Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Computer Science for All means all students, including those with physical and learning disabilities. This CSforAll Consortium community call reviews adaptions and accommodations for lessons as well as experiences from the classroom. It's important to keep in mind that CSforAll means providing the same content to all students. The terms below come up in the community call and in the Teaching Practices Guide and are helpful to keep in mind while thinking about teaching Mobile CSP.

  • Adaptations: Whole-class adjustments to a lesson to benefit students with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders and possibly the whol range of learners in class; similar to elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

  • Accommodations: Explicit approaches offered to individual students/groups of students because of an identified learning difference beyond what a whole-class adaptation can provide

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design Learning (UDL) refers to the “approach to address the disabilities of schools rather than students” (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, p. 3). Other approaches aimed at improving accessibility for students may make changes based on an individual’s needs whereas UDL aims to make adjustments to the shortcoming of teaching structures -- curriculums, classes, or schools -- as opposed to the characteristics of a student. UDL aims to alter how a teacher thinks about teaching and to remove the barriers that may prevent students from learning.

The UDL Framework

UDL is commonly viewed as a strategy to promote accessibility in class for struggling students or for students that need accommodations. However, UDL should be in all classrooms regardless of a perceived student need. UDL strategies not only help those with accessibility needs but they help all learners as the strategies are aligned with how the brain learns.

Supported by research, the three principles of UDL framework -- representation, action & expression, engagement -- aim to align effective teaching with how the brain uses networks -- affective, recognition, strategic -- to learn (Meyer, Rose & Gordon, p. 51).

Why does UDL matter?

Sometimes the barriers that students face when attempting to learn are not always obvious. Barriers such as poverty or cultural differences cannot be seen but they are barriers nonetheless. When teachers assume that their curriculum “is best as is” or that “students do not need accommodations” they may be inadvertently closing the door to students that need help. UDL has the potential to be good for all students. When teachers make accessibility or UDL accommodations, they are benefitting all their students.

Applying UDL Principles

The 3 UDL principles aim to breakdown the strategies that educators can implement in their classroom to align with how the brain learns. Below we have included just a few of the many strategies that can be identified from the UDL guidelines. A full description of UDL principles and more information about the guidelines can be found on the CAST website: The UDL Guidelines.

REPRESENTATION - “What” of Learning: Provide a variety of options and opportunities for students to receive and process information

ACTION & EXPRESSION - “How” of Learning: Provide a variety of options and opportunities for students to interact and represent what they’ve learned (content)

ENGAGEMENT - “Why” of Learning: Provide a variety of options and opportunities for students to showcase their own learning goals

What Can I Do? Strategies for the CS Classroom

Turn captions on for all videos

Are captions on? || Captions support learning for all learners not just those who are audio impaired. In fact, captions can help promote literacy and information retention (Brann, 2011).


  • Turn on captions whenever you use a video in class

  • Offer a transcript/handout that highlights the main points if captions are not available.

Learn How: How to Turn on Captions

Write out vocabulary on the board

Make definitions and vocabulary readily available so students can reference materials throughout the lesson.


  • Use your board -- Write new vocabulary and the definition(s) on the board

    • “Let’s work together to define an algorithm (write word on board).”

  • Use colored text and highlights – In the lesson materials, activities, or worksheets, highlight new words or topics. If a topic will be used throughout the class, call attention to these topics.

  • Write out resources -- When students are completing the Caesar Cipher lesson write out the alphabet on the board and work through the drills with the students. Provide the alphabet on tests, check-ins, and activities.

Define collaboration roles

Provide handouts for activities where students may need to write, problem-solve, or collaborate even if there is a handout online. Be explicit when defining collaboration roles and define roles every time collaboration is used.


  • Print out the name and description of POGIL, pair-programming, and other collaboration roles so when students work together they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Consider posting roles on your wall as posters.

Learn More: Pair Programming | POGIL Roles

Demonstrate activities

When introducing new code to students (i.e. procedures or loops), physically walk out the code so students can see what you are talking about. Do not rely on a students’ ability to mentally picture what you are talking about and illustrate the code by walking it out in your classroom.

Offer alternatives ways to demonstrate knowledge

You’ve asked students to write out a reflection on how their Create task is going. Instead of requiring students write out their responses, encourage students to use alternatives such as video, audio recording, Power Point, a game, or other creative tools.

Use feedback for learning

Use different assessment methods to check-in on student learning and use the responses to make changes. Remember that assessments do not have to be graded and can be used to gain feedback from your students. Encourage students to use reflection techniques to provide meaningful feedback.


  • Exit slips – Ask students to write down their thoughts and any remaining questions at the end of the lesson.

  • Think-pair-share – Ask students a question, have students reflect, then have students share with one another

Learn More: Top 10 UDL Tips for Assessment

Empower your students to take ownership of their own learning by being a guide on the side versus a sage on the stage.


  • What changes can I make to ensure all the lessons and activities in the class encourage student learning and choice?

Reflection Activity

Review the research summary from Outlier Research on Teaching Practices Guide: Improving Accessibility for Students with Learning Disabilities & ADHD: The Computer Science Principles (CSP) Course and one or two of the Student Voices resource pages (school two-thirds of the way down to the Teacher Resources tab).

Reflect on and discuss the following questions:

  • Apply your learning: Review a lesson from a CS curriculum that you use (e.g. CSAwesome or Mobile CSP). How might you apply some of the strategies in the research report to that lesson?

  • Set a goal: Identify 3 UDL strategies that you will use at least once per week in your classroom during the upcoming academic year. Use the following structure for your commitment: I will _________________________. Email your three “I will” statements to your PD facilitator or peer teacher. Feel free to use video, text, or audio to record your commitment. Visit your commitments at least once a month.