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Providing literacy support using technology and UDL

On this page, the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens has been applied to identify common ways that technology can be used to access and support students in reading, writing, and organisational tasks.

Further information in a much more varied format is available on the Inclusive Education website . The site has a wealth of resources and NZ examples of UDL in action.

Using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a term coined by CAST . They define it as a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

Rather than address individual needs through one-off adaptations or differentiation, UDL aims to remove barriers to learning and create inclusive learning environments (see picture below).

Equity vs equality

Image: Advancing Equity and Inclusion – A Guide for Municipalities ©CAWI

UDL is not a technology framework but digital technologies can provide options for students that address specific learning barriers and provide supports that simply were not available in the past.

Last year I had dyslexia and I felt different, this year I don’t feel different. It’s much easier.

Felix on moving into a 1:1 iPad class where UDL design principles were applied.

Dyslexia: Using an iPad to support learning

The universal design framework uses neuro and learning sciences to identify three principles:

  1. Engagement: creating engaging environments and sustaining motivation.
  2. Representation: supporting independent access to usable learning materials.
  3. Expression: providing multiple ways to create, learn, and demonstrate understanding.
Universal design for learning 3 principals

Image: Adapted from CAST

Examples from other schools

Identifying learning needs

The first step in providing the right digital technologies to support any student is to identify their needs. The "black box" technique allows you to make a recommendation for appropriate technology for a student or group even if you have never heard of that technology before. It is very simple and keeps the focus on learning.

Simply imagine that you are giving your student a black box. List the features that the black box would need to have to support that student’s learning. Once you have developed the list, use it to select technology options with the specific features you are looking for. Use your own networks, local specialists, and web searches to find information that you need. You can use the technique to select devices or software and apps.

Below is a simplified example of a feature list for a student whose learning goals are:

  • to independently complete tasks involving reading and writing
  • to increase the quality, quantity, and legibility of their writing.
Example of feature Educational reason for feature iPad Chromebook Laptop
Keyboard and voice typing Increased writing speed and improved legibility because the student struggles to write with a pen Y y y
Dyslexia font and resize Can convert text to dyslexia font and increase font size for ease of reading Y y y
Text-to-speech Independent access to curriculum material above their current reading age. Support editing. Y Depends on additional apps Depends on additional software
Alternative format Can access multimedia resources to support comprehension Y Y Y
Portable and light Carry from class to class and from school to home Y Varies Varies
Inclusive Same technology as is used throughout school ? ? ?

Technology options for literacy support

The following tables outline some common ways to use technology to support students at any curriculum level. There is a large amount of information included but this is neither a comprehensive list nor a must do checklist – rather it is intended to give some concrete examples of how technologies can be used to support a variety of learners.

First: Clarify learning intention

The range of technology supports you offer will depend on the learning intention for any specific activity or lesson.

For example, tools such as voice typing (speech recognition) are appropriate when the learning intention is to have students show their understanding of a concept or tell a story but would not be appropriate if the intention is to develop the skill of writing with a pen or keyboard or to spell words correctly.

UDL principle: Engagement

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to be engaged and sustain motivation.

Engagement Rationale Examples
Organisation and self management Support routines with visual schedules and allow students to plan for, and anticipate, transitions.
Cultural and personal connections

Create rather than consume – using multimedia, student voice, images, and video from their school, community, culture, and country.

Make connections with culture and identity, value Māori as tangata whenua and Pasifika cultures.


Giving students an audience that is wider than just their teacher can be both motivating and enriching.

Technology allows students to collaborate with others anywhere, anytime, and using any device.


UDL principle: Representation

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to access learning materials (including reading material) and to support comprehension.

Representation Rationale Examples
Provide digital versions of key material in the cloud

Handouts, workbooks, and writing on whiteboards are some of the least accessible options for some students. When content is digitised, students can use their personal preferences to access material.

Using consistent school and class systems for sharing resources helps students find material easily, provides 24/7 access, and can reduce the need for whole-class teaching.

When content is digitised, students may use dyslexia fonts , change colours, size, style and spacing, have text read by the computer (text-to-speech) or use braille or a screen reader.

Convert an image of text (for example, worksheet or pdf) into editable text in Google or Microsoft.

Use multimedia Share essential information in multiple formats. Using only one medium means that if a student has a specific disability in that one medium, the material will be inaccessible to them (for example, reading disability).

Multiple format examples include:

Provide key content or models in alternative formats

Simply restating a concept in a different way or in another format can help students to understand or reinforce learning.

Sometimes it may mean creating your own content, but students and peers can also create resources for others – and this can consolidate their own learning.

Sometimes alternatives are already available. For example: Teachertools  or Kahn Academy .

Create your own using:

Make text-to-speech an option

Text-to-Speech allows students to access text above their current reading age and can support comprehension.

Some text-to-speech software can also save files to audio formats (for example, mp4, wav)

Options for text-to-speech:

See this text-to-speech  VLN blog for more

UDL principle: Action and expression

This section outlines some examples of ways to utilise technologies to support students to create, learn and express themselves and demonstrate understanding.

Action and expression Rationale Examples
Provide frameworks and models Graphic organisers and visual thinking strategies help to break tasks down into smaller pieces and to organise information in a way that makes it more visible and easier to understand.

For example:

Make voice typing an option

Voice typing allows you to speak aloud to your device and have words typed as you speak.

The software has improved significantly in the last few years and it is now a real option for text entry. This software may work well for students who can express themselves well verbally but struggle to write.

For example:

For more information see the Assistive Technology Voice typing blog

Offer word prediction Word prediction software provides more in-depth support for spelling, reading, writing and editing, and reduces the number of keystrokes necessary for typing words. It predicts a required word as a student writes, producing a list of words beginning with the letter sequence typed.

For example:

For more information see software comparison

Provide alternatives to writing

If the learning intention is to show what the learner knows or understands, a writing format is just one of a range of ways that can be offered.

Multimedia tools mean that this content can be kept to show a record of student learning.

For example:

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