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A Collaborative Process for Incorporating Universal Design for Learning and Evidence-Based Practice into Inclusive Teacher Education Programs

Summary and Keywords

In light of the need to prepare reflective and effective teachers who can differentiate their instruction to support the learning of all students in inclusive classrooms, this article describes the collaborative process faculty have used to incorporate universal design for learning (UDL) and evidence-based practice (EBP) into an inclusive teacher education program’s curriculum and practicum experiences. Initially, faculty mapped the curriculum by agreeing upon a common definition of UDL and EBP, reviewing the research to create EBP documentation charts, which were used to constructing self-assessment tools known as innovation configurations (IC). Faculty used the IC to identify and address the strengths and gaps within the program’s courses and clinical experiences and align courses with online interactive instructional resources related to UDL and EBP. To bridge the gap between research and practice and guide educators in making evidence-informed decisions, faculty developed a 10-step practice-based evidence assessment and instructional model to collect and analyze classroom-based data about the efficacy, acceptability, and fidelity of one’s instructional practices and use of UDL and EBP. Faculty revised and field-tested a lesson plan template that prompted educators to personalize their instruction and make it more explicit by addressing such factors as student diversity and collaboration, and employing UDL, EBP, instructional and assistive technology and formative and summative assessment. Faculty also redesigned the program’s lesson observation form used to better evaluate preservice teachers working in inclusive classrooms and provide them with feedback related to their effective use of EBP, UDL, instructional and assistive technology, and assessment and classroom management strategies. The lesson observation form also was revised to make it more reflective of the program’s curriculum reform efforts related to the use of UDL and EBP, and to align it with the national teacher education accreditation standards, national and statewide teacher evaluation, curriculum and teacher education certification standards.

Keywords: teacher education, professional learning, universal design for learning, evidence-based practice, inclusive education, personnel preparation


Prompted by the Salamanca Statement in 1994 calling for an inclusive education for all students and subsequent resolutions adopted by the United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to provide individuals with disabilities with equal access to educational, employment, and social opportunties, governmental and professional organizations worldwide have adopted policies to support inclusive education. These groups support the philosophy that all children have the right to a free, inclusive, quality education in which both teachers and learners view diversity as a positive attribute (Donnelly & Watkins, 2011; Jimenez, Graf, & Rose, 2007; McGuire, Scott, & Shaw, 2006; Srivastava, de Boer, & Pijl, 2015; UNESCO, 2005). While policymakers, administrators, and educators are not in agreement on what inclusive education means conceptually or programmatically (Donnelly & Watkins, 2011), they increasingly use inclusive education to refer to educating all students together regardless of such factors as disability, race, ethnicity, language background, religion, socioeconomic status, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, or family structure (Salend, 2016).This broader definition of inclusive education was adopted by the teacher education program described in this chapter.

One important factor that impacts the implementation of inclusive education is the preparation of educators to work effectively in classrooms that contain a diverse group of students (Kozleski, Artiles, & Waitoller, 2011; Ntuli & Traore, 2013; Paju, Räty, Pirttimaa, & Kontu, 2015; Vitelli, 2015; Walton, 2015). Although teacher educators continue to debate systems and organizational structures that produce highly effective teachers for inclusive schools (Forlin, 2012; Watkins & Donnelly, 2014), there is general agreement that preservice teachers who understand the benefits of inclusive schooling and are prepared to differentiate instruction for a diverse student population can enhance the quality of education for all learners (Allday, Neilsen-Gatti, & Hudson, 2013; Council of the European Union, 2010; Florian & Black-Hawkins, 2011; Sharma & Nuttal, 2016). To prepare preservice teachers to differentiate instruction, policymakers and researchers frequently advocate for inclusive teacher education programs to infuse an understanding and a use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and evidence-based practice (EBP) throughout their coursework and clinical experiences (Ayala, Brace, & Stahl, 2012; Courey, Tappe, Siker, & LePage, 2013; Lee & Picanco, 2013; Loreman, 2007).

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal design for learning (UDL) has its roots in the architectural conception of Universal Design, which posits that products and buildings should be designed to give access to a broad range of individuals with and without disabilities (Jimenez, Graf, & Rose, 2007). Rose and his colleagues (CAST, 2011) adapted the concept of Universal Design to education and developed a UDL framework that guides educators in creating curriculum (i.e., goals, methods, materials, and assessment) and employing UDL solutions (i.e., educational interventions and policies) that reduce barriers to learning, establish appropriate levels of challenge and support, and address the strengths and challenges of all learners. The UDL framework is composed of three principles (i.e., provide multiple means of representation, provide multiple means of action and expression, and provide multiple means of engagement) that are categorized into nine UDL guidelines (see (CAST, 2011). Although UDL calls for the use of instructional and assistive technology whenever available because it allows for flexibility and customization (Hall, Meyer, & Rose, 2012), the guidelines are applicable to all environments, regardless of access to technology.

UDL has gained increasing recognition in the United States as a platform for differentiating instruction in inclusive classrooms (CAST, 2016). UDL has been featured prominently in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA), the law that governs public schooling in the United States. Under the ESSA, states are charged with creating innovative assessment systems that incorporate the principles of UDL, employing UDL to guide comprehensive literacy instruction, and using funds to purchase technology that supports rigorous learning experiences that are consistent with UDL (CAST, 2016). Recognizing the importance of the UDL framework in fostering teaching and learning, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008 required that all preservice teachers learn effective use of technology, instructional techniques, and strategies that reflect the principles of UDL.

Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)

Evidence-based practice (EBP) refers to interventions and policies that have been shown to be effective in improving educational outcomes for students. Evidence-based interventions and policies can be viewed on a continuum based on the extent to which the research used to validate them employed a rigorous research methodology, collected valid and reliable data, established the fidelity in which the practices were delivered, demonstrated strong outcomes, and underwent an external review process (Cook & Odom, 2013; Mazzotti, Rowe, & Test, 2013). The first level of the continuum includes evidence-, scientifically-, and research-based practices, which are interventions and policies that have been shown to be effective in supporting teaching and learning via the use of high quality research designs, valid and reliable measures of outcomes, and explicit demonstrations of fidelity, and have undergone a systematic and rigorous review process. The second level of the continuum addresses promising practices, which refer to interventions and policies that have been studied using less rigorous research procedures that provide initial data to demonstrate that they are likely to be effective in supporting teaching and learning (National Technical Assistance Center on Transition, 2017). The last level of the continuum consists of experientially based practices, which relate to interventions and policies that are linked to valid educational theory and research and supported by classroom-based data and one’s professional experiences and wisdom (Mazzotti et al., 2009; Turnbull et al., 2010). Educators use the continuum to choose and implement the interventions and policies that have the most rigorous and current evidence that aligns with their curricular goals and the characteristics of their students and classrooms (West, McCollow, Umbarger, Kidwell, & Cote, 2013).

Chapter Purpose

In light of the need to prepare reflective and effective teachers who can differentiate their instruction to support the learning of all students in inclusive classrooms, this chapter describes the process faculty used to incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and evidence-based practices (EBP) into an inclusive teacher education program’s curriculum and practicum experiences. This process includes: (a) engaging in curriculum-mapping to integrate UDL and EBP into program syllabi, learning activities, and assignments; (b) developing a practice-based evidence model (PBE) to guide teachers in collecting and reflecting on classroom-based data to make evidence-based decisions about their practices; (c) designing a lesson plan template (LPT) to guide educators in using UDL and EBP to differentiate their instruction; and (d) redesigning a teacher observation form (LOF) to align it with current teacher evaluation models and to assess teaching effectiveness related to planning for, implementing, and reflecting upon the use of UDL and EBP.

The process and activities engaged in by faculty described in this chapter were implemented as part of a five-year Special Education Preservice Program improvement grant that the faculty received in 2010 from the Office of Special Education Programs in the United States Department of Education. The overall goal of the grant was to redesign and enhance the faculty’s existing graduate teacher education curriculum- and practice-based and clinically based experiences to ensure that program graduates employ UDL and EBP to teach all of their students effectively.

Background Information

The State University of New York at New Paltz (SUNY-New Paltz) offers clinically based graduate level programs to prepare dually certified educators to teach effectively in elementary and secondary inclusive classrooms. Educators entering the Childhood Special Education (CSE) program have completed an undergraduate teacher education program in elementary education and attained a preliminary teaching certification in Childhood Education (Grades 1–6). Educators entering the Adolescent Special Education (ASE) program have completed an undergraduate teacher education program in secondary education and attained a preliminary teaching certificate in Adolescent Education (Grades 7–12). Upon completion of their graduate teacher education program, educators are dual-certified in general and special education and attain permanent certification in their respective fields.


Graduates students in the CSE and ASE programs take 36 credit hours of coursework. The program requires 30 credit hours of core courses designed to offer sequential learning experiences that provide them with the competencies to effectively teach elementary or secondary students in inclusive classrooms. The methods and classroom management courses in these two programs are differentiated to reflect variations in elementary and secondary education. The core courses in both programs are presented in Table 1. Graduate students in both programs also take six elective credits with one course addressing the category of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity, and one course related to the category of Communication and Collaborative Partnerships.

Table 1: Core courses in the childhood and adolescent special education programs

Course Number

Course Name


SPE 700

Educating Special Learners


SPE 701

Educational Assessment of Learners with Disabilities


SPE 702

Teaching Math, Science and Technology in Inclusive Classrooms


SPE 703

Research in Special Education


SPE 731

SPE 741

Literacy and Social Studies Instruction for Childhood Learners with Disabilities (CSE Program)


Literacy and Social Studies Instruction for Adolescent Learners with Disabilities (ASE Program)


SPE 732

SPE 742

Learning Environments for Childhood Learners with Disabilities (CSE Program)


Learning Environments for Adolescent Learners with Disabilities (ASE Program)


SPE 733

SPE 743

Practicum in Childhood Special Education (CSE Program)


Practicum in Adolescent Special Education (ASE Program)


Notes: CSE—Childhood Special Education; ASE—Adolescent Special Education.

Clinically Based Experiences

Through sequential clinically based experiences in schools reflecting wide contextual and student diversity, graduate students in both programs complete a minimum of 70 hours of fieldwork experiences in elementary or secondary classrooms. These clinical experiences, which are aligned with specific courses, serve as anchors for course assignments and promote opportunities for application and reflection.


The final clinically based experience in both programs is the practicum, which provides graduate students with real-life teaching experiences in inclusive classrooms coupled with opportunities to receive ongoing feedback from a university supervisor and a cooperating teacher. Practicum experiences offer graduate students opportunities to show that they can design and implement universally designed lessons and units of instruction, use evidence-based practices, assess student learning progress, implement effective classroom management techniques, and collaborate with professionals and family members.

Incorporating UDL and EBP into the Curriculum

Faculty engaged in a curriculum-mapping process to enhance preservice teachers’ mastery and use of UDL and EBP. The curriculum mapping process involved analyzing and enhancing the curriculum and course content related to the incorporation of UDL and EBP by: (a) defining the essential components of UDL and EBP, (b) developing and completing EBP documentation charts, (c) adapting and completing innovation configurations, and (d) employing online instructional resources related to UDL and EBP. The curriculum-mapping process served as a foundation that informed the enhancement of all program-related course syllabi to incorporate UDL and EBP as evidenced by changes in the course objectives, content, learning activities, and assignments.

Defining the Essential Components of UDL and EBP

First, faculty examined their perspectives related to UDL and EBP by learning about, discussing, and agreeing upon the essential components of UDL and EBP that would guide the curriculum enhancement process. Faculty adopted a view of UDL as a framework that identified curriculum, teaching practices, and instructional resources as critical elements that can serve as barriers to student learning. Faculty also posited that effective teachers employ UDL solutions to eliminate these barriers to learning and provide appropriate supports and challenges for all students by providing multiple means of: (a) representation (varying the ways content is presented); (b) action and expression (offering variety in the ways in which students demonstrate their learning); and (c) engagement (employing culturally responsive instruction and other practices that optimize student involvement in the learning process).

Faculty agreed upon a broad definition of EBP as teaching strategies, practices, supports, resources, technologies, and programs that are based on sound educational theory, relevant experience-based knowledge, current policy, and replicated and peer-reviewed research that are likely to enhance educational outcomes for students. Faculty also recognized that EBP is a decision-making process for gathering and analyzing high-quality evidence to inform educators’ choices about which UDL solutions to implement and how, when, where and with whom to employ them (Cook & Odom, 2013). As such, faculty sought to prepare preservice teachers to use EBP as a model to guide their practice so that they continually use the latest and best available evidence to thoughtfully identify, choose, deliver, and evaluate interventions and policies that have data to support their positive impact on students’ learning and their own teaching effectiveness (Freeman & Sugai, 2013; Torres, Farley, & Cook, 2012; West, McCollow, Umbarger, Kidwell, & Cote, 2013; Salend, 2016).

Faculty also felt that addressing student diversity was an essential aspect of both UDL and EBP. Therefore they made a commitment to preparing preservice teachers to be culturally responsive educators who support the academic, language, social, and behavioral development of all students by using curricula, instructional, assessment, classroom management, and family involvement strategies that reflect and are appropriate for the diverse experiences and backgrounds of students and their families (Gay, 2010; Gollnick & Chinn, 2013; Taylor & Whittaker, 2009).

Developing and Completing EBP Documentation Charts

Next, to identify the research practices that teachers need to foster positive educational outcomes for students with disabilities and therefore be important aspects of the inclusive teacher education curriculum, faculty developed and completed EBP documentation charts (see Figure 1). The components of the EBP documentation charts were evidence-based practices, research evidence to support the practices, and comments. A key also was included to indicate whether the research evidence was based on a meta-analysis, literature review, true experimental design, quasi-experimental design, single subject design, qualitative study, website summary, or other types of evidence. Using print- and web-based resources, faculty completed EBP documentation in the areas of literacy, mathematics, assessment, behavior, social skills, classroom management, family involvement, cultural and linguistic diversity, collaboration, and transitions. A segment of the literacy EBP documentation is presented in Figure 1.

A Collaborative Process for Incorporating Universal Design for Learning and Evidence-Based Practice into Inclusive Teacher Education ProgramsClick to view larger

Figure 1: Sample evidence EBP documentation chart.

Adapting and Completing Innovation Configurations

With the goal of creating a developmentally appropriate spiraled curriculum related to UDL and EBP, faculty employed the data from the EBP documentation charts to develop innovation configurations (ICs). ICs are rubric-based, self-assessment tools that provide a systematic approach to examining the degree to which specific content such as UDL and EBP are incorporated into the teacher education curriculum and clinical experiences (CEEDAR Center, 2016; National Comprehensive Center on Teacher Quality, 2011). ICs are made up of two components, which are presented in columns. The left-hand column contains the program’s specific content, competencies, objectives, practices or policies, and the right-hand column presents a continuum of implementation in the form of descriptors and examples.

Although pre-existing ICs related to UDL and EBP have been developed by the CEEDAR Center ( and the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (, faculty adapted them to reflect both the data collected in their EBP documentation charts and their goal of creating a developmentally appropriate spiraled curriculum (Fink Chorzempa, Whittaker, Magiera, Simmons, & Givner, 2013). A sample IC is presented in Table 2. Thus, the research findings presented in the EBP documentation charts appeared in the left-hand column of the ICs as specific practices, and the rubric descriptors listed in the right hand column of the ICs reflected the extent to which the course syllabus provided evidence of fostering preservice teachers’ content exposure, knowledge mastery, simulated application, or field-based application.

Table 2: Sample innovation configuration

Instructions: Place the code number under the appropriate level of implementation for the course syllabus or assignment. Rate each category on the LEFT separately. Note: Every element in each category does NOT have to be addressed for an overall code to be assigned.

Code 0

Code 1

Code 2

Code 3

Code 4

Code 5

Incorporate principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to foster the differentiation and use of flexible curriculum and teaching and assessment materials and strategies, learning environments, and interactions with others

  • Multiple ways of representation (Content and Presentation) (what content students learn and how it is presented to them), differentiation of the content taught and the presentation of directions, content, information, and materials so that all students, families, and professionals can access and understand them.

  • Multiple ways of engagement (Process) (how students stay motivated to learn), differentiation in the ways to prompt, and stimulate interest and motivation and support task completion student involvement.

  • Multiple ways of expression (Product) (how students demonstrate their learning and what they know), differentiation in the ways students demonstrate their learning or others communicate with professionals including mode, ease, efficiency, intuition, choice, and error minimization


Code 0: No evidence that the evidence-based practice is included in the class syllabus.

Code 1: Class syllabus mentions resources related to the evidence-based practice (e.g., textbook and journal readings, podcasts, videos, IRIS modules, websites, PowerPoints).

Code 2: Class syllabus mentions resources related to evidence-based practice, requires engagement with resources, and includes basic evidence of scholars’ knowledge (e.g., quiz, test, reading response).

Code 3: Class syllabus mentions resources related to evidence-based practice, requires engagement with resources, and includes assignment for simulated application (e.g., observation, lesson plan, demonstration).

Code 4: Class syllabus mentions resources related to evidence-based practice, requires engagement with resources, and includes assignment with actual application (e.g., field-based practice)

Code 5: Practice is not applicable to course.

Faculty developed six different ICs. The ICs for literacy, assessment, behavior, and mathematics were used for courses that focused on those specific topical areas. For example, the assessment IC was used to examine the course entitled, “Educational Assessment of Learners with Disabilities.” The instructional practices IC, which was used for all methods courses, addressed learning strategies across the curriculum, peer-mediated instruction, explicit instruction, culturally responsive instruction, and instructional considerations with English-language learners (ELLs). The inclusive strategies IC, which was used across all of the program’s courses, covered UDL, assistive and instructional technologies, working with families, co-teaching and collaboration, school-based and school-to-work transitions, understanding individual student differences, inclusive foundations and services models, and the cultivation of an inclusive learning community.

The data from the ICs were then used by faculty to provide formative and summative assessment data to inform, document, and evaluate the faculty’s curriculum enhancement process. Dyads of faculty members periodically used the appropriate ICs to independently review course syllabi to assess the extent to which UDL and EBPs were represented in the curriculum. Initially, these data served as a baseline measure and were used by faculty to guide the curriculum enhancement process. At other points, the data were analyzed by faculty to document the curricular revision process, to identify program strengths, and to provide ongoing feedback that was used to develop an action plan to foster continuous curricular enhancements.

Employing Online Instructional Resources Related to UDL and EBP

Faculty also analyzed and enhanced the program’s courses in terms of the use of online learning resources related to UDL and EBP. Primarily, faculty used a curriculum-mapping process to align courses with the research-based online interactive instructional resources available through the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University. Via the IRIS Center website (, preservice teachers accessed and completed required challenge-based modules in all courses, and faculty employed case studies, research summaries, and video clips to support instruction addressing such topics as UDL, Response-to-Intervention, behavior and classroom management, assistive technology, differentiated instruction, progress monitoring, data-based decision making, learning strategies, mathematics and literacy instruction, diversity, transitions and collaboration. Faculty also created learning activities that introduced preservice teachers to web-based resources related to UDL, EBP, and culturally responsive instruction (See Table 3).

Table 3: Web-based resources related to UDL, EBP and culturally responsive instruction

UDL Web-based Resources

National Center on Universal Design for Learning (

Center for Applied Special Education Technology (

Power Up What Works (

EBP Web-based Resources

What Works Clearinghouse (

Center on Instruction (

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (

Promising Practices Network (

Culturally Responsive Instruction Web-based Resources

Equity Alliance (

Incorporating UDL and EBP into the Clinical Experiences

After the curriculum was enhanced to address UDL and EBP, faculty created instructional experiences and formats that guided preservice teachers in employing and receiving feedback regarding their application of UDL and EBP. Toward this end, faculty developed instructional models and tools which were incorporated into the courses that had clinical experiences, including: (a) devising and implementing a practice-based evidence (PBE) model, (b) developing a comprehensive lesson plan template (LPT), and (c) revising the lesson observation form (LOF).

Devising and Implementing a Practice-Based Evidence (PBE) Model

Faculty developed and implemented a practice-based evidence (PBE) model designed to instill in preservice teachers a commitment to using a data-based, problem-solving process for making evidence-based decisions about the efficacy and acceptability of the UDL solutions they devise and the EBPs they use (Chorzempa, Maheady, & Salend, 2012). The PBE model was designed by faculty to bridge the gap between research and practice and was implemented in all courses that had a clinical experience. The PBE model was introduced in the Educational Assessment course and preservice teachers employed it while working with one student. In the Literacy and Social Studies course, preservice teachers used the model to examine the effectiveness of their instruction with a group of students and the PBE model was employed to assess the efficacy of whole-class instruction during the practicum course.

The PBE model requires preservice teachers to collect and analyze classroom-based assessment data to assess the relationship between their instructional practices and changes in educational outcomes for their students by:

Step 1. Stating their learning objectives including the observable behaviors and response modes, the performance conditions/presentation modes, the desired level of accuracy, and performance stability.

Step 2. Providing a rationale for why they selected their learning objectives and how they are meaningful to the students.

Step 3. Creating a progress monitoring assessment that: (a) has validity and directly addresses their learning objectives; (b) is brief and easy to administer and score; (c) is age-appropriate and acceptable to students; and (d) has explicit scoring criteria.

Step 4. Explaining how they will use think-alouds, error analysis, and other assessment techniques to supplement their data collection.

Step 5. Identifying how they will graph and visually represent the data and how they will use baseline and intervention data to continually assess student learning and inform their instruction.

Step 6. Describing the intervention(s) they will use and citing the research evidence and factors that guided their instructional decisions.

Step 7. Creating a format for assessing the acceptability of their intervention(s) from their perspective and from their students’ perspectives.

Step 8. Explaining how they will ensure the fidelity in terms of their implementation of their intervention(s) and the administration of their progress monitoring and acceptability assessments.

Step 9. Reflecting on their data regarding the impact on student learning, the efficacy and acceptability of their instructional practices, the ways to enhance their instruction, and the future instructional goals and practices.

Step 10. Devising a plan for sharing their practice-based evidence with others.

Developing a Comprehensive Lesson Plan Template (LPT)

One critical tool for planning and implementing lessons during clinical experiences is a comprehensive lesson plan template (LPT) that is designed to prompt the use of UDL and EBP to differentiate instruction in inclusive classrooms. Historically, faculty did not have an approved LPT that was collaboratively designed and used consistently, so there were differences in content and terminology in lesson plans used across courses and clinical placements. Recognizing the need for a common lesson planning tool, faculty engaged in a collaborative process to design a template that reflected the concepts essential to inclusive education—such as UDL, EBP, instructional and assistive technology, collaboration, and student diversity. This process involved (a) examining the strengths and weaknesses of the different LPTs currently in use in various courses, (b) reviewing the literature on inclusive lesson planning to identify best practices from the field in terms of content and design (Murawski, 2012; Theoharis & Causton-Theoharis, 2011; Causton-Theoharis, Theoharis, & Trezek, 2008); and (c) meeting with colleagues in the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education to learn about their perspectives on lesson planning.

The LPT went through several iterations before the final product was approved. A group of faculty who taught the methods courses designed a working draft of a lesson plan template and presented it to the full-time faculty for their review and revision. The LPT also was presented to part-time faculty, university supervisors, and a panel of Nationally Board Certified teachers who taught in inclusive classrooms to receive their feedback on clarity, utility, and compatibility with lesson plan requirements in the local area schools. In addition, faculty compared the LPT with New York State’s most recent addition to the teacher performance assessment (i.e., the edTPA) to ensure that preservice teachers would be adequately prepared to meet these certification requirements.

The collaboratively designed LPT had five sections: General Information, Goals and Assessment, UDL Analysis, Materials and Instructional Methods, and Reflection (See Table 4). The general information section included basic information that was important for the university supervisor to know prior to observing a lesson—such as how the topic fit into previous lessons, a class description, personnel available, and the type of co-teaching arrangements used. The Goals and Assessment section included essential questions (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006), state standards, student learning objectives and related assessments, end of unit assessments, IEP goals, and 504 accommodations. In the UDL analysis section, preservice teachers identify student learning differences, barriers these differences could present, and UDL solutions. The Materials and Methods section required preservice teachers to list all resources, including technologies, and then outline their lesson by using explicit instruction and describing expected teacher and student actions. The last section provided preservice teachers with five specific questions to prompt reflection.

Table 4: Lesson plan template

A Collaborative Process for Incorporating Universal Design for Learning and Evidence-Based Practice into Inclusive Teacher Education Programs

A Collaborative Process for Incorporating Universal Design for Learning and Evidence-Based Practice into Inclusive Teacher Education Programs

The LPT was piloted in all courses that required preservice teachers to write a lesson plan. After employing the LPT for an academic year, faculty who had used the LPT with preservice teachers met to critique the extent to which preservice teachers use of the LPT resulted in lessons that incorporated aspects of UDL, EBP, technology, and culturally responsive instruction. Based on their feedback, several changes were made to the LPT. For example, faculty noted that preservice teachers typically interpreted “diversity” to mean “disability,” and infrequently addressed issues of race, ethnicity, culture, language background, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or religion in lesson content or instructional design. Therefore, the “Description of Class” section was modified to specify that preservice teachers address areas beyond disability (i.e., What aspects of diversity, other than disability, will you address in designing the lesson?). Also, a sixth question was added under “Reflection” to ensure accountability for actually addressing diversity while teaching (i.e., What aspects of diversity, other than disability, did you address in designing the lesson?)

Revising the Lesson Observation Form (LOF)

To provide preservice teachers with feedback on their teaching effectiveness, faculty also revised the lesson observation form (LOF) used to evaluate preservice teachers working in inclusive classrooms and provide them with feedback related to their assessment, classroom management, and instructional practices. A sample section of the revised LOF addressing instruction is provided in Table 5. In addition to revising the LOF to foster the application of UDL and EBP, faculty sought to align it with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS, 2016), national teacher education accreditation standards, national and statewide teacher evaluation standards, and certification standards. Faculty consulted the Council for Exceptional Children Professional Standards (CEC, 2012) to ensure that all standards relevant to clinically based experiences were included and to guide the content and format of the LOF. They also reviewed the state-approved teacher evaluation rubrics so that preservice teachers would become familiar with the content, terminology, and general format that administrators used to evaluate inservice teachers. For example, many school districts adopted either the Danielson Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 2013) which incorporates instructional content from the CCSS, or the New York State United Teachers rubric (NYSUT, 2014), which was based on the teacher observation protocol developed by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Therefore, faculty ensured that important aspects of these teacher evaluation rubrics were reflected in the LOF.

Table 5: Sample section of the Lesson Observation Form



  1. a. Communicates with students

    • Provides introductory statement and student learning objectives

    • Provides clear directions and procedures specific to the lesson using multiple formats

    • Provides a clear and accurate explanation of content and its relevance to students

  1. b. Uses questioning and discussion techniques

    • Includes cognitively challenging questions, formulated by both students and teacher

    • Facilitates class discussion

    • Uses student responses and ideas effectively

    • Encourages high levels of student participation in class discussion

  1. c. Engages students in learning

    • Aligns activities with the student learning objectives and provides learning tasks that require high-level student thinking

    • Promotes and encourages student enthusiasm, interest, thinking, problem-solving, persistence, and engagement

    • Utilizes grouping formats which encourage student engagement

    • Provides instructional materials and resources that are engaging to students

    • Paces and sequences lesson suitably

    • Provides closure

  1. d. Utilizes evidence-based practices

    • Implements instructional evidence-based practices (e.g., explicit instruction)

    • Implements behavioral evidence-based practices (e.g., routines, rules, structures)

  1. e. Utilizes aspects of UDL

    • Implements representational solutions

    • Implements action and expression solutions

    • Implements engagement solutions

  1. f. Uses assessment in instruction

    • Provides a variety of performance opportunities for students during instruction

    • Utilizes data from formative assessments to inform decision-making during

    • instruction

    • Offers feedback to further student learning based on formative assessment data

    • Provides opportunities for student self-assessment and monitoring of progress

    • Employs progress monitoring of student learning objectives

  1. g. Demonstrates flexibility and responsiveness

    • Adjusts lesson as a result of student response and engagement

    • Responds effectively to students with challenging behaviors

    • Recognizes and seizes on a “teachable moment”

    • Responds effectively to student in crisis and/or emergency situations

  1. h. Reflects on teaching

    • Reflects on successful components of the lesson

    • Cites adjustments made to lesson as a result of student response and engagement

    • Collects summative assessment data to assess the student learning objectives

    • Reflects on aspects of lesson that should be changed and why

    • Reflects on how student diversity was addressed in lesson

Rating Scale:

1. Ineffective beginning teacher

2. Developing beginning teacher

3. Effective beginning teacher

N/A (Use N/A when item/indicator is not appropriate for environment, students or this particular lesson.)

The original LOF was divided into 5 sections with a total of 29 short, discrete descriptors that were rated on a 3-point scale (i.e., needs improvement, satisfactory, strong). The revised LOF was composed of four general categories (i.e., written lesson plan and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional learning community and dispositions). Each category had between one and eight subcategories and each subcategory contains multiple descriptors. The revised LOF continued to use a rating scale rather than a rubric format, but renamed the ratings (i.e., ineffective beginning teacher, developing beginning teacher, effective beginning teacher) to remind university supervisors and cooperating teachers that they were evaluating novice, not expert, teachers.

The new LOF also incorporated more detail about the use of UDL and EBP. For example, although the previous LOF rated preservice teachers on their ability to “adapt lesson to fit the conditions as they occur,” it did not address the preplanning for student differences required by UDL. Similarly, while the previous LOF evaluated whether or not the lesson “provides for assessment,” there was no mention of EBP or data driven decision making.


It is critical that teachers who work in inclusive settings are able to employ UDL and EBP and consistently monitor the effects of their practices and policies on student learning. Therefore, it is incumbent upon faculty in inclusive teacher education programs to regularly review and revise their programs based upon the most recent educational theory, research, and policies. Although this article describes the curriculum enhancement process that the faculty at SUNY New Paltz used to incorporate UDL and EBP into their program, the process of developing ICs and using them to map the curriculum can be tailored to infuse other concepts essential to inclusive education into curriculum and clinical experiences. Ultimately, such a process with will result in improved and practical tools for applying these concepts in inclusive settings.

The contents of this article were developed under grants from the US Department of Education, H325T100002 and H325T090014. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer, Sarah Allen.


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