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UDL: Providing Multiple Means for Engagement

Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau
March 28, 2021

My granddaughters, Aylin and Ariette, are queens of why. “Why do we need to do this homework?” “Why can’t we keep watching the iPad?” “Why can’t we eat Fruit Loops for dinner?” As a grandparent, it can be an exhausting exercise to answer all of these “whys” kindly and patiently and not just yell out “because I said so!” But the fact is, when my wife Kathy and I have our granddaughters over for a sleepover, we want it to be a happy time. “Because I said so” is simply not going to get them through tough moments. 

In the classroom, getting students to embrace the why can be even more challenging because of student variability. Students have different strengths, limitations, interests, cultures, and backgrounds. They have varying social skills and some are better at self-regulating and coping than others. “Learn it because you have to” doesn’t pass muster with a single kiddo. It certainly won’t work with 10, 20, or 30 students in your class. 

That is why it is critical for us to provide multiple means of engagement. Let’s start by unpacking the UDL principle for Engagement. The principle is broken up into three distinct guidelines which are further divided into checkpoints. Each checkpoint serves as a reminder for considerations we must take when working with groups of learner[[s who have varying strengths and weaknesses. 

The three guidelines in the engagement principle are: 

  • Provide options for recruiting interest
  • Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
  • Provide options for self-regulation

Traditionally, we often equate engagement to interest, but at a glance, you can see it goes so much further than that. 

Know the Goal, Engage the Student

The engagement principle means that the students ALWAYS know the goal(s) of the lesson and what the standard(s) is that you are reaching for in the lesson. By being clear about our goals, we help to recruit interest and help students sustain effort and persistence when things get challenging. Below are some examples and guiding questions to drive engagement based on:

  • How the Assignment is Delivered. Can the students read about it, watch something about it, do something about it, or with it?  Or, will listening to the teacher do the trick?
  • The Perspective of the Topic. Can the students find out about what the topic means to different people or different times?  Can they find out about what it means to a certain occupation or how they will be able to solve some past or future problem?  Can they ask a lot of questions?
  • The Different Methods of Working.  Can students work alone, in a small group or with you?  Can they go home and ask their family members?  Can they have a choice to just go do research on it at the library or online? Can it be a discovery project?
  • Social Emotional Factors. Before students can start learning in any option, it is important to create engagement given varying social emotional factors. Some students like spontaneity, some don’t.  There will be some students who come into a given situation with the feeling that they are “no good at this” or they feel that they are “not as smart as the other kids”, aka the “stereotype threat”. So ensuring that you have options for students to self-regulate is critical.

Keep Students Actively Engaged

Engagement extends beyond recruiting interest and providing choice. We also have to ensure that students can commit to the learning process and continue to put in effort and persistence. 

“With UDL, our aim is to enable all learners to become expert. In the all-important affective domain, expertise involves developing interest, purpose, motivation, and, most importantly, strong self-regulation as a learner.”

- Meyer, Rose, and Gordon, Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice

Provide Multiple Means of EngagementHere are the UDL Guidelines for Engagement (image at right). Together, these guidelines and checkpoints ask us to consider how we design instruction where all students can work toward meaningful goals with appropriate levels of challenge.

Given the incredible variability of our classrooms, it is important to design lessons and units with scaffolding and support as well as acceleration and enrichment.  You don’t have to take this on yourself. Foster collaboration and community with your learners to ask them to co-create lessons with you. Just as you provide mastery-oriented feedback to learners, so too should they have opportunities to share feedback with you, as an educator.

It is critical that we create classrooms where students feel safe enough to take risks and know they have options to cope. Creating practices and procedures that embrace frequent breaks, embedded accommodations, revisions, and retakes can optimize student motivation. Since we are asking students to personalize their learning, it is important that we offer frequent opportunities for them to reflect on their decisions and course correct if necessary. This is a critical part of executive function and what it means to be an expert learner.

To lear more about the Engagement principle and the UDL Guidelines, check out the resources below:

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