UDL is a process, not a checklist. This was such an a-ha moment for me. It seems so simple, but it has taken me a very long time to come to this conclusion.
When I participated in the UDL action research project in 2013-14, our research team sought to find or create tools to facilitate the implementation of UDL in classrooms. At that time, for us, that meant finding or creating the 'perfect template', something that we could use and share with teachers to make it easier to plan with the UDL principles in mind. We scoured the internet in search of the almighty template, but nothing felt right. We even created a couple of them, and made many revisions along the way. They were usually some variation of a checklist. They usually included checklists for technologies we would use in our lessons, multiple intelligences that were targeted, and of course CAST's UDL guiding principles.
I even spent an entire school year committed to using a checklist. I put it in a plastic sheet protector, and kept it in my lesson plan book. I diligently completed my checklist with a dry erase marker daily. Each day I would erase it, and repeat the process. It took some time, but I convinced myself that it was time well spent. Maybe it was. In any case, I was hooked. Completely addicted to checklists.
This year I returned to work after a year-long maternity leave. I considered using my checklist again, but I asked myself why I felt the need to use this checklist? Who was it for? No one looked at it other than me, and I resolved that by abandoning this tool that I was not abandoning UDL. After all, when I am writing my lesson plans or creating unit plans, UDL is always a part of my thought process. Why the need to document it in such detail?
Then I had an epiphany. I realized that the time I spent filling out a checklist each day, not to mention the countless hours I spent in search of, and in the creation of 'the perfect checklist', perhaps was not time well spent after all. What really mattered was that I was constantly trying to implement UDL practices in my classroom. That lessons were planned from the outset to target the needs of all of my students. That learning activities were designed to be engaging for students. That students were given choice and autonomy. That the physical environment and learning materials were accessible. That my classroom was managed in a way to minimize distractions and foster collaboration and community. And most importantly, that I did not need a checklist to accomplish any of that. So ended my addiction to checklists.
I'm proud to say that I've been checklist-free for the last three months. It's been wonderful! I'm no longer faced by the task of erasing and re-doing a checklist each day before I leave work. It might not seem like much, but removing just one daily task from a seemingly endless pile of daily tasks has been liberating. And, as I suspected, removing the checklist from my lesson plan book did not mean that I'm no longer 'doing UDL'. I am still highly engaged with implementing UDL in my classroom, and I don't need a checklist to prove that!
I'm really happy with this decision. Maybe even as happy the teacher in this stock photo. I mean, who wouldn't be happy with a class of five students?