Sunday, July 25, 2010

Universal Design for Learning and the Arts

“I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in” (Bill Gates).

Once again, I have the pleasure of being a guest online lecturer for a Universal Design for Learning course hosted by The George Washington University in Washington, DC. I would like to share with you the mini-lecture on the arts and Universal Design for Learning that I posted during the online discussion. I hope that this information will continue to spark ideas and conversation.

A book that made a profound impact upon my life was Howard Gardner’s, Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I read it and thought …he understands what it is to be an artist…he understands that there are multiple view points and they can all be valued..he understands that honoring multiple intelligences will lead to a full picture of a topic as informed by a confluence of the intelligences of multiple learners. I found his ideas liberating in my art studio allowing my elementary and middle school students to bring their sensitivity their unique way of knowing something to each project. Collaboratively we decided to drastically move away from uniform outcomes, students were encouraged to create from their hearts, what they saw, how they saw, how they felt and experienced their world. Below are paintings of “The Essence of a Bicycle” painted by fifth grade students.

The Essence of a Bicycle

As a lifelong artist and elementary and middle school art teacher I took it for granted that the integration of tools for learning and learning itself were so intertwined that they created transparent processes in the studio. For example, one could see the progress by watching the students mix colors, use brushes, start with a blank canvas and gradually create a painting, which connected their internal thoughts with the external world. Four years ago I took a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) course. I realized that there was a synergy between the art studio and UDL and I began exploring ways to embed the use of technology both as a teaching and learning tool and a modality of expression into my art classes. What developed was a practice in my art studio where students were free to use the computer, scanner and printer as touchstones of innovation to explore and gather information by visiting various websites, to plan and create artwork and even sound-scapes. This technology provided content, inspiration and a platform for creating. Even video games, many of which have negative reputations, were used to spark discussion about art technology and censorship. Technology in my view pushes the boundaries of learning in studio beyond the walls! It offers paperless, instantaneous communication, access to information, artistic creative capabilities once thought unimaginable, virtual realities, a new language of knowing and a platform for educating that asks us to re-examine the traditional modes of teaching and learning. An example of art and technology used for teaching physics is found in the visual applets created at MIT for use in thier freshmen physics studio. They are beautiful to look at and create artistic images of what is scientific truth but is invisible to our eyes. Art and technology marry to make visible the invisible!! I have linked to
The Falling Ring with Finite Resistance". What a beautiful work of art and valuable teaching tool!

Perhaps a confluence of technology and the arts may offer great promise in helping to solve the dropout epidemic in our country. Much educational research has been done on the reason high school students are dropping out"(Bridgeland, DiIlulio, & Burke Morison, 2006). Reasons cited for dropping out include that school lacks relevance to a student’s life and real world challenges, that no one takes a personal interest in the student and that it is too hard to attend school and deal with issues of life outside of school. Further, student engagement research has illuminated what is needed to keep students engaged in school (Sharan, S. & Tan, I.G.C. 2008). Student engagement as defined by Sharan and Tan goes beyond “motivation to learn” it must take into account “student interest, attachment to school achievement motivation, self-regulated learning, commitment to learning, and/or the investment of energy in learning in general” (p. 41). Further supporting this definition studies have shown that students who were placed at risk by circumstance became engaged in school through collaborative group project-based learning where the teacher was actively engaged with the students and the students felt a personal connection to their teacher (Kuh, 2007; Means & Knapp, 1991).

Universal Design for Learning offers foundational tenets for truly egalitarian education where no one is marginalized by being labeled as having “special needs or exceptional needs” rather, UDL widens the circle so that every learner is considered unique and has a full compliment of accommodations offered to them to support a holistic educational experience. Accommodations become invisible, embedded in the classroom and integrated into the way we teach and learn. In this same way the art studio classroom allows project based learning and portfolio assessment to be the norm. Students work collaboratively and the teacher becomes a facilitator or guide. Both models move away from lock step “one size fits all” curriculum and instruction mode to a classroom which allows the student to take control of their learning by integrating rich and varied tools that allow for multiple ways of showing knowledge. The studio and UDL embedded technology break down the barrier between teacher and student by making the teacher a facilitator and guide while the student takes active control of their learning. As posted of the Arts Ask for more website the benefits of arts education are listed:

-The arts make a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and have been proven to help level the "learning field" across socio-economic boundaries
(Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School, James S. Catterall, The UCLA Imagination Project, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, UCLA, Americans for the Arts Monograph, January 1998).
Has a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance among those youth engaged in after school and summer arts programs targeted toward delinquency prevention (YouthARTS Development Project, 1996, U.S. Department of Justice, National Endowment for the Arts, and Americans for the Arts).
The National Universal Design for Learning Task Force states the benefits of UDL:
*UDL improves educational outcomes for ALL students by ensuring meaningful access to the curriculum and accurate skill and knowledge assessment. In addition UDL complements existing school reform initiatives.
*Provide multiple and flexible methods of presentation to give students with diverse learning styles various ways of acquiring information and knowledge.
*Provide multiple and flexible means of expression to provide diverse students with alternatives for demonstrating what they have learned, and
*Provide multiple and flexible means of engagement to tap into diverse learners' interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn (CAST, hosted by The Advocacy Institute, 2009.

Ultimately UDL and the arts together offer a way of pursuing social justice in our classrooms by opening up possibilities for providing teaching, learning and assessment in multi-modalities. The environment created by an art studio that embraces UDL to teach all disciplines would offer every student access to the general curriculum and fair assessment methods. It further would offer pro-social benefits of peer instruction and opportunities for students with disabilities and students who have been marginalized because they cannot attend school because of a disability or circumstances to participate fully through technology. It is up to the teachers to move the current discourse in education away from top down mandates of high stakes testing that marginalize some students towards systemic change which is student-centric addressing the learning styles and needs of all students. UDL and the way students learn in the art studio may hold the key to a level educational playing field!

So I ask you as educators to ponder the following questions:

In the current educational climate in the United States, which focuses on high stake testing, what are your thoughts on UDL and the art studio?

Do you think there is a possible bond between the arts and UDL?

What is the role of the educator, student, school administrators, legislators in embracing such systemic change as adopting UDL and arts based practice as the norm?

What challenges do we face in an attempt at such change?

Do you have a story to share about UDL and arts based practice in your school that would add to the discussion.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on UDL and the arts.

Dr. Christine Morano Magee


Americans for the Arts (2009) The arts ask for more.

Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, Jr. J., Burke Morison, K. (2006). The silent

epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from

Dori, Y. J., Belcher, J. Bessette, M, Danziger, M., Mckinney, A. and Hult, E. (2003). Technology for active learning. Materials Today, 6(12) 44–49. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from:

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (10th Anniversary Ed.) NY: Basic Books.

Kuh, G. (2007). What student engagement data tell us about college

readiness. Peer Review, 9(1), 4-8.

Means, B., & Knapp, M.S. (1991). Introduction: Rethinking teaching

for disadvantaged students. In B. Means, C. Chelemer, and M.S. Knapp (Eds.), Teaching advanced skills to at-risk students: Views from research and practice. San Francisco:Jossey-Bass.

National Universal Design for Learning Task Force (2009). Universal

design for learning: The facts for educators. The Advocacy Institute. Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from

Sharan, S. & Tan I.G.C. (2008). Organizing Schools for Productive

Learning. Springer Science . Retrieved on July 1, 2009 from



Blogger Kaveri said...

i like the "Essence of a Bicycle" paintings

7:44 PM  
Blogger Grady said...

I am wondering nif you have done or know of anyone who is incorporating principals of UDL in college Fine Art programs.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Dr. Magee,
I am a graduate student getting my master's in Art Education. I think visual art education & UDL can go hand in hand. Offering students multiple means of expression is something that the visual arts inherehtly do. For my final project in the course, "Art for Exceptionalities" I am trying to tie UDL and art together and create several lesson plans. Do you have any model lesson plans for studio art that utilize UDL principles? Or perhaps any other resources you can recommend? If so, I would be very appreciative if I could view them.

1:22 PM  
Blogger 周伯啟江彥璋 said...


11:47 PM  

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