From It6740 Udl

Multiple means of expression refers primarily to student activities, though not entirely. The issue is to give the students multiple ways to express themselves and fulfill course requirements.

Think through this: Use your own situation. What kinds of situations do you have and what kinds of options can you think of to give students multiple means of expression?

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How do teachers get students excited about writing and differentiate to provide the students with multiple ways to express their knowledge? One way is to give them choice. In the Middle explores Nancie Atwell’s success with differentiation in the English classroom. Atwell asked her students for ideas for writing, she and her students "found out that in-school writing could actually be good for something – that it could serve kids as a way to solve problems and see the world" (p.14). So Atwell wrote a book on reading and writing workshops. The theory behind workshops is to give students choice; if they can choose to read or write about things they are interested in, they will be more intrinsically motivated to do their best writing.

I have tried both the reading and writing workshop this year; and have seen tremendous growth in my students’ writing. I still, though, have a burning question: when it is the actual ability to write that is being assessed, how to you give multiple modes of expression? They have to write to be assessed on their writing. According to Colorado Reading and Writing Standard #3, "students write and speak using conventional grammar, usage, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling." So how do I assess these skills and give the students multiple ways to express their knowledge?

According to The Access Center, one way to do this is provide students with tiered assignments. For example, "Students with moderate writing skills are asked to write a four-paragraph persuasive essay in which they provide a thesis statement and use their own ideas to support it. Students with more advanced skills are asked to research the topic in more depth and use substantive arguments from their research to support their thesis." This is a great idea, but the expression is still the same: writing.

Any ideas?

Meagan Oberle

Here's a thought: Give them the option to compose a "radio essay." Have the students still do the same amount of research and back-up their arguments, but instead of writing a standard essay, their task is to write a "script" for a "radio news show" that discusses their topics. They could record their broadcasts and submit a tape or audio file (MP3, e.g.) of the broadcast, along with the script, for a grade.

This will give students another outlet to prove that they have achieved all the objectives of Colorado Reading and Writing Standard #3, and then some, especially accoring to blogger "Dr. Write." In her April 5, 2005 entry, she explains what happened when she gave her students the assignment of writing a two-page narrative about what they did on Spring Break with the requirement that they refer to current events in some way:

"What I learned from this assignment is that requiring students to contextualize their own experiences and to perform their own work in their own voices had inspired students in ways that exceeded the usual assignment to write an essay..."


The "radio essay" thought could be expanded in many directions, actually. Students could write an act of a play, a song, or even a poem. If they wrote the play, they would need to be certain to include descriptive sections, rather than just dialogue. In the case of a song or poem, they would really have to be creative to make sure that their writing still followed conventional standards, but I bet some students would rise to the challenge. Depending on the level of the students, maybe only one or two verses are required to follow conventional prose.


According to The Faculty Room, a University of Washington web site dedicated to accessibility of education to all learners, there are seven components to making learning accessible to all:

“1. Inclusiveness. Create a classroom environment that respects and values diversity. Put a statement on your syllabus inviting students to meet with you to discuss disability-related accommodations and other special learning needs. Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any student. Respect the privacy of all students.”

For expression, this means ensuring that students are given more than one way to demonstrate understanding and mastery of a skill - writing, verbal and physical demos are all possibilities. In the corporate world, it's important to keep in mind that learners are given access to a reasonable accommodation for all essential functions. For this to happen, however, the learner MUST request a reasonable accommodation before it can be given. This is somewhat against the ideal of UDL, but the reality of the ADA in the workplace requires some sort of request. This is because the demonstration of ability must be consistent with on the job requirements. In any case, the designer must be able to provide alternate testing/demonstrating choices when necessary.

“2. Physical Access. Assure that classrooms, labs, and field work are accessible to individuals with a wide range of physical abilities and disabilities. Make sure equipment and activities minimize sustained physical effort, provide options for operation, and accommodate right- and left-handed students and those with limited physical abilities. Assure the safety of all students.”

This is especially important in technical training. Students must have ready access to computers, equipment, labs, etc., in order to demonstrate knowledge. Unfortunately, in many places in the corporate world, while a building is technically accessible, it may not be 100% conducive to learning. Therefore, the designer and facilitator must be prepared to work within the needs of the business and ensure all participants have equal access.

“3. Delivery Methods. Use multiple modes to deliver content. Alternate delivery methods, including lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, Internet-based interaction, and fieldwork. Make sure each is accessible to students with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, interests, and previous experiences. Face the class and speak clearly. Provide printed materials that summarize content delivered orally. Provide printed materials early to allow the student to prepare ahead of time.”

This is obviously a key component to the ability to demonstrate mastery. If you can't access it, you can't learn it. In terms of designing in the corporate world, it's best to put as much variety in the learning as possible to ensure you reach all kinds of learners - audio, visual, kinesthetic, attention deficit, distracted, etc. There are economic limitations to this, as well as time constraints; therefore, the material should be available to learners after the training takes place. This is a strong argument for the use of online learning, because the class remains on the system for reference long after the learner has completed it.

“4. Web Pages. Provide printed materials in electronic format. Create printed and Web-based materials in simple, intuitive, and consistent formats. Provide text descriptions of graphics presented on Web pages. Arrange content in order of importance.”

Same argument for online learning.

“5. Interaction. Encourage different ways for students to interact with each other and with you. These methods may include in-class questions and discussion, group work, and Internet-based communications.”

Good instructional design always includes a variety of interaction to ensure that all learners are given a method to demonstrate understanding and express themselves in a way that is comfortable to them. Variety is good for another reason - it challenges participants to come out of their comfort zone just a little bit, all within a safe environment. This can be a powerful tool for those with learning disabilities because they can try something new knowing there is a safety net.

“6. Feedback. Provide effective prompting during an activity and feedback after the assignment is complete.”

Anxiety about performance is a reality for most learners, and even more so for those who may have learning disabilities. If demonstration of knowledge is called for, let the learners know immediately how they will be evaluated and then follow up on that promise.

“7. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate knowledge. For example, besides traditional tests and papers, consider group work, demonstrations, portfolios, and presentations as options for demonstrating knowledge.”

This is the most difficult part of UDL in the corporate environment. Many times, demonstration of knowledge is based on testing and job performance - mostly because of time, efficiency and cost. It is here that determining essential functions become so important. Reasonable accommodations will level the playing field, in both job performance and testing requirements. Again, the learner/participant is required to become an advocate for his/her own learning and job performance.

In the corporate arena, I believe that learning is a partnership between the company and the participants. Time and money constraints require that training departments offer as much as they can to the greatest percentage of the population. This does NOT mean that training will not accommodate all learners. Nor does it mean that training cannot attempt to follow the principles of UDL. It does, however, mean that business needs and learner needs are constantly being evaluated and balanced - and unfortunately, sometimes business needs win. This is why it is vital that participants are strong advocates for their own learning and work WITH the training department to ensure their needs are being met.



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