WeAreTeachers is excited to share the third article in a series on differentiating instruction by guest blogger Jen Lillis, a marketing communications manager at Brookes Publishing, an independent publisher of books and resources for people who work with children with developmental disabilities or learning delays. Check out her first two articles here.

You’ve probably been differentiating instruction for your students in one way or another since you started teaching, so you may be wondering, “What’s all the buzz about universal design for learning (UDL)?” Sure, planning all your lessons to cater to every student’s individual learning style is ideal, but realistically, how can you make UDL work in a classroom of 30 or more students?

Here are six steps, adapted from Your UDL Lesson Planner by Patti Kelly Ralabate, to make UDL lesson planning work in your classroom and give all students an equal opportunity to learn.

STEP 1: Ready. Set. Goal!
First, ask yourself, “What’s the goal of this lesson?” (Hint: Many times Common Core or state standards help you figure it out.) Even though the standards may be a starting point, the learning goals should focus on your students—specifically their knowledge, skills and perceptions. Try to make goals SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented and time bound. It sounds like a lot of work, but taking time up front to make sure goals are solid, makes everything else easier.

STEP 2: Think through individual differences.
Before you dive into teaching your lesson, take a few minutes to think about variability in your students—any individual differences in their current skills, learning gaps and needs. Do you have a student who gets easily distracted or may feel frustrated for some reason? Think about what types of scaffolding (e.g., pre-teaching vocabulary) you can use to set up your students for success.

STEP 3: Decide how you’ll check that students are “getting it.”
Think about how you’ll check your students’ understanding throughout the lesson to make sure they’re meeting the goals you set. Besides helping you know if your students are “getting it,” informal checks can also help you see whether you’re teaching too fast or slow or if the information is clear. If you have students who are on an IEP or 504 plan, find out if they have any assessment accommodations you need to provide.

STEP 4: Pick and choose materials and methods wisely.
To make learning motivating and memorable, ask yourself questions like, “Are these math manipulatives distracting or will they actually help my students learn?” This is also a good time to think back to your students’ individual differences and plan accommodations or modifications, like using different colored markers on the whiteboard or allowing a student more time to finish an activity.

STEP 5: It’s time to teach!
Now it’s time to pull it all together and deliver your awesome UDL lesson. Throughout your teaching, try to use a flexible approach to check your students’ understanding and make sure they meet the learning goals you set.

STEP 6: Hold a mirror up to your lesson.
After your lesson is over, take time to think about how it turned out. What worked well? What will you do differently next time? Did all your students achieve the learning goals you set? What’s next?

How does UDL lesson planning look in real classrooms? Visit the Brookes Inclusion Lab to see how three teachers with very different needs use these six steps in their lesson planning.