Week 5: Provide multiple means of action and expression

The How of Learning

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This week you will provide multiple means of action and expression to your chosen  online activity using UDL.


This week you will be introduced to ways to re-design your chosen educational activity to address providing multiple means of representation.


To support learners to cope with challenging activities by modeling specific learning strategies and providing mastery-oriented feedback.

This weeks content is from Chapter 4: Universal Design for Learning > Provide Multiple Means of Action & Expression>

chart of three guidelines for action and expression

To complete our approach to helping all learners become expert learners, we turn to the strategic network and its associated principle: provide multiple means of action and expression. Under this principle we support the development of expertise in executive functions such as goal setting, monitoring one’s progress and adjusting approaches as needed, strategy development, and managing information and resources.

Also important for strategic expertise is providing options for expression and communication including multiple media, multiple tools for construction and composition, and support for the development of fluency through graduated support in practice and performance. 

Finally, in keeping with this principle, it is important to provide options for physical action such as varied response methods and access to a variety of tools and assistive technologies. Options in these areas enable all students to develop strategic expertise.

Learners differ systematically in the ways that they function strategically. Expert learners need to be able set appropriate goals and monitor their progress towards those goals. This involves setting a goal at an appropriate level of difficulty and being flexible with strategies (trying a different approach when one method is not working). These skills develop as learners mature in age as well as in skill level with a particular discipline or subject. 

Novices don’t really know what is involved in being an expert, so they might approach learning through trial and error, persevering with an unproductive strategy or trying various other approaches that might be “off track.

Students who have difficulty with organization and planning, or who have never been taught those strategies, may not even know that goal setting is an option. And without models, guidance, and feedback they have little understanding of whether they have succeeded or failed. It is foundational to starting students on the road to expertise to provide models and examples and to offer guides and supports for setting and pursuing goals.

Studies in education indicate that confidence (i.e., self-efficacy) to learn challenging tasks builds when learners have alternative examples of how to become competent and a sense that there is more than one pathway to competence.

With access to variability in action and expression, more students are able to serve as models for one another on how to achieve a goal. The more difficult the task, the more we must learn it through interactions with others rather than on our own through trial and error. Studies in education indicate that confidence (i.e., self-efficacy) to learn challenging tasks builds when learners have alternative examples of how to become competent and a sense that there is more than one pathway to competence.

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Personal Experience

A profound insight regarding the importance of tools and strategies in education.

Learning scientist Todd Rose addresses the systematic variability in students’ working memory, or the ability to hold and manipulate information in your mind. He cites research showing that, in a classroom of 13-year-olds, the natural variability in working memory ranges from that of an 8 year old to that of an adult. A mismatch between what a curriculum calls for the learner to know and what the learner actually knows increases the learning challenge by orders of magnitude. Because current research has yet to be applied widely in schools, educators have few systems in place to offer options in the classroom to support working memory. Some suggestions include something as simple as putting a learning goal on paper or in assignment documents so that students don’t have to keep the goal in their minds while working on learningt asks.

Mason Barney

image of handwriting

An early sample of Mason’s handwriting shows his motor deficit, his humor, and his highly insightful thinking. © 2013 CAST, Inc.

Mason Barney became extremely goal-directed at an early age out of necessity. The area of expression was particularly challenging for him. Handwriting was not viable. The writing sample shown above is from Mason’s early elementary school days, and it shows his motor deficit, his humor, and his highly insightful thinking. Now a mid-career professional, Mason says he still avoids handwriting whenever possible and his spelling remains poor if he is writing or spelling out loud. But because he encountered barriers in hi slearning contexts from an early age, Mason developed strong determination to find alternatives to forge his own path.

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At CAST, Mason learned touch-typing on the computer. But this was only the beginning. To overcome his spelling difficulties he identified certain key words he used frequently and made himself learn to type them automatically by repeating them over and over until his “finger memory” knew the words. He called his technique “brute repetition.Some of these he cannot spell orally or in handwriting but he can reliably type them. For words he used frequently that were too long to learn, he typed them consistently incorrectly and embedded a rule in his spellchecker to correct them. Mason’s learning environments did not offer him options, so he had to blaze a trail and come up with them himself. In a UDL world, the methods and pathways developed by someone like Mason will be offered and supported in the classroom.

Mason’s techniques for spelling challenges

Many teachers are actively building in options for action and expression for their students. Some of these options originated as responses to students “in the margins” who were not adept at traditional modalities of expression, but they have all rapidly developed into beneficial tools for all learners, promoting creativity, engagement, and higher quality compositions. These expanded expression options also reach into pools of talent that were previously not tapped or appreciated in school. Drawing, speaking, dance, drama, humor, videography, and many other kinds of expression are increasingly being adopted as legitimate avenues for demonstrating knowledge. In addition, many rubrics for interpreting and evaluating them are being developed as part of school assessment.

Expert teacher Katherine Bishop

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Some of these options, but not all, are technology based. Expert teacher Katherine Bishop has been offering her students options for constructing, composing, and expressing knowledge for some time. She is careful to teach them how to use the tools she offers, such as PowerPoint, Keynote, iMovie, and others. She was surprised and gratified to see that after her students used the options she offered for a while, they started coming up with their own ideas. Her encouragement of their approaches ratcheted up their engagement even more.

Multiple means of expression and assessment

At the level of physical action we can learn once more from students who have traditionally been seen as “in the margins.Solutions provided of necessity for them have proven repeatedly to be extremely beneficial for all learners. An example is speech recognition software (a tool that translates speech into text). For someone who cannot physically handwrite or type, this tool may be the only avenue for navigating an online environment or putting his or her ideas into text. But of course it is also a wonderful tool for anyone who needs to capture ideas quickly. Speech recognition software is used widely in fields such as medicine and law because of its efficiency and accuracy and because it eliminates extensive typing and associated repetitive stress injuries.

Students’ ideas for multiple means of expression

Learner variability in strategic learning makes it crucial to supply options for action, expression, and executive functions. The more we can bring research on this variability into the classroom via the translational framework of UDL, the more we will reach and engage all learners.

Example of Providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression

In his course on UDL at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, David Rose asks four different students to take notes during class and to post those notes where all can view them. The differing media and style of notes illustrate the very diverse ways that students express what they are learning. The diverse presentations provide other members of the class an opportunity to expand their understanding. The examples in three figures below are actual notes taken during David’s lecture about perfect pitch.

example of student notes from lecture

Handwritten notes. Reprinted with permission.

more image information

example of student notes from lecture

Notes typed on outline format. Reprinted with permission.
example of student notes from lecture
Multimedia notes. Reprinted with permission.
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Provide multiple means of action and expression

This principle is connected to strategic actions, including planning and performing tasks, organizing and expressing ideas, writing essays, and solving math problems (CAST, 2011). Providing options for how students demonstrate comprehension helps sustain engagement and encourage persistence.
  • Adjust the activity/task
  • Provide access to assistive technologies for expression.
  • Adjust activity so that students can express their knowledge effectively and efficiently by including multiple tools for composition (e.g., written expression, voice recordings, multimedia).
  • Support the learner to cope with challenges within the activity/task
  • Support executive functioning by modeling goal-setting, selecting learning strategies, and monitoring progress.
  • Use prompts to promote reflection about work and process.
  • Guide students through sequences and prioritization.
  • Model organization strategies and offer solutions to manage information
  • To monitor progress, embed frequent formative and low-stakes assessments to collect actionable information to guide instructional decision-making.
  • Give specific targeted and timely feedback about strengths and weaknesses that encourage student persistence and suggests next steps. Make clear that assessment informs instruction, as well.

The How


  • Perception
  • Language, Mathematical Expression, and Symbols
  • Comprehension


It’s important to provide options for how learners perceive information. Consider how you can provide options for your learners.


When you are providing textual information, offer different reading levels and structures. All texts are not created equal. The reading level and structure of a textbook is different from the reading level and layout of a website, journal or news article. Word clouds are great conversation starters because they include all of the key characteristics of a concept.

Text Options Include:

  • Textbook
  • Websites
  • Journal articles
  • News articles
  • Text versions of lectures
  • Word Clouds

Non-Text Options Include:

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Images
  • Diagrams
  • Infographics
  • Graphic Organizers

Language, Mathematical Expression, and Symbols

Just as students vary in the ways they best take in information, they also vary in their familiarity with vocabulary, acronyms, mathematical expressions and symbols. Provide text alternatives to familiarize them with these concepts.


  • Pre-teach vocabulary
  • Provide alternative text descriptions for graphic information
  • Preteach and highlight mathematical expressions or equations
  • Accompany symbols with text support


Another way that you can address how students take in information is providing comprehension support.


Strategies for improving text comprehension include providing:

  • A purpose for reading
  • An introduction to establish context
  • Guided questions to focus learners on important points and concepts
  • Reading or viewing guides
  • Graphic organizers for notetaking
  • E-versions of texts so students can customize according to their preferences

Strategies for readings, lectures, or videos include:

  • Activating background knowledge
  • Clarifying misconceptions
  • Highlighting relationships and critical features
  • Connecting new ideas to existing understandings

You can also improve comprehension by supporting vocabulary development. Strategies for vocabulary development include:

  • Providing new terms ahead of time
  • Directing learners toward resources like glossaries
  • Telling learners why it’s important to be familiar with discipline specific terms
  • Creating “check your understanding” quizzes

Earn Your Badge


Action Plan

Follow the steps below to complete your action plan this week.

  • Complete all the action plan items.
  • In the  Google+ Community, comment ON at least two other Google Doc worksheets, by the end of Sunday.
    • Provide further insight into to the participant’s results.
    • Practice improving your online interaction with insightful commenting.