UDL and AfL – not a drink at the footie

My colleague, Dr Lenore Adie and I have been interested in the alignment and use of Universal (UDL) Design for Learning and Assessment for Learning (AfL) in pre-service teacher education and more widely in higher education (HE).

Our proposition

We propose that the combination of the principles of UDL and AfL is key to enhancing the student learning experience and achievement as well as contributing to our teaching effectiveness. A cornerstone strategy of AfL is to explicitly provide students with intentions for learning . On a partner website we – Demonstrate alignment of UDL and AfL principles illustrate how these can be bought together as a conceptual framework for teaching in HE; Provide examples of practice that we have used that demonstrate the application of the conceptual framework in HE.

You can read more about this alignment at my partner website Universal design for Learning






Powering a curriculum for all

Recently, the Queensland (QLD) Government released the findings of a research into the education of students with a disability in QLD schools. There were many areas in which I could comment. I was particularly interested in the recommendations related to the Head of Special Education Services (HOSES).


My interest is related to my PhD research which was about the practices of an exemplary secondary school HOSES. The full thesis was titled, “Powering a Curriculum for All”. 

I think it is timely that I make more public and accessible my research and its findings. I hope that I can contribute to the “redevelopment of the role” based on the findings of my research.

There were many findings of how the role is not always valued in schools; the impact of successful practices of the HOSES; how schools recreate community attitudes and values including exclusion and inclusion; how the word “special” alienates staff as well as children in the educational community; and, how an exemplary leader such as the HOSES can overcome exclusionary practice.

The HOSES in my research was skilled at applying practices that enacted inclusion and “curriculum for all”. We can all learn from the manner and methods of their leadership practices. The link well to the AITSL Leadership profiles as they highlight practice, not just behaviour. “Practice” relates to social groups such as school teams as opposed to behaviour that relates to individuals. I like to use this definition of practice –


An exemplary HOSES has a number of practices (methods and manner) that can be applied to overcome exclusionary attitudes and behaviours and promote inclusion.

HOSES lead

I have created a YouTube video as an executive summary of my research. I hope it is useful for leaders wanting to embed inclusive education in their context.


Why can’t we be “on the same page”?

Being on the same page

Lately I’ve been aware of competing ideas about teaching approaches in social media. The twitter sphere is becoming more combatant with tweets espousing the benefits of one educational approach over another. The challenge of “prove it” or “you are wrong” is tweeted without any respect to opinions based on experience and any “evidence” that isn’t quantitative or that results from experimental data. “Evidence-based” teaching has become the catch cry of a few  in education who want to discredit anything they can’t accept or haven’t experienced themselves such as enquiry-based teaching.

Apparently you can’t sit on the fence anymore. You are required to agree on one approach only or suffer the rage of the twits (people who tweet) who don’t agree with you. We are definitely not “on the same page”. For our schools and system to be truly inclusive and therefore improve achievement of all learners we need to be “on the same page”.


Being “on the same page” is an analogy for a shared approach or a vision schools have to develop an inclusive approach. The results of my research in inclusive schools highlighted the importance of all school staff and its community to –

  • collaborate
  • enact curriculum and,
  • communicate commitment to inclusion.

You can watch an introduction video about  the meaning of “on the same page” here.

Inclusion is a hard concept to define. However, the most comprehensive definition of an inclusive approach was developed by Kathy Cologon (2013). It is definitely worth reading the full document that can be found here.


Embracing human diversity” and ensuring “full participation” in learning requires teachers to apply a variety of teaching approaches that are judiciously chosen and purposefully employed.

Teaching in inclusive schools

Back to the competing discourses about how teachers should teach! I was beginning to wonder what happened to teachers choosing the appropriate approach based on the purpose of the learning and student need? Then surprisingly I found support for applying a variety of strategies for increased achievement in  the 2015 PISA Vol II report.

Teachers who are challenging and innovative in the way they combine different instructional practices, … can reach all types of learners by adapting lessons to students’ needs and knowledge (2016, p. 37).

Further to this, students –

…perform better… when their teachers frequently explain and demonstrate scientific ideas, support students in their learning and expose them to more enquiry-based instruction (2016, p.37).

So happy was I!! I had found evidence to support my claims! I opened up my twitter account and tweeted the amazing news to the twitter sphere that teachers who combine different teaching approaches contributed positively to student achievement. It was current and PISA was in the news!  Some twits liked the news, others did not. Again I was subject to the vitriol of the “only explicit teaching is effective” twits. I was told I was in denial though I’m not sure what about. I then posted that there are teaching blueprints such as  Universal Design for Learning that combine explicit instruction and enquiry-based approaches just as recommended in the PISA report. I received no combatant retweets or messages this time…..just silence!  Maybe the twits are armoring themselves with more experimental data to post or maybe, just maybe, they are considering that more than one approach used judiciously may actually be something to consider and put us all “on the same page”? Mind you I haven’t logged on to Twitter today!

Jennie Duke PhD

Queensland, Australia