What Does UDL Look Like?

I really struggle when someone asks me, “What does UDL look like?” It is not because I don’t know the answer, in theory. It’s because I don’t know what it looks like for YOU. As the brilliant Dr. Liz Berquist explains in UDL: Moving from Exploration to Integration, “Because the implementation of UDL is variable and unique-in this sense it is a model of UDL itself. UDL looks different in every learning environment, just as it looks different in every school, district, and state. Although there are patterns to be found in this variability, there is no right way to implement the UDL framework.”

So, maybe the better question to ask is, “What are the patterns of UDL?”

To put it simply, when teachers implement UDL, students have choices. And those choices allow all students to access rigorous, standards-based curriculum. What kind of choices? There are four interrelated components of a UDL curriculum and when implemented well, students have choice in all four areas. First, let’s unpack those four areas.

Four Components of a UDL Curriculum


As CAST notes, “within the UDL framework, goals themselves are articulated in a way that acknowledges learner variability and differentiates goals from means.” Oftentimes, teachers create goals that include embedded methods. For example, “All students will learn how to write arguments by giving a persuasive speech about which new club belongs in our school.” When teachers can step back and see the goal, “Write arguments,” they could provide numerous choices for students to achieve that goal that doesn’t require all students to stand up in class and read a speech about a club. Ask yourself this: Is the standard actually requiring that students all do the exact same thing in the same way? (The answer is always no!)


The instructional decisions, approaches, procedures, or routines that expert teachers use to accelerate or enhance learning. Oftentimes, however, all students are expected to follow the same procedures in how they learn or express their knowledge (read a short blog on UDL and the Death of Lecturing).


Materials are usually seen as the media used to present learning content and what the learner uses to demonstrate knowledge, but oftentimes, the same materials are provided to all students. I call this “packet syndrome.” CAST calls it, “one-size-fits-all,” teaching and learning.


Assessments are an expression of student learning. When designing assessments, it’s critical that teachers consider exactly what students need to know and do and then strip away any specific methods that have been tied to the goal. Essentially, when reviewing your standards, you will ask yourself, “How will students provide evidence that they met the goal? Can they have choices?”

Now that you have a better sense of the types of choices you’re looking for, you may still be wondering how each of the principles of UDL translates into choices for students. The following may be helpful.

Visions of UDL in Each Principle


Content and skills are presented in multiple ways and students have a choice about which methods and materials to use to reach the goal.

What does this look like?

  • Learning objective or standard is posted and visible to students so they know what the ultimate goal is. All students could tell an observer the goal of the lesson.
  • ”More than one presentation method is apparent and students are accessing different experiences: lecture, reading text, audio, video, reciprocal teaching. If there is one predominant presentation method, there are additional representations embedded (i.e, teacher reads directions while projecting them with document camera, or students watch a video with closed captioning.)
  • ”Teacher pre-teaches vocabulary and activates prior knowledge. May use Frayer models, vocabulary tables, images etc…
  • Teacher provides opportunities or stations where students can learn information on their own (i.e, read a text, view a video, listen to audio, work in collaborative group, etc…)
  • Allows students to access technology (IPads, Nooks, etc…) so they can customize the display of information.

Action and Expression

Students are provided with choices and/or scaffolding when expressing their knowledge in formative and summative assessments.

What does this look like?

  • ”Not all students are completing the same assessments in the same way (but it’s because they made the decision – not just the teacher). For example, if all students are asked to solve an equation, students may have the choice of using math reference sheets, manipulatives, calculators, scratch paper, in small groups, with a partner, etc….If students are working toward a written task, they may have the choice of writing on paper, using a device, accessing a graphic organizer, exemplar, rubric, etc…
  • Teacher may offer engaging choices for assessments, so students can express their knowledge or skills in many different ways: simulations, mock interviews, poetry slams, blogs, debates, essays, multi-media presentations, etc…
  • Teacher uses think-pair-share, private think time, partner tasks, exit tickets or other dipsticking method so all students are assessed daily.
  • When teaching specific methods, such as solving an algebraic equation or writing an essay, teacher provides the following: Work exemplars, rubrics, frequent mastery-oriented feedback, and all necessary resources and materials necessary to complete assignment (i.e, textbooks, pencils, paper.) but not all students have to use the same methods or materials. It’s up to them to self-reflect and create strategies that will allow them to meet the goal.


Students are engaged in authentic, relevant learning opportunities.

What does this look like?

  • There is a clear culture that values creativity, risk-taking, growth mindset and the fact that there are many ways to arrive at the same destination but that journey is different from everyone.
  • Students have an opportunity to personalize their goal. For example, if students are writing arguments, they are all writing about topics of interest to them, exploring the resources that work for them, and express what they know with an authentic product.
  • Rich, mastery-oriented feedback is provided from teachers and peers consistently – including feedback from students to teachers so they can become an integral part of the design and delivery of their own instruction.
  • There are many opportunities for students to self-assess their progress, make changes if necessary, and get feedback on how to continue to work toward their goals so they can make better decisions about methods and materials in the future.
  • Teacher is monitoring the classroom to keep students on task, helping them stay organized and prevent frustration, but students also collaborate to push each other to continue to apply effort and persistence.

UDL in Action

In UDL-topia, students have choices in all four interrelated components, and these choices are both engaging and accessible. But early UDL implementation may be only focused on providing choices in one or more areas, so when you’re looking for the UDL principles in action, you may see glimpses in a class that is not yet universally designed for all learners to be able to personalize their learning experience in meaningful ways. So, how do you move from point A to point B? As with all things UDL, you need to personalize that process for you and your students, and that starts with asking them for their feedback.

In UDL, student voice is optimized. Strong UDL practice starts with collaborating with students to ask students what they need to be successful. David Rose once said, “Teaching, at its core, is emotional work.” I truly believe that students know what they need to be successful and that everything that they need to follow their passion and achieve their dreams is inside of them. We as educators have a tremendous opportunity to learn more about our teaching from our students if we are open and ask the right questions and listen to their answers.

So, here is my official answer: If all students are working toward the same rigorous standards but making choices that allow them to honor their strengths, challenge themselves and follow their passions, then that’s what UDL looks like.

  • If you’re wondering how this is different from Differentiated Instruction, click here.
  • If you’d like to learn more about implementing UDL in the classroom, check out UDL Now!
Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

One thought on “Million Dollar Question: What Does UDL Look Like?

  • June 1, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    Good read…. did open my eyes to some things (ex: goals). What is my goal? Do I force my way upon the kids or can I give options for them to prove to me that they got it! Mastered!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.