Virginia Commonwealth University
January 8, 2010
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By Laura C. Peters, M.A.

Teachers who offer multiple instruction methods not only improve student access to the content, but increase engagement in classroom tasks and prevent off-task or disruptive behavior.

We know that Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can help students master content material and enable teachers to accurately assess what students really know, but how do the principles of UDL affect behavior? Engagement in the assigned classroom task is a behavior that is incompatible with off-task or disruptive behavior. Therefore, teachers who are offering multiple means of engagement are not only improving student access to the content, but they are also preventing challenging behavior. Read below to see how each of the principles of UDL supports student behavior in the classroom.

Provide multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.

  • When teachers offer multiple means of representation, they look for ways to activate prior knowledge and to help students make sense of the lesson’s content. Teachers recognize that students who do not understand the lesson may become frustrated, they may act out, and they may disrupt their peers. By designing lessons that allow all students to access and make sense of the content presented, teachers are taking the first step to ensuring engagement and reducing the likelihood of challenging behavior.

Provide multiple means of action and expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know.

  • Giving students options for demonstrating their understanding of the content not only provides more accurate assessment of skills, but also helps to strengthen learning and recall of content. Teachers recognize that differentiating assignments and activities is a necessity for students with a variety of abilities, but multiple means of expression should also be used for students with a variety of learning styles. By presenting options for action and expression, teachers communicate to students that they understand their needs, and teachers are able to reach the students who typically “check out” when standard written assignments are expected.

Provide multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges and increase motivation.

  • Engaging students in learning is one of the cornerstones of preventing problem behavior. By finding different ways to hook a variety of learners, teachers are creating an environment that is conducive to learning. Consider the student who is bored because the work is too simplistic, or the student who is frustrated because it is too challenging; offering more appropriate options to both students will minimize the possibility of problems arising in the classroom. Likewise, finding ways to make the content meaningful to students will keep them working to make connections and understand the information.

Center for Applied Special Technology (2009). What is Universal Design for Learning? Retrieved November 2, 2009, from



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