In the past two installments in this series, we covered the concepts of Multiple Means of Representation and Multiple Means of Expression. As I receive many questions about the latter, before we move on to Multiple Means of Engagement -- the first of the three core principles -- I wanted to take a moment to spend more time on expression and its significance in the UDL learning environment.
With the help of technology, we have offered learners a means by which their individual learning styles can be met in their initial engagement with the subject matter, and have offered educators a means by which they can generate a variety of content forms by which to represent that subject matter. Where the proverbial rubber often meets the road in education, however, is in the learner’s ability to then recall and make use of the information they have been taught. As always, no two students are exactly alike in regards to their strengths, preferences, and competencies, and so providing them with multiple means by which to express their mastery of the subject matter completes the learner’s initial journey through UDL.
So, what exactly is meant by Multiple Means of Expression? Glad you asked. I feel the simplest way to make a case for this principle is to bring it back to Multiple Means of Representation. As a UDL educator, you are given the tools required to develop rich and engaging content especially suited to the individual needs of the learner. Why, then, should they not be allowed to carry that same conscientiousness and consideration across the finish line? In doing so, they gain a sense of ownership over their work, make their own contributions back to the classroom and the growing ecosystem of UDL learning materials -- never underestimate the creativity and imagination of a leaner nor their ability to speak the language of, and teach, their contemporaries and colleagues, and even teach you a few things you didn’t know about the subject -- and, perhaps most important of all, demonstrate their mastery without impediment to give you the peace of mind that you have effectively fulfilled your role as teacher.
As always, when and where you elect to employ UDL techniques is entirely up to you, as is the forms of expression you offer to your students. If a learner is deficient in their writing competency, offering them an option to create a piece of media or art may not be aligned with your goals for that learner. On the other hand, the same student might be more engaged with the material and employ more energy and focus if they were, from time to time, allowed to play to their strengths as a visual learner. Be creative! If you have assigned some reading material, instead of an essay, maybe they can draw a picture of a pivotal moment in the text and include a brief caption as to what makes that moment important to the narrative. Maybe they can write a poem or a song about a core theme. If it is a history text about ancient civilization, maybe they can design and sew a costume from that era or act out a scripted or improvised scene depicting a day in the life. If you are teaching spatial relationships, maybe the learner can photograph real-world examples of the concept or build (or acquire) physical representations out of clay, stone, or wood. For the really ambitious student, the opportunity to teach the subject matter to the class may be the ultimate form of encouragement and can empassion both the student-presenter as well as the rest of the class. The possibilities are truly endless and limited only by your imagination and that of your students.
The good news is that, as you have already gone through the UDL content development process in addressing the first two core principles, you are exceptionally well equipped to instruct and encourage your students as to how to apply UDL to their chosen method of expression. The even better news is that many of the same tools and technologies you made use of to generate the various forms of representation can be made available to the learner.
In the end, there has never been a better time in pedagogical and andragogical history to employ UDL in your classroom environment. We all deserve to be treated as individuals and to be allowed to make our own unique contributions to the educational narrative of our time -- student and teacher alike. The first step is often the most difficult one, but I promise you it will be worthwhile and that you are not alone. If you were to ask me what I felt was the most powerful and meaningful aspect of UDL, it would simply be this: UDL encourages us all to gain a deeper, more compassionate and empathetic understanding of our fellow human beings. Yes, it is effective at increasing retention and recall, in engendering a healthy relationship with learning, and a litany of other amazing and wonderful things.
How does that ad go?
Helping to build a better learner by addressing their unique needs and talents and giving them the tools and opportunities necessary to thrive: Worth a whole bunch!
Helping to build a better world through deeper compassion and empathy: Priceless!