G. Gavaldón1, C. Alba Pastor2

1University of Alcala (SPAIN)
2University Complutense of Madrid (SPAIN)
Diversity is the norm in schools, not all students are alike. In a same classroom there are students with different interest, learning styles and background that in some cases coexist with students with special needs or with those who struggle with reading, maths or writing. But in some way or another, the educational system should provide a common education background for all these students and, at the same time, it must recognize and meet the individual learning needs of each one of them. This is a big challenge for teachers who have to deal with this issue and are uncertain about what inclusion entails. Some studies suggest that differentiated instruction may be an approach that can help both students and teachers in addressing this challenge. This model requires a flexible curriculum design that could be adjusted to each learner rather than expecting that each student modify him or herself to fit the curriculum requirements. In this way Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a teaching approach that can guide the teacher to design a flexible curriculum based on considering and including these differences as a starting point. UDL is structured around three principles which have their origin in brain and neuroscience research on one side, and architecture design in the other:
a) Present information and course content in multiple formats so that all students can access it;
b) Allow students alternatives to express or demonstrate their learning;
c) Stimulate student’s interests and engagement for learning in a variety of ways.

Much of the literature on UDL provides a full description of these three principles and gives some suggestions on how to implement them. We find however that there is a lack of research on teacher training on UDL. We argue in this article that this is not an easy task. The purpose of this paper is to show the difficulties we have faced when training primary school teachers on UDL in Spanish primary schools and we give some suggestions to overcome it. The study was conducted with the participation of four Spanish primary schools, 10 researchers and 9 primary school teachers.

Teacher’s participants took an initial course on UDL consisting on Power Point presentations, videos showing the UDL principles in practice and a working group session meant to share insights and concerns. Afterwards they were trained in small group sessions during one month before they started applying UDL principles within their practice. During the course period, the researchers act as observers and facilitators. As facilitators we gave them some feedback on what was going on during their teaching classes in order to let them to reflect on the UDL principles. Class observations provided information on the principles present and which of them were less or never used. The findings of this study show that information is a key point in order to get involved in a new teaching approach but it is not sufficient. Teachers need to reflect about their practice to internalize the new approach with the aim to apply it in the whole curriculum. . Furthermore, technological skills are of great help to customize the curriculum for learners using digital technologies but we found, in this sense that many teachers lack the knowledge to use it as a support on their teaching.