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UDL for Reading Comprehension

by Amy Lynch-Biniek

While I teach writing, I thought a great deal about reading as I navigated the Universal Design for Learning class. Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, of course, but I’ve long put my focus on developing options for students’

composing processes. Of late, though, I’ve found students struggling with reading comprehension. Since reading provides a foundation for writing, I needed strategies for supporting student readers. The UDL course and my classmates provided me with inspiration for tackling this issue in the Fall 2023 semester.


Firstly, I was motivated by “The What of Learning,” module, in which our course materials explained that presenting “content in multiple and flexible ways helps our learners study, absorb information, and practice their knowledge.”


With this in mind, I differentiated the texts students used in my Composition and Living Literacy courses, including more audio and video texts, accompanied by transcripts. I’ve long provided transcripts of audio and video for students with DSO accommodations, but the principles of UDL helped me to see the benefit of including more readings that allow all students to listen, watch, and read in combination. I encouraged all students to read along as they watched or listened to course materials.


Second, I applied the UDL strategy “Show Struggles” to improve reading comprehension. In all of my classes, I ask students to keep a digital notebook in which, among other things, they respond to prompts regarding assigned readings. During one-on-one meetings to discuss their progress in the Spring 2023 semester, several students who did not complete all of the prompts explained that they were anxious about revealing how difficult they found the readings. They were embarrassed and at times chose to write nothing rather than to divulge their challenges. They didn’t see an option for writing a response when they sincerely did not comprehend some of the text. “I don’t know,” or “I am struggling” did not seem to be available options.


The UDL course section on showing struggles encourages teachers to “Be explicit about everyone starting as a beginner, and treat mistakes and misunderstandings as opportunities for growth rather than barriers.” With this in mind, I revised my prompts for Fall 2023, inviting students the alternative to describe moments in the text with which struggled, to ask questions, and to offer “tentative interpretations,” rather than address my prompt. When assigning prompts for homework, I reviewed reading strategies but also acknowledged that reading skills improve with practice, and practice does not demand perfection. I found the number of skipped prompts decreased, as students felt safe writing I don’t know, but here’s what I’m thinking, and here’s what I need you to explain.


I’m glad to be better equipped to meet my students where they are as readers and to give them the tools and confidence to grow.


Dr. Amy Lynch-Biniek is a Professor of Composition, Composition Coordinator, and English Department Assistant Chair at Kutztown University. She recently completed the Basics of Universal Design for Learning course as part of the Center for Engaged Learning Inclusivity Institute.


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