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LDC Mini-Tasks and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) by Leslie Buffen and Vicki Griffo

April 28th, 2016

We are pleased to welcome guest bloggers Leslie Buffen and Vicki Griffo from the University of California, Berkeley, who are working under the direction of Dr. P. David Pearson to add UDL modifications to a variety of exemplary LDC Mini-Tasks available in the Curriculum Library in LDC CoreTools.

As our library of exemplary mini-tasks has grown to more than 400 contributions authored by teachers across the LDC community of practice, we continue to strive to feature examples that support not only the skills and standards you need to address across all disciplines and grade levels, but also examples that meet the diverse needs of all the students you teach. In this blog, we will illustrate how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) supports can be embedded within existing LDC mini-tasks to support students who have a wide range of needs. We will reference examples from a new collection of exemplary LDC mini-tasks that feature such UDL supports. We hope to grow this collection in the future based on your contributions and suggestions.

Access the new LDC UDL collection here

UDL Background

Rationale. A fundamental tenet in education is that every student has the right and the ability to succeed. However, when it comes to education, one size does not fit all! Learners vary in their experience, knowledge, ability, and preferences. By adhering to UDL Principles in lesson design, we address variation in how students read, write, process information, and engage in learning.

What is UDL and why use it? The UDL framework is a set of flexible curricular supports that broaden student accessibility to content for a constellation of learning needs, especially for struggling students and students with disabilities. UDL supports are designed to minimize common learning barriers in instruction while optimizing both the challenge and instructional scaffolds. The set of supports outlined in the UDL Framework is a product of extensive literature review and work conducted by the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Who developed UDL? The UDL approach was developed by a band of education researchers who founded CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology, a non-profit research and development organization.

UDL Framework of Supports

The UDL framework is categorized into the three main principles of Representation, Expression, and Engagement, all described below.


Representation affects how information gets presented to the student. The following supports can be provided to any lesson to help with representation:

  • Set purpose. Identify lesson goals, preview text and set expectations about what will be read/learned.

  • Activate Background Knowledge. Engage students in targeted conversation, and/or build relevant knowledge through external supports such as multimedia. Note: supports should be low cognitive demand so students don’t extend extra effort to get up to speed.

  • Preview or Highlight Key Ideas. Emphasize this key information:

    • Provide a summary of a complex text,

    • Offer a completed graphic organizer before/after reading,

    • Highlight sections of the text (e.g. to note key ideas),

    • Include annotations, and/or

    • Embed prompts to guide or provoke comprehension at key points.

  • Provide text alternatives. Reduce reading load by supplementing text with audiobooks, partner/shared reading, teacher read alouds, or YouTube.

  • Chunk text. Choose key stopping points to take stock, excerpt important sections of the text, or jigsaw text by assigning groups partial responsibility for sections of the text.

  • Present information in multiple modalities. Provide both auditory and written directions/goals, etc.


Expression affects how students are asked to contribute and demonstrate knowledge. The following supports can be provided to any lesson to help with expression:

  • Vary Forms of Expression. Offer flexible options and choice to express knowledge (e.g., audio recording, drawing, talking to partner, create rap song/poster/video/brochure).

  • Offer language scaffolds. Use sentence starters, cloze sentences, or utilize multimedia tools to support written expression.

  • Break writing into manageable phases. Scaffold phases of the written work.

  • Allow access to external supports. Give access to spelling/grammar check to support conventions.

  • Provide writing models. Show and discuss student examples and model texts.

  • Provide specific rubrics. Detail performance expectations for student reference.


Engagement affects how students are motivated to participate. The following supports can be provided to any lesson to help with engagement:

  • Group students purposefully. Utilize same and mixed ability groupings that maximize participation and opportunities to collaborate on ideas.

  • Utilize conversation. Bridge the reading-writing gap through opportunities to talk through a complex text or to prepare for writing.

  • Afford choice.

A UDL Mini-Task Example

UDL supports have been layered into LDC mini-tasks in this collection to enhance instructional design to ensure that a wide range of students receive the support they need to complete these mini-tasks. We identify UDL supports in these mini-tasks in bracketed explanations that describe the principle, the support, and a brief suggestion on how to specifically enact the support. Let’s go deep into one of these mini-tasks.

  • Writing Observational Journals. This mini-task is adapted from a Smithsonian Education lesson. Through live webcam footage of several animals, students observe an animal and practice generating detailed observational notes that describe the animals' setting, appearance, and behavior, as well as the observer's personal interpretation. Students have the opportunity to share and revise their observational notes based on peer feedback and read and analyze a written observation from an expert in the field. Several UDL supports have been embedded throughout the lesson such as: a) building background knowledge, b) chunking text to reduce reading load, c) using conversation to bridge reading-writing, d) offering language scaffolds through word lists and sentence starters, and e) varying forms of acceptable student response.

A Call to Action

Since the best and most widely used mini-tasks in the LDC Curriculum Library always come from the work teachers are doing in the field, we urge you to share with us and the community any mini-tasks that you create or adapt that make use of UDL principles. If you have any such mini-tasks now or in the future — or if you have other contributions or suggestions related to UDL and LDC — please contact us.



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