By Heather Francis
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for curriculum design that supports students with and without disabilities in becoming expert learners.1,2 By proactively applying UDL, teachers can better support diverse learners in their classrooms as they engage with arts integrated literacy curricula.
- Integrate the arts into the representation. Through drama-based pedagogies (DBP), students represent shared stories by acting them out in class. DBP is a research-informed practice that supports the development of reading, social skills, expressive/receptive language, and creative thinking.3,4 Students take the lead as they use gestures, movement, and visual cues to convey meaning. This representation provides students with and without disabilities with additional opportunities to develop oral language and vocabulary skills.5
- Use the arts to drive purposeful learning. Teachers can guide students as they engage in dance or movement activities to build both their social and academic vocabularies by incorporating movement into the heart of any lesson.5 Rather than using decontextualized movement breaks to promote self-regulation for students with and without disabilities, teachers can help all learners to develop foundational literacy skills while supporting their persistence across the school day.
- Move beyond action and expression. The visual and performing arts may be logically added on to the end of a lesson or unit. After students have engaged with traditional approaches to literacy learning, teachers may support students in the dramatization or visual representation of what they have read. However, by proactively integrating the arts into how they engage students and represent literacy content throughout the lesson, teachers help students with and without disabilities to make more substantial academic gains toward their individual and grade level goals.3,4
- Enlist local support. General and special educators may not think they know enough about the arts to integrate practices into their literacy curriculum. By collaborating with local theater groups, businesses, and parents who value the arts,3 students with and without disabilities will have opportunities to develop literacy skills in specific contexts while fostering collaboration and community.1
- Support expert learning. The goal of using the UDL framework is to support expert learning.2 We want to help students become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed learners.1 Infusing the arts into literacy instruction provides rich opportunities for interdisciplinary work while helping students with and without disabilities to develop flexibility, critical thinking skills, metacognitive abilities, and self-efficacy.4
Heather Francis is an Implementation Specialist at CAST, where she supports educators in infusing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their practice. Prior to her work at CAST, Heather worked as a special education teacher, focused on supporting students’ language and literacy development.
1CAST (2014). Universal design for learning guidelines version 3.0. Wakefield, MA.
2Rose, D.H. & Gravel, J.W. (2009). Getting from here to there: UDL, global positioning systems, and lessons for improving education. In D.T. Gordon, J.W. Gravel, & L.A. Shifter (Eds.) A policy reader in universal design for learning (pp. 5–18). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
3 Carney, C.L., Weltsek, G.J., Hall, M.L. & Brinn, G. (2016). Arts infusion and literacy achievement within underserved communities: A matter of equity. Arts Education Policy Review, 117(4), 230–243.
4 Robinson, H. (2013). Arts integration and the success of disadvantaged students: A research evaluation. Arts Education Policy Review, 114(4), 191–204.
5 Brouillette, L. (2012). Supporting the Language Development of Limited English Proficient Students through Arts Integration in the Primary Grades. Arts Education Policy Review, 113(2), 68–74.