Voices in Education

The Arts and UDL: What General Education Can Learn from the Margins
In the national discussions about school and curriculum reform, arts education is continually marginalized, requiring its advocates to keep making the case for the contribution of the arts to academic, social, and personal learning outcomes. Now, the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) has published a digital resource called ArtsEdSearch (2012), which draws on two decades of research to more efficiently respond to these recurring questions about the educational value and impact of the arts.

As heartening as this research is, questions remain about how to understand and communicate how the arts contribute to the bigger picture of general learning:
  • Is there a framework from the learning sciences that might help explain why arts content, processes, and related thinking habits and dispositions seem to support affective and cognitive learning outcomes?
  • Could this same framework then be used to guide decision making about the use of arts options in cross-curricular and arts-integrated curriculum design?
These are a few of the guiding questions that motivated me to approach David Rose and Anne Meyer to co-write the article “Universal Design for Learning and the Arts” for the Harvard Educational Review special issue “Expanding Our Vision for the Arts in Education.”

In the article, we explain the critical features of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, which is based in the learning sciences and in work with students in the academic margins. UDL has been operationalized into a set of guidelines, which are used as tools to help curriculum designers provide multiple, flexible, and accessible learning options. These options support expert learning strategies across the three neural networks associated with learning (affective, recognition, and strategic).

In the article, after providing background information on UDL, we map arts content, processes, and habits of mind to the UDL Principles of Engagement, Representation, Action, and Expression. We then examine the reciprocal relationship between UDL and the arts: How can UDL provide guidance for accessible, flexible design to make arts curriculum better?; How can the arts provide rich, meaningful, and engaging learning options to address neural diversity and learning variability?

We conclude by connecting the arts and UDL to some current movements in school reform. How might the arts provide options for comprehension and communication that address the Common Core Standard’s expansion of what we consider to be reading and writing in the twenty-first century? We argue that UDL provides a strong explanatory framework and a heuristic tool to help arts educators and educators in general to expand the learning options and pathways for all students to become more motivated, resourceful, and strategic learners.

CAST and the Harvard Educational Review welcome you to check out a digitally re-mixed version of "Universal Design for Learning and the Arts" in CAST's UDL Studio learning design environment. This digital version provides multiple, flexible supports for accessibility, vocabulary, comprehension, information processing, and interaction. The purpose of this re-mix is to model aspects of the arts and UDL, as well as expand the interactive options for displaying, extending, digitally supporting, and interacting with academic content.  You can find it online here: http://udlstudio.cast.org/titlepage/display/READABLE/bookId/166869

About the Author: Don Glass is an independent education and evaluation consultant whose work focuses on arts curriculum design and evaluation. He was a recent Universal Design for Learning Leadership Postdoctoral Fellow at Boston College, in collaboration with CAST. He is a coauthor of “Universal Design for Learning and the Arts” (Harvard Educational Review, Spring 2013).