwis, 1999).

Universal Design for Learning involves the integration of initiatives. "The concept of UDL is the intersection where all of our initiatives--integrated units, multi-sensory teaching, multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, use of computers in schools, performance-based assessment, and others--come together" (Palley, 2001).

Therefore, UDL is a method of teaching and learning that encompasses a wide variety of content areas while it is also simultaneously customized to meet the needs of all individuals. Founded in 1984 as the Center for Applied Special Technology CAST developed Universal Design for Learning as a means of expanding learning opportunities for all students. CAST is a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning. Its staff includes specialists in education research and policy, neuropsychology, clinical/school psychology, technology, engineering, curriculum development, K-12 professional development, and more.

The four Core Principles of CAST (1) are:

* Multiple Means of Representation (enlisting the knowledge network)

* Multiple Means of Expression (enlisting the brain's affective network)

* Multiple Means of Engagement (enlisting the brain's strategic network)

* Multiple Means of Assessment (enlisting the brain's knowledge, affective, and strategic networks)

Using the four principles of UDL, above, teachers of reading and language arts can conveniently and effectively integrate sensory-rich learning opportunities into their daily literacy teaching that enable young learners to make text connections and thereby increase their vocabulary and text comprehension. Comprehension, the ultimate goal of all reading, is facilitated by the application of Cognitive Principles (Bransford et al, 2005) Multiple Intelligence Theory (Gardner, 1983), and Universal Design for Learning (Orkwis, 1998). According to cognitive learning theory, implicit learning plays an important role in language development and reading comprehension, beginning very early in life (Bransford et al, 2005).

Implicit learning involves indirect, automatic processes that frequently lie beyond the conscious awareness of those who process the information. Patterns and strategies learned early, such as text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world reading connections, are quite literally learned for life because, with practice and experience, they are processed automatically and with high efficiency. …