Table of Contents


This page includes a vast wealth of resources related to differentiating instruction, universal design for learning, and resources specific to teaching literacy. Have a look at the Table of Contents to see what is here.

Learning From This Page

Guide for learning material on this page:
Key principles to understand: UDL, Differentiated Instruction (Managing Multiple Reading Levels), Traffic Engineering
Questions to consider:
What are some new (to you) ways that you could address the needs of students with disabilities?
How would these ways also benefit kids who are not identified as having a disability?
Have a look at the IRIS website; what parts of that could benefit you as a teacher?
Find a collection of texts and other learning resources for learners who read from K-8 (which is the range of readers in a fourth or fifth grade class). Put the topic and the links on this page.

Your Personal Literacy Coach

The person who wrote this was asked to provide information that would be valuable to Capital Unviersity students who were going out into the field.

Iris Center

This website has tutorials on various aspects of teaching students with disabilities. It is well worth exploring.

Universal Design for Learning

The whole idea of Universal Design for Learning is to remove barriers to learning. Traditional technologies (e.g., physical books) do not work for all children, including those who physically cannot handle a book, those who cannot see a book, and those who are not able to read a book due to learning disabilities or unfamiliarity with the language of the book. Currently there are a lot of creative people figuring out how to use software to allow people to communicate and to take in and manipulate information. Yet in this area there remains a lot of uncovered territory. We are just beginning to figure out how to break down the barriers.

In order to do this, we need to defamiliarize the process of learning and the tools of learning. Instead of seeing a person as a problem, we need to figure out how to create lines of communication. To an extent, this is a mechanistic process. We have several channels of information processing: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, touch, taste, and smell. We have language in various formats (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, touch), we have images, we have music, we have drama, and we have movement (see Semiotics and Semiotic Systems as well as All these are possible ways of making meaning--and we can use these in combination with language to get a meaning across. We can also combine these channels--the visual with the auditory, the auditory with touch (e.g., reading aloud and Braille), the auditory with acting out an idea (drama), and so forth. This is, as Rob Tierney would say, our menu of possibilities.

We also have many software tools that are available on standard computers in order to create these means for learning. In other words, the ability to address many needs of students is already within reach, without the need to buy expensive technology. There are things that can help that do need to be bought (special mouse-type technology for people who have limited ability to physically control something), but much of what can be used is out there and available. We just have to consider each individual person's needs and what can help that student be involved with all activities in the classroom.

The people who coined the phrase "Universal Design for Learning."

Lesson Builder
This resource helps you to create UDL-based lessons.

Book Builder
You can build UDL books for your students!!!

Example Books
Model books based on UDL principles.

More on UDL
More about UDL and also a lot of resources here.

Books For Students With Various Impairments

This power point has information on electronic books to meet the needs of students with various sensory and other impairments.

Swedish Project (UDL Avant La Lettre)
This link is to a research group in Sweden that was doing amazing things using technology to put people with disabilities in the position of being able to communicate and to make choices about their own lives, and this was with really old, clunky technology. There are lots of resources in English and there are a lot of cognates between English and Swedish, so this site is still definitely useful. What I really like about this site is that these folks are very respectful of people's abilities rather than solely focusing on disabilities.
These folks had been doing UDL a long time before the concept of UDL existed. This is a list of their publications that are in English. There are links to Swedish publications if you read Swedish

The following articles are interesting to read in part because the ideas are so innovative and partly because there are wonderful pictures. The idea here is to use pictures as a form of communication for people who have little or no language skills. The interesting thing is that this program has demonstrated that middle-aged people can develop in their language abilities with this kind of support. Learning is not just for kids! Another interesting thing about this work is that it demonstrates that constructivism is not just for people of "normal" intelligence.

Just as the Quickie Ultralight wheelchairs have added so much mobility to people who use wheelchairs (those Everest and Jennings hospital specials are heavy and unmaneuverable), this group's use of technology has added considerable ability to communicate and think to the lives of people considered profoundly disabled. Being able to communicate is a life-enhancing skill and these articles capture that.

Here is a website that explains the program that Goren Plato ran (I think this is past tense, unfortunately). If you use Google Chrome browser, you can have the website translated from Swedish into more or less readable English.

A book on the Swedish project's work:

Open Source Software for People with Disabilities

This is the kind of software you can load onto a standard laptop computer to customize that computer for a person with specific disabilities.
This is amazing software. It takes a standard PC (not Mac...yet) and turns it into a machine usable by people who have no control over their hands and arms. It uses a built in or USB web cam and it tracks a feature of the face such as the nose. Also on the downloads page are a number of programs that can be easily operated with cameramouse. Cameramouse enables communication. You no longer have to have a special piece of equipment.

Reading Music and Learning Disabilities

Making Text Audible

If you are teaching a non-language arts class and you have students who could use audible texts for any reason (they have a learning disability, they are English language learners, they have a visual impairment, or they simply learn better by listening), then you need a way to create audible texts that can be easily shared and disseminated to the people who need/want them.

There are two ways to do this. One is where you record your reading of the text. The other is where you use a speech synthesizer to read the text.

Reading the text yourself

into a recording device is probably the best alternative for your students. There are numerous ways to do this. One is the old-fashioned read the story onto a cassette. The problem with this is that if the cassette gets lost, your time has been wasted. Also every time you copy the cassette, you lose quality in the recording.
Better ways would be to create an mp3 file. You can get a small digital recorder that will hook into your computer via usb port. This way you record the text and then you can put the mp3 file on your computer.

A cheaper way than buying a digital recorder would be to buy a $15 microphone for your computer. Download Audacity software which is open source from Be sure you also download the "LAME" file that goes with it. The web page for Audacity will tell you how. Record your text on your computer using your microphone. You can then turn it into an mp3 file (the LAME file makes that possible). There is online documentation for Audacity at:

Once your recording is on your computer, you have a number of options. You can create a CD that students can take home (and you never have to worry about loss of the recording or recording quality). You can also upload your mp3 files into a podcast that students can access from the internet. This is a really good option for kids who have access to computers because they can never use the excuse of losing the CD. Here is a podcast page I made for my high school student fiddlers. I believe it is still in use by some of them and also others who have stumbled across it.

Using synthesized speech

This is not the world's greatest solution to the need for audible text, but it will help out when you have a lot of text that must be made audible in a short period of time.
Here are some web-based free text to voice conversion sites:

Check out all these sites and what they do. Then select the one that works best for you.

Managing Multiple Reading Levels

To demonstrate your understanding of this material: create your own collection of informational resources around a topic of your choice and upload that to this page.


Does it make sense for a shoe store to sell one size of shoe for all customers? Of course not! Carrying only a single style of shoe would also not work. Suppose you need a good walking shoe but the store only sold flip flops? Or you needed a stylish shoe for a special night out but the store only sold canvas tennis shoes?

Equally, it does not make sense for every student in a classroom to read the same text or even get information solely from text because every student in a classroom has a different "text size" and different preferences and needs for "information style."

When we want students to get information as a background to learning activities in the classroom, then we need to provide that information in multiple "sizes" and "styles." Furthermore, just as you want to be able to choose the shoes that are right for you, students need opportunities to choose their sources of information.

When you go to a shoe store, you try on different shoes in the process of deciding what will work best for you. When students "try on" different sources of information, they actually are learning in the process of making the decision. They are also more motivated to do the work of learning when they have a choice about the materials they use in learning. Just as you would not be strongly motivated to wear a pair of ugly, ill-fitting, hurt-your-feet shoes, students are not going to be motivated to engage with information that is unattractive to them and the wrong "size."

The textbook people have brainwashed us to think that we can only have a meaningful discussion when everyone reads the same information. In fact, the discussion and the learning experiences can be more meaningful when students have access to a range of materials, for a number of reasons:

1. When each student brings different types of information based on different perspectives, the resulting discussion is richer because each person has something different to offer.

2. When students have a choice of the information to engage with, they are more likely to do that work. Instead of trying to have a discussion about some information which only a few students have actually read, you can have a better discussion around a topic with which all students have engaged independently.

3. When students choose what to work with, no student gets identified as the "dummy" for reading the "easy" text. Also, no student is limited to the "dummy text" because the teacher believes the student cannot handle something more difficult. This keeps the emotional tenor of the classroom more positive for all students.

4. When a variety of sources are available, you are more able to accommodate gifted students without having to pull them out for a "special" experience (which usually involves them doing MORE work than others, arguably a punishment for being gifted).

5. You can teach critical reading and thinking skills when students work with a range of informational sources.

Managing Multiple Reading Levels Discussion Post

Collect a range of texts (physical books, websites, etc.) around a specific topic (e.g., a music theory topic, a specific composer, etc.). Use the information on Readability to make sure you have a good range of reading levels in your collection. Post your collection.

LeBron James Example of Multiple Texts

LeBron James Example
Examples of multiple texts on one topic
Activity: choose a topic and find texts of multiple reading levels on it. Use Microsoft Word or Open Office Writer's ability to tell you the reading level.

LeBron James texts

As I have looked at these pages, I have realized that many of the pages have a very small amount of text (one or two sentences) and a lot of statistics. These pages would be really good for a student who just needs to connect with the idea of looking up a hero on the web. Also, the longer articles are often very well written with a really good vocabulary--in other words, great texts to work with in terms of being worth the effort.
Wikipedia article
Reading level: Flesch scale: 35.4;_ylt=Al7SPtKjPnw4diJiuTly1qbJPKB4?urn=nba,147171
This web page presents a picture of LeBron and some captions other people have written about the picture. With a page like this, a student might be able to write his or her own caption, which would be a natural writing genre.
Reading level: Flesch scale: 84.3;_ylt=AofXZwMwNGS0i5ZADoqnIZGA0bYF?gid=2009031012&prov=ap
This is a sports article on a recent game
Reading level: Flesch scale: 55.0
This is an example of a page that is mostly statistics. The words to read here would be "age," "born," etc. Very few words and these words have clues next to them (e.g., height or date of birth) that would help a student figure out these words. The fact that the page is mostly statistics means that the page looks sophisticated; it is the kind of page that real sports fans look at. A very beginning reader could tackle this page.
This is another statistics page. If you scroll down, you see information on awards LeBron has won and the times when he has been declared Most Valuable Player. It's a minimal amount of text with the maximal meaning.
This is a biography of LeBron James, somewhat easier to read than the wikipedia article.
Flesch scale: 61.8
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Examples Created by Capital Teacher Candidates

Teacher Candidates' Thoughts About Multiple Reading Levels in the Classroom

After reviewing this page, our group talked about the importance of different reading levels, but not in a way that students are broken out into separate groups. We have found that splitting students into groups can be more harmful to their learning than beneficial. Through our research we have found several other ways to incorporate students on different levels into one classroom. For example, the internet can be used to find different resources on different levels. Students can use the internet to find facts or information in a simpler form and students who are more advanced could find elsewhere, such as text books. Also, pairing students at a higher reading level with students at lower levels can help the students support each other. For example, we could use the Four Corners exercise which breaks the students into groups based on their comfort levels and abilities. We found that the Four Corners exercise could be a helpful way to evaluate the class on their comfort level with their personal reading abilities. The Four Corners Assessment would be conducted in the fashion that follows:

The class would be asked to think about the way that they read. With this in mind, they would be prompted with questions such as: What types of materials do you read? Are these easy for you, challenging, or very difficult? Are you able to comprehend and remember most of what you read? When you read, can you identify the elements of the story? Overall, how would you rate your confidence as a reader? This is where the four corners idea would be set into motion. The students should be asked to rate their confidence with regards to their own reading using the scale of extremely confident, confident, somewhat confident, or not at all confident.

After the students choose their comfort level they will be directed to the four corners of the room based upon their responses. For example, the students who responded with “extremely confident” will be directed to one corner of the classroom, the students who responded with “confident” will be pointed to another and so on. Then, using this visual graph as a guide, students will be paired/grouped with one another in a way to best facilitate their learning.

The activity should be presented to the students in a way where they do not have to feel embarrassed about their abilities, but used as a tool for success. Using this exercise will allow the teacher to pair students successfully so that students who lag behind or are not as confident can learn from those who are more so. Students who are very confident in their abilities will be challenged to read more critically and for content and understanding to expand their thinking.

We also feel that using different texts in the classroom can also be beneficial. The best way to do this is to assign different texts to students at different reading levels and then connect the texts in a full group setting after.

Multi-age or Multi-grade Classroom

This is a series of modules about planning for a multi-age classroom. In other words, how to differentiate instruction. It was designed for schools in Africa that are essentially one room school houses. Yet we can benefit from this information and adapt it to US schools. Every teacher is teaching in a one room school house because every classroom has students on a multitude of levels, not just a single level. These modules are also a good summary of teaching principles--they might be worth reviewing as part of studying for Praxis. Here is a table of contents for the modules:

Module 1: Multigrade Teaching: Introduction to Multigrade Teaching

Module 2: Multigrade Teaching: Classroom Organisation and Management

Module 3: The Reading Process

Module 4: Developing Reading Skills

Module 5: Special Educational Needs: An Introduction to Teaching Traumatised Children

Module 6: Special Educational Needs: A Practical Guide to Teaching Traumatised Children

Module 7: Education Management Development: Part A

Module 8: Education Management Development: Part B

Module 9: Child Development

Module 10: Concepts of Learning

Module 11: An Introduction to Concepts in Language and Communication

Module 12: Language and Communication: Language in Use

Module 13: Curriculum Theory, Design and Assessment

Module 14: Curriculum Practice

Module 15: A Theoretical Framework on Innovations in Education

Module 16: Effects of Social Changes on Education

Module 17: Comparative Education: Introduction to Key Concepts in Comparative Education

Module 18: Comparative Education: Themes and Trends in Comparative Education in SADC Countries

One Room School Houses in the US

Here is information about one room schoolhouses in the US

Kids are not French Fries

The Industrial Revolution laid the groundwork for a lot of technological innovation in Western Europe and the United States. Our lives have been deeply influenced by the level of technology available to us as a result. The Industrial Revolution began in the 1800s and, probably not coincidentally, Charles Babbage designed the predecessor to the computer, a logic-based mechanical calculating machine.

We get our power now from electricity and not steam and we have silicon chips instead of clock parts or vacuum tubes. But the basis of the centrality of technology has been the same for two hundred years now.

One thing that happened along this industrial-technological road is the process of standardization. Henry Ford refined this in the process of building early automobiles and since then the technique has been copied with mixed success. What works are parts that are standardized such that a fuel injector for a Ford F-150 truck can be installed in any Ford F-150 truck because it is the same size and has the same function. Interestingly enough, what seems to work less well is having some guy screw lug nuts onto wheels all day long. However, standardization of parts does not remove the human psychology aspect of manufacturing, and final product-based thinking (how many cars come off the line every hour) led to one guy having fifteen seconds to put five lugnuts on a wheel.

A combination of things led to people applying standardization to a number of human endeavors, with mixed success. Ray Kroc, of course, famously did this with hamburgers and french fries, such that American tourists can get a Big Mac anywhere in the world. However, the human factor still reigns. All of us have been to efficient McDonalds and we have also waited FOREVER for our "fast" food.

Probably the rise of behaviorism in psychology contributed to the application of standardization to education, with fairly disastrous results.

Traditionally, students were educated in multiage classrooms, which were called "One Room School Houses." Teachers did direct instruction with small groups of students through out the school day and while students were waiting their turns for the teacher's attention, they worked independently on their learning--reading, writing, math, and so forth. Older students helped younger students, which was a good review and learning process for both, when you consider Vygotsky's theory of social interactions and their influence on learning.

As school systems began to apply manufacturing and franchising business practices to education, one room school houses became consolidated schools. If it works to have a standard way of producing french fries or Corvettes, then it would be much more efficient to educate all nine year olds together, teach one lesson from a standardized curriculum, and voila--everyone would be learning the same thing.

Well, it very clearly doesn't work. Yes there are studies that say this or that reading curriculum works in teaching reading. And there are studies that say this or that reading curriculum (the same one, as a matter of fact) doesn't work. If we got these results with a drug, it would never be licensed for human use by the FDA. But we have politically-motivated people with their printed agendas and hidden agendas who stand to profit in one way or another when a certain perspective is adopted. So, we tend to adopt teaching practices not by what works necessarily but by what can be foisted upon students and their teachers, often by people who stand to gain money, authority, or both.

The basic issue here is the same one when you have one guy putting lug nuts on: human psychology. In the case of the lug nut guy, if he puts on five lug nuts every fifteen seconds, that's twenty lug nuts a minute or 1200 per hour or 9600 per day. Suppose he gets 95% of them on exactly right. In one day, he gets 9120 on exactly right. He gets 480 wrong. But since he only has fifteen seconds for each wheel, he doesn't correct the 480 wrong. They get passed down the line. Someone could lose a wheel and have a terrible accident because he missed one or more lug nuts on that vehicle. In actuality, this has been a major issue with American automobile manufacturing; this is one reason that American cars were outclassed significantly by a number of foreign manufacturers (most notably the Japanese factories) because these other factories used different models of manufacturing. Of course, with Toyota recalls for serious safety problems, American cars are now catching up on quality.

The Japanese model became process-oriented, with a focus on efficiency in all aspects of the process, including preventing problems and solving them when they arrise. As a result, the cars coming off the Japanese lines were better quality. Part of the Japanese "lean manufacturing" approach is a recognition of how best to have people be part of the manufacturing process.

Two of the Big Three American automobile manufacturers are in serious trouble and close to bankruptcy. One third of our high school students do not graduate. Maybe these problems are related: maybe franchising education and focusing on a "product"--a student who can get the answers right on a standardized test--doesn't work for the same reason that focusing on getting a certain number of cars off a factory line no matter how badly those cars are put together doesn't work.

There is a limit to standardization. Even in the mechanical world, there are these limits and people cannot just mindlessly apply a tool here or there and expect to get high quality results. Given the fact that human psyches are many more times complex than lug nuts, then it is really clear that franchise education does not work. If workers in Japanese factories can learn to figure out how to solve problems, then we can also figure out how to teach teachers to solve the inevitable and unique problems their students will have with learning a given body of material.

Kids are not French Fries. Stop the standardization of education!

Rethinking the Use of Text in the Classroom

For most of human history, people have struggled to get access to texts. Before Gutenberg invented the printing press, people hand-copied books and most people did not own a single book. After Gutenberg, books became a lot more accessible, however, it still took a significant amount of time and effort to produce a text, even in the twentieth century. It is for this reason that publishing companies had authors pull together information students needed to know and published that information en masse as a textbook. Publishing companies would publish a single math textbook for fifth grade students in several states, for example.

Now with the internet, our relationship with text has changed drastically, although it will take about a generation for this change to become completely apparent.

In a given classroom of the 20th century, all kids read the same text because that was where the information was. It was difficult to get multiple perspectives or multiple sources on a particular topic because that took research in a library and going through a bunch of books.

This procedure of having all kids read the same text is no longer necessary. We have at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day the greatest mass of knowledge in the history of human beings, greater than any library in the world. We also have the ability to manipulate that text into readable form. We can change the font size and color and change the background color to accommodate readers. We can break the text up into smaller, more manageable bits. We can turn the text into speech and create a sound file. Readers of text on a computer don't need to physically turn pages--that can be done with scrolling down with a mouse, a trackball, or adaptive equipment for people who don't have a lot of physical coordination or control.

On any given topic, with almost no effort, we can find texts in a range of readability from relative simple to relatively complex and we can find texts with fundamentally different perspectives.

Therefore, we really have no excuse for failing to provide students with texts that are appropriate for their reading level. And, as an added benefit, when each student comes to a discussion having read a different text, then part of the discussion can include them putting together the pieces they each have. This means that someone who read a simple text but one that contained a fact that no one else's text had can contribute on an equal footing as the person in the class who read the most complex text.

Additionally, the best procedure for using multiple texts would be to allow students to self-select the text they read for a particular lesson. Reading ability changes significantly from text to text, depending on the student's background knowledge, familiarity with the genre, and so forth. This means that students may choose different levels of texts, if they are available, depending on their interest and comfort level with the topic. Also, if the teacher simply provides a range of texts without making it explicit that the purpose is to accommodate reading levels, then students can choose what is comfortable for them without the stigma associated with being a poor reader and needing to read the "baby" texts.

Tyranny of the Bell Curve

See also: Traffic Engineering, a metaphor for teaching
One of the unfortunate side-effects of our current love affair with standardized testing is the privileging of a statistical understanding of "normal." It is assumed that across a norming sample for a test, there will be a range of responses and a scattergram of those responses will be bell-shaped, reflecting the idea that most people do "average" on the test and there are a few people who create the tails at each end of the bell curve--the abnormally good and the abnormally bad.

Good or bad, folks whose performance is on either tail instead of in the curve require "special education"--gifted education falls under the umbrella of "special education." The implication of this is that people who are "not normal" are an educational "problem" because their needs cannot be properly addressed by a classroom for "normal" students. The other unfortunate implication is that people in the "normal" group do not need special attention--they are part of the herd of learners who can benefit from the lessons designed for this group. That is not true, either. Every child deserves focus and every child has some area at some time where he or she needs special attention.

When we are dealing with language, we have to realize that meaning is relative. there is no natural connection between the sounds we use to indicate the word "normal" and the concept we have in our minds as to what "normal" means. In fact, normal is defined relative to its opposite, abnormal, and vice versa. What this means is that we have a tendency to place more distance in our minds between "normal" and "abnormal" than really exists because of the structures of language. And the statistical concept of the bell curve reinforces this with its concepts of standard deviations.

In fact, the autism spectrum is called a spectrum because people who are identified as having some form of autism vary from highly verbal so-called "high functioning" people to people who do not use spoken language to communicate. And between "normal" and "autism" is a spectrum as well.

The other linguistic problem that the concept of normalicy leads to is the perennial problem of labeling. Once we label a group of characteristics of a person, that label becomes central to how we define that person, which means that we are missing so much about a person's identity, dreams, hopes, passions, and so forth. It's a kid with ADHD or a kid with an autism spectrum disorder.

Are these labels really helpful in the educational process? Is it really helpful to determine that a person is abnormal in one or more ways? I think we need to ask ourselves these questions.

I'm not saying we should throw out our toolbox. If we know that a student needs to move around a lot, then we create opportunities for that. If we notice reading struggles, then we use our tools to figure out where the problems are and teach that person in relation to what we figure out. If we notice someone who apparently has not learned some critical social skills, then we teach the skills that person needs in order to get along in the classroom. We can do everything we would do with the label, only we can get rid of the name-calling and focus on all the characteristics of a person, not just the ones that are a "problem."

Within the world of people who have been identified as "differently abled" or whatever, there is a strong movement towards valuing these unique characteristics that disabilities provide. Many people with autism do not want a cure because autistic characteristics are part of the personality. In fact, the ability to focus, the ability to acquire and maintain a deep interest in something, the ability to engage constructively with technology--all these things are an advantage and at the same time part of the autism package.

In his book, Moving Violations, John Hockenberry, a reporter who was in a car accident at age 19, makes it abundantly clear that he doesn't want a cure--being in a wheelchair has changed his life in ways that he values. He just would like other people not to be so weird or screwed up about it. There are deaf people who do not want the cochlear implant. There are people who are upset that parents are making the choice to have genetic testing done on embryos and are getting rid of kids with Down syndrome.

One of the neat things about the internet is that a lot of people with disabilities have put up videos about their lives and this is a great way to begin to understand disabilities not from the outside (as we normally teach in teacher education programs) but from the inside--the ways in which being different has its advantages, the ways in which difference enhances life. I encourage you to explore these videos and to consider one question:

What would the classroom be like if we ditched the bell curve? great website for special education!