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How to Help Children Succeed in School and Life with UDL

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
October 10, 2018

Have you ever hopped in your car, turned on the GPS, mindlessly followed the instructions and arrived at your destination without remembering the drive? There are multiple ways of getting from point A to point B, but so often we allow a machine to tell us which turns to take and which path to follow. We decide it knows best and we should trust it. But in the midst of this trust, we miss the shady hollows, glistening sunsets, and chaotic overgrowth of the backroads. There is beauty in it, and it remains unexplored.

If you have witnessed a child struggling through the education system, you are not alone. Standardization and regulations, over time, have made education a one-path system, and so many students today fight to keep up, lose interest in learning, and become alienated from school. I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way.

The emergence of an education framework called Universal Design of Learning (UDL) has led the education system in a new direction. Teachers and administrators nationwide are jumping aboard, and the results they have been seeing are astounding.

The basis of the UDL framework is that every child can become a motivated, successful learner. It recognizes the variability in children and embraces the different journeys they must take to learn. UDL is the antithesis of one-size-fits-all education. It’s about teaching students how to learn, think, and problem-solve. It shows them how to persevere when things are difficult and embrace challenges. It gives them the tools they need to create their own educational paths. With UDL, students structure their own journeys and find the beauty in the backroads.

The UDL framework does this by activating the three networks of the brain: the Affective Network, the Recognition Network and the Strategic Network.

  • The Affective Network is responsible for motivating students and recruiting their interest. Without activating this network, students will not see the purpose of learning. Students need to be shown WHY a lesson is important in order to persist and cope when they face challenges.
  • The Recognition Network provides information to students and translates it into something meaningful. The Recognition Network allows a student to understand and make sense of information. It is the WHAT of learning.
  • The Strategic Network must be activated for students to put ideas into actions. It allows children to express HOW what they have learned is valuable and useful. It puts knowledge to the test in a real world application which requires self-direction and problem solving.

When these three networks of the brain are activated, students become curious, hungry learners. The path for every student isn’t the same; some students will continue to struggle as they learn how to learn while others will achieve goals more quickly. But with patience and persistence, I truly believe that all students can become expert learners. I have watched this through my 15 years of teaching and working as an administrator in the public school system. I have seen incredible transformations as teachers have incorporated UDL into their daily practice.

You can advocate for UDL in your school system and learn how to incorporate the principles of UDL into your everyday life to help your children succeed.

Next time you hop in your car, take my advice. Leave the GPS at home, take a few wrong turns, and pay attention to your surroundings. You never know what you might find.


Parents can learn more about UDL and how to implement it to help their children achieve his/her goals by reading, “Let Them Thrive: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Success in School and Life.”

Teachers are encouraged to explore UDL Now! to learn about the theory of UDL and how to incorporate UDL into their daily practice.

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