UDL series — Action and Expression: Expression and Communication

1 September 2022
By Sam Graff

UDL, a blog series…

To recap, the first blog post in the series describes the principles of UDL and how to take the initial small step into achieving a UDL classroom. You can find the link back to the first post of this series.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) “is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights in how humans learn” (Cast.org). UDL can create an equitable and inclusive learning environment for all students in the classroom.

Within the UDL framework, there are three major categories and their subcategories:

Action and Expression: Expression and Communication

Students may have strengths in one form of communication over the others. For some students, crafting a well written essay is a strength but presenting an oral report might be an area they need to improve. Under the UDL principle for providing multiple means of action and expression, giving flexibility for modalities of communication is key but also focus on areas that students need to improve in as well. We want to strengthen all modes of communications for the students in order for them to be successful now and after Carleton.

A UDL misconception…

It is a misconception that UDL allows students to only choose the options that suit them. Rather, UDL principles strive to build up and strengthen multiple modes of communication. 

Use multiple media for communication

When applying UDL practices, providing options for media can be challenging and not always workable. For instance, if you are teaching an art course that focuses on watercolors, the media that is critical to use is watercolors. But if you were teaching an introductory-level art course, you have opportunities to give students choices in how to complete their final project, potentially using either oils or watercolors – or a completely different format. 

Carleton’s shorter terms can present a challenge to offering options.– 10-week courses are structured differently than 16-week courses. Because of this time restriction, providing two or three options rather than four or five helps ensure that you can give support for each choice while still producing quality feedback.

Use multiple tools for constructions and composition

Technology is sometimes portrayed as negative or a crutch. The phrase “you won’t always have a calculator in your back pocket” was something math teachers used to say; today almost everyone has a calculator in their back pocket. Offering multiple tools to help with construction and composition to communicate the knowledge gained in the classroom is not a crutch.

Technological tools can be used to optimize the learning such as spell checkers and text-to-speech software. Using graphing calculators or providing guided outlines for your students can be other tools to help with construction and composition in the classroom. Multiple tools for construction and composition in the arts have been widely used as well, including applications for music such as Sibelius and Adobe Audition.

Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance

Students should acquire a wide range of fluencies (e.g., visual, audio, mathematical, reading). As a result, students might require many scaffolds to help them practice and gain independence. Courses can provide a range of levels of opportunity with highly scaffolded and supported possibilities for students.

Fluency is also developed through a variety of performing opportunities, whether in the form of an essay or a presentation. Students benefit from performance because it allows them to synthesize their knowledge in ways that are personally relevant.

Some actions to support practice and performance in the classroom include modeling the actions or skills you want your students to achieve, and then, if and when possible, providing an alternative to that model to show how to achieve the same outcome. Another way to build fluency in your students is to provide differentiated feedback, perhaps by providing opportunities for one-on-one discussions about a student’s work, or using rubrics to clarify feedback on an assignment.

Overall, it’s critical to provide options that help students improve their fluency.