UDL and Comprehension Across Languages

A collection of phrasebooks
Making vocabulary clear increases accessibility. Image: Tessa Kavanagh, Pixabay

Recall the halcyon days pre-COVID. International travel was relatively accessible for many. An essential travel tool was a phrasebook, translator app or digital translator to aid understanding across languages. These tools facilitated at least a basic opening into communication, culture and comprehension in a foreign country, in a foreign language. Without a sound grasp of the language, life and learning can be difficult. Everyday activities that are taken for granted in a home country may suddenly become complex, confusing and result in a heavy cognitive load.

Imagine then, the complex process of learning for students for whom we teach in a language outside that which is familiar. For some, it may be learning new jargon, for others it may be learning in a second language.

As with all principles and checklists in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the overarching goal is to make learning accessible to all. The following strategies are based on recommendations by CAST.  Educators may employ these to facilitate accessibility where the language used may otherwise present a barrier to learning:

    • Make all key information in the dominant language also available in first languages for learners with limited-English proficiency
    • Provide information in Auslan for learners who are deaf
    • Link key vocabulary words to definitions and pronunciations in both dominant (eg. English) and first languages
    • Define domain-specific vocabulary/jargon using both domain-specific terminology and in common language or alternative representations, such as illustrations, charts, images
    • Create a culture of shared learning through activities such as a word wall, group glossary or word bank, where all learners may add contributions of vocabulary and their translations
    • Provide translation tools or links to multilingual glossaries on the web
    • Embed visual supports for vocabulary clarification (illustrations, charts, images, infographics, videos, etc) into learning experiences
    • Make use of concrete materials to support abstract concepts, as in maths learning

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Facilitating Learners’ Coping Skills and Strategies

Image of a child with his arms crossed in front of a chalkboard with muscles drawn on it.
A growth mindset plays a key role in motivation and achievement.

Facilitating learners’ coping skills and strategies are part of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategy to foster engagement and support learner self-regulation. In the CAST UDL framework, Checkpoint 9.2, encourages educators to facilitate learners’ personal coping skills and strategies.

CAST Checkpoint 9.2 suggests educators provide differentiated models, scaffolds and feedback for:

    • Managing frustration
    • Seeking external emotional support
    • Developing internal controls and coping skills
    • Using real-life situations or simulations to demonstrate coping skills, and
    • Appropriately considering judgments of “natural” aptitude (e.g., “how can I improve on the areas I am struggling in?” rather than “I am not good at …”)

Growth mindset

This final point aligns closely with developing a ‘growth mindset. ‘Growth mindset’ is a phrase used ubiquitously in schools and universities. It is based on the work by Standford academic, Carol Dweck. A growth mindset is that which is open to developing talents. Effective strategies, smart and hard work and support from others are valued. Dweck’s work suggests that a growth mindset supports learners (and employees) to achieve more than those who believe their talents are innate. This is called a fixed mindset. Dweck suggests this is due to people with a growth mindset being less concerned with looking smart, rather, diverting that energy into learning.

In her Education Week article, Dweck provides specific examples of language educators use to promote a growth mindset. Examples include:

    • Adding ‘yet’ to the end of a statement concerned with something you are not currently achieving. An example is, “I cannot play this piano piece yet.”
    • Saying words of encouragement along the lines of, “That feeling of that activity being challenging is the feeling of your brain growing,” or
    • “It is not expected you will get this all straight away. Let’s just work on the next step,” or
    • “Learning how to do this problem/activity/strategy grows your brain.”

For students and their teachers

Just as this feedback can be given to our students, so too can educators use it in in their own teaching and learning. A reflective activity is to analyse how you react or respond to, for example, challenges in the day. Are you interested in learning from feedback from students, or is it frustrating? When the learning experience is not going as planned, do you feel exasperated or curious as to how to change it for next time? Dweck encourages educators to, ‘Accept those thoughts and feelings and work with and through them. And keep working with and through them.’

Find other practical, easy-to-implement strategies for incorporating UDL strategies into learning engagements on the CUDA website.