Classroom Resources

Environment  |   Presentation  |  Materials/Products

Classroom Environment

The classroom environment is a big part of universally designed instruction and the key to providing a universally designed environment is planning. This checklist provides a means to prepare the physical space of the room for students of all abilities prior to the first class. The objective is to enable all students to do their best. Many of these items will directly benefit not only students with disabilities but all students.

Keep in mind that despite the best planning, unanticipated events or needs may arise and necessary adjustments or modifications should be made. The watchword is flexibility. Use the following principles to guide your implementation of the items on the list.

Everyone is welcome
Create a welcoming place. Take extra effort to acknowledge the range of ability contributing to the class. This is a good time to talk about the disability statement in your syllabus.

A community of learners
This is part of the larger responsibility we have to our fields to represent the knowledge and practices of the discipline. So your implementation of UDL is always within that framework.

Instructional climate
A welcoming place, accessible content, more than one way of learning and demonstrating mastery contribute to an instructional climate that respects people for what they bring and enables them to do their best.

Multiple means of access and flexibility
Ensure that the classroom or other meeting place offers multiple means of entering and leaving.  Walk through the doorways. Are there stairs, lifts and how fast are they? Can they be operated in case of an emergency?

Minimize or eliminate physical barriers
Remove obstacles to moving around the room (chairs, desks, waste baskets, etc). Make sure that everyone can see and hear the instructor.

Enable students to be able to use their full range of motion and achieve course goals
There are many types of rooms. Labs and lecture halls may have very different restrictions on configurations and adaptations must be planned out in advance. Use this list to check out your classroom.

  • The entrance to the building is accessible to all students, including those who use wheelchairs, crutches, service animals, or have visual impairments
  • The entrance to the room is accessible to all students, including those who use wheelchairs, crutches, service animals, or have visual impairments.
  • The paths around the room are at least 36” wide and clear of obstructions. This is especially important in a lab or around machine equipment.
  • All students have a choice of multiple areas to sit in class (accessible seating is available in multiple areas, not just the front or back of class).
  • The chalk/white board can be seen from every seat in the classroom (there are no visual obstructions in the room).
  • Students are aware of the emergency procedures and everyone can exit the room easily if necessary.
  • Chalk or markers used to write on the board are thick enough to be seen by all students.
  • Chalk or markers used to write on the board are a color that all students can see.
  • Mechanical noise that may interfere with a student hearing the teacher is limited.
  • Temperature is at a comfortable setting for all students (too cold or too hot could have an effect on some student’s disabilities and in general could affect concentration).
  • The room has internet access both for multimedia presentations and for students to view material on a personal computer if they can see that mode better.
  • If the classroom is smaller and has movable desks, they are arranged in a circle or horseshoe to promote inclusion, discussion, and remove visual obstructions.
  • Seating or desk/lab bench heights should be adjustable to accommodate students in wheelchairs.
  • Transportation on field trips must accommodate all individuals.

Return to Top

Classroom Presentation

Universal design applied to classroom presentation makes the instruction learner centered. Scaffolding is the idea of using multiple representations of the content in varied contexts and sensory modalities to match to the optimum perception/recognition of the student to activate learning. Use a variety of pedagogical methods (lecture is the most common, but other methods include simulation, independent study, demonstration, to name a few). Present content using multiple presentation technologies such as online forums, video, interactive media, games, or podcasts.

Here are some ideas that you may find applicable to your situation.

  • Develop a course web site or use ICON to post the syllabus, readings and lecture notes in advance
  • Provide multiple communication channels for the class, using a forum for class discussions, email, and or other texting options
  • Provide class notes following class (this could also be considered a class product)
    • Videotape each class/lecture to benefit those for whom note taking is not possible or feasible during class
    • Try round robin note taking by different members of a class and then posting their notes to the web site
  • Offer Skype or similar video conferencing options for those who are traveling such as athletes and those attending conferences or who cannot always attend for other, approved reasons.
  • Offer a choice of texts because some students may find that among equivalent treatments some writers are easier to read or have a more graphical presentation, for example.
  • Vary the presentation methods to expand participation especially among students who are naturally shy, or for whom written communication is stronger, or to encourage collaboration among different groupings of students.
  • Capture content using a SmartBoard or even taking a digital photo and posting it to the web site.
  • Use discussion groups
  • Have participatory activities that make the experience more learner centered
    • Bring in diverse viewpoints and personal experiences to enrich and enliven content
    • Encourage students to look it up, or find their own meaning and be there to coordinate and facilitate their participation
    • Ask for evidence to warrant claims rather than only playing the unchallengeable authority (Schuh, 2003)
    • Cultivate cues that prompt construction of knowledge (Schuh, 2003)
  • Develop a flowchart showing how assignments converge and show choice points at which alternate ways of doing things are appropriate
  • Permit students to choose equivalent assignments using different media or methods
  • Obtain feedback on your lecture style and improve it by
    • Rehearsing with an audience
    • Practicing your expression and voice for loudness and clarity
    • Adjusting your pace as necessary
    • Providing signing if necessary

Return to Top

Classroom Materials and Products

Classroom Materials and Products include the course text, instructional scaffolds, handouts, web sites, assignments, and assessments. Universal design applied to classroom products follows from making instruction learner centered. This section covers multiple outcomes and means of getting them. Of interest is whether the range of activity in class is reflected in the type and variety of materials used and products created by the students.

Some students are good at long writing assignments and test taking and others do poorly and thus do not demonstrate their knowledge. However, they may be very good at making a presentation that involves a performance, or interactive media.

Tests consisting of standard question types will continue to be popular, but in UDL offering alternatives that enable students to demonstrate learning expands the range of instruction and what is learned.

Consider that a poor showing on a single test may reflect a bad day and offers little feedback to you about your teaching. In that case, alternative assessments spread out over the semester provide a steady flow of data that more accurately shows student performance as a cumulative index. Criterion-based performance permits multiple attempts to meet the standard. Think of assessment as a natural part of learning.

Some ideas you may wish to try that align to UDL principles:

  • Offer continuous feedback rather than a few specific dates for traditional testing.
  • Develop rubrics that describe what level of work is associated with earning a particular grade and hand out examples of work that satisfies the gradations of the rubric.
  • Extend time intervals for tests or fieldwork (provide more frequent, shorter tests with generous time limits).
  • Scale fieldwork to reasonable expectations if outside agencies are involved (for example, IRB or funding agencies) that do not work on semester schedules.
  • Offer alternatives to tests that enable students to show they have learned the content through building a web site or wiki, or a presentation in which mastery is demonstrated.
  • Ask for evaluation of your classroom presentation by your students.
  • Scaffold content such that retiring a scaffold is evidence of mastery. A common example of this is using criterion-based rubrics that show evidence of novice to expert performance.
  • Post on the course web site accessible PDF's, Word files, PowerPoint or Keynote files that can be used by screen readers. See our How-To section for links to sites that show you how to make your files accessible.

Return to Top