Universal Design for Learning – Representation

Reposted with permission from blog.texthelp.com

In last week’s post I gave a high level overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a framework designed to give all students equal access to learning. In this post, I will be diving deeper into one of the UDL Principles, Multiple Means of Representation, by providing ideas and strategies to use when delivering content to a variety of learners.

Young child teaching other children

If you recall from last week’s post there are three overall principles associated with Universal Design for Learning:

  1. Multiple Means of Representation
  2. Multiple Means of Action and Expression
  3. Multiple Means of Engagement

While each of the principles have guidelines to assist with implementation, the purpose of this post is to provide a few overall ideas to specifically help with Multiple Means of Representation.

In addition, as opposed to doing a separate post on Multiple Means of Engagement, I hope to make it clear in this post that while Engagement is something you plan for, it is not something that must be done separate from Representation or Expression. For example, it would not make sense to teach content to students (Representation), ask them to demonstrate their knowledge (Expression), then decide it is time for Engagement. Instead Engagement should be integrated in all parts of the classroom experience.

To help break Representation up into manageable pieces, I’ve decided to discuss it as a process that includes a before, during and after piece.


Unfortunately, effectively implementing Multiple Means of Representation is not something that is easily done spur of the moment. It requires both content knowledge and planning. Some questions to help guide how you represent content include:

  • What background knowledge do my students currently have regarding the content? How will this impact my teaching?
  • What are the learning preferences of my students?
  • What ways can I represent content that is accessible to all students? This may include audio, video clips, presentations with high quality visuals, hands on activities, and more.
  • How much time will I need to prepare this lesson in order to deliver it as planned? Is this doable or do I need to simplify pieces of it?


Properly planning a lesson will go a long way in your ability to deliver it effectively. When the time comes to actually deliver, attempt to engage students as soon as they walk in the door. I call this “the hook” and it can be something as simple as having sounds play in the background as students enter the room, to more complex activities that may involve changing the classroom layout (again, being sure to consider accessibility).

In their book Made to Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath provide 6 strategies for making information “stick” in the mind of others. One of those strategies is “Surprise.” They state

“Surprise gains attention, interest keeps it.”

In other words, doing an engaging “hook” is a great way to grab students’ attention, but then you must ensure the remainder of your lesson is well thought through in order to keep interest. If you haven’t read Made to Stick I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Another thing to consider integrating into your lesson is guided notes. Guided notes are basically pre-created notes with words or entire lines missing that students can fill in as they go. The benefits of guided notes are tremendous, including greater engagement, better note taking, the comfort of knowing students are recording the most important information, and much more. Guided notes are also easy to modify depending on student need. For example, students who require additional support may have less blank spaces to fill in (or maybe no blank spaces at all) than students who are more comfortable with the content.


Once a lesson is delivered Representation is not necessarily over. Most lessons include some type of independent practice or reading assignment that gives students more detail and background on the content. This independent practice may occur in class, the library, at home, or anywhere in between. It is during this time that software supports such as Read&Write Gold are critical.

Read&Write Gold and other supports from Texthelp are designed with Universal Design in mind. As opposed to being another software that struggling students must use while in a separate environment, they integrate directly with software and platforms that students are already using such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, the Web, Email, etc… and on devices such as PCs, Macs, and Chromebooks.

Screenshot of Read&Write Gold reading a document with dual high-lighting

These supports allow students to independently access content anytime and anywhere, which greatly assists with providing Multiple Means of Representation.


While this post has went on a little longer than I expected I hope that it provides several ideas that can be immediately implemented when planning a Universally Designed lesson. Please list other ideas or resources that can help specifically with Representation in the comments area below.

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About Jason Carroll

Jason first learned of Assistive Technology while working on his undergraduate degree where much of his spare time was spent assisting a regional education centre with basic technology needs. Amazed at how this technology could benefit so many students (particularly those he grew up with) he was hooked and immediately became an expert at the centre. After receiving his Masters, Jason returned to the coop to serve as a full time Assistive Technology Consultant serving over 200 schools in the central Kentucky Region.

Since this time, Jason has trained thousands on Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning concepts throughout the United States and beyond. His focus is on integrating research based practices into the work he does and helping others ensure that what they are doing works. He specialises in assisting people to bridge the gap between operation of technology and actual implementation. Jason is a published author, has taught Instructional Technology and Universal Design for Learning at the University level, and spends a significant amount of time on e-Learning and blended learning initiatives. He is a graduate of the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) from California State University at Northridge and holds a Masters in Business Administration.

Currently Jason serves as Product Marketing Manager for North America at Texthelp Inc. where he oversees new product launches and speaks nationally on a variety of Assistive Technology topics.

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