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Ask A REL Response

June 2017


What research has been conducted on UDL and literacy?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Brand, S. T., & Dalton, E. M. (2012). Universal Design for Learning: Cognitive theory into practice for facilitating comprehension in early literacy. Forum on Public Policy Online. 2012(1).
    From the abstract: "Addressing the unique needs of children of all ages and abilities, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is gaining momentum in schools and preschools around the nation and the globe. This article explores Universal Design for Learning and its promising applications to a variety of reading and language arts experiences in the Early Childhood classroom. In UDL-infused classrooms, literacy experiences become multi-sensory and meaningful for young learners, thereby increasing their motivation and ultimate reading comprehension. The four core principles of Universal Design for Learning--multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of assessment--are integrated into a sample literacy comprehension program designed to improve young children's text connections. The applications of UDL to enhancing children's reading and comprehension connections are demonstrated through the use of grand conversations, literacy circles, oral language experiences, creative dramatics, and play in teaching reading and language arts. This article illustrates how informed teachers may enlist a plethora of multiple intelligence and cognitive theory-based literacy strategies that promote automaticity and a life-long love of reading for young children. Using stimulating and engaging text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections, teachers and learners realize the rich implications of the four key principles of Universal Design for Learning. (Contains 1 figure and 1 footnote.)"
  2. Coyne, P., Evans, M., & Karger, J. (2017). Use of a UDL literacy environment by middle school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 55(1), 4-14.
    From the abstract: "Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been shown to have benefits for students with disabilities. However, little is known about its potential to support literacy for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This qualitative study explored (a) to what extent students with IDD are able to use Udio, an online UDL literacy environment; and (b) how students with IDD experienced and perceived Udio. A grounded theory approach was used to analyze classroom observations, as well as teacher and student interviews. Electronic usage logs and student-produced discussions and projects were analyzed descriptively. Students independently navigated the environment and used embedded supports, including audio-assisted reading and sentence starters. In addition, findings indicate that age-relevant content, choice, and opportunities to socialize in online discussions were especially engaging for students. Further research is warranted to determine how UDL environments affect the literacy development of students with IDD."
  3. Coyne, P., Pisha, B., Dalton, B., Zeph, L. A., & Smith, N. C. (2012). Literacy by design: A Universal Design for Learning approach for students with significant intellectual disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 33(3), 162-172.
    From the abstract: "Literacy instruction for students with significant intellectual disabilities traditionally emphasizes isolated skills instruction focusing on sight words and basic vocabulary. Recent research suggests these students benefit from high-quality instruction that includes comprehension and storybook reading. This study examined the effect of a technology-based universal design for learning (UDL) approach to literacy instruction, Literacy by Design (LBD), on the reading achievement of 16 students with significant intellectual disabilities in Grades K-2. The LBD approach emphasizes reading for meaning, combining UDL-scaffolded e-books and letter and word recognition software. Nine teachers received training in research-based literacy practices. Of these, five received LBD training and implemented it four to five times weekly. Controlling for initial reading achievement, the LBD group made significantly greater gains on the "Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement III" Passage Comprehension subtest. Implications for research and practice in beginning reading instruction for children with significant intellectual disabilities are discussed. (Contains 1 figure and 4 tables.)"
  4. Hall, T. E., Cohen, N., Vue, G., & Ganely P. (2015). Addressing learning disabilities with UDL and technology: Strategic reader. Learning Disability Quarterly, 38(2), 72-83.
    From the abstract: "CAST created "Strategic Reader," a technology-based system blending Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM) in a digital learning environment to improve reading comprehension instruction. This experimental study evaluates the effectiveness of Strategic Reader using two treatment conditions for measuring progress (online vs. offline). Using both quantitative and qualitative data analysis, strong evidence is found that students using the online tool experience significant growth in comprehension scores. The difference in score growth in the online versus offline conditions is especially large for students with learning disabilities (LDs): Only in the online progress monitoring condition do LD students experience a statistically significant score increase. In addition, students with LDs report being substantially more engaged by (and with) Strategic Reader, finding many aspects of the tool differentially more helpful than their general education peers. In sum, the results provide promising paths for both curricular design and further research in the design of digital environments."
  5. Meo, G., (2008). Curriculum planning for all learners: Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to a high school reading comprehension program. Preventing School Failure, 52(2), 21-30.
    From the abstract: "The universal design for learning (UDL) principles provide a blueprint for designing a curriculum that addresses the diverse needs of all learners. The author provides an overview of UDL, connections to curriculum planning, and practical techniques that guide general and special education teachers in planning and implementing curriculum, using the planning for all learners (PAL) procedures. PAL is a 4-step process for designing and implementing a curriculum (goals, methods, materials, and assessments) that is accessible and effective for all learners. In this article, the author focuses on high school social studies content with a goal of supporting all students' understanding of the content by bringing together principles of UDL, the PAL process, and research-based reading comprehension strategies. (Contains 1 figure.)"
  6. Narkon, D. E., & Wells, J. C. (2013). Improving reading comprehension for elementary students with learning disabilities: UDL enhanced story mapping. Preventing School Failure, 57(4), 213-239.
    From the abstract: "Story mapping is an effective visual strategy to enhance comprehension of narrative text in students, with or without disabilities. This article demonstrates how instruction can be designed using principles of universal design for learning with the evidence-based story-mapping strategy to improve reading comprehension for elementary students with a reading disability. Applying the principles of universal design for learning in the instructional design of a story-mapping lesson increases accessibility and removes barriers to engagement and interaction experienced by students with learning disabilities who have reading and writing challenges. An illustration of the planning and delivery of a universal design for learning enhanced story-mapping lesson that fits into the classroom schedule in inclusive general education or special education classrooms is included."

Additional Organizations to Consult

  1. National Center on Universal Design for Learning -
    From the website: "Founded in 2009, the National UDL Center supports the effective implementation of UDL by connecting stakeholders in the field and providing resources and information about, UDL basics, advocacy, implementation, research, community, and resources."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Universal Design for Learning and Literacy
  • Reading Instruction and Universal Design for Learning
  • Universal Design for Learning and Reading Comprehension
  • Literacy, Instructional strategies, Universal Design for Learning

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.