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Principle 1


  • How will all students be motivated and enthused?
  • How will all students be supported to sustain their interest and attention?

The engagement principle in UDL guides the design of learning experiences that are safe and relevant and that support students’ motivation and resilience.

Responding to student diversity means providing planned and supported choices for students. When students are able to take more ownership of their learning, they become more engaged.

Take a minute to think about how you already engage your students.

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the engagement strategies you could use in your classroom.

Choosing strategies for engagement

Think of your students and what might be needed so that everyone will be engaged.

Each of the strategies below offers ways to support engagement. The list is not exhaustive — rather it’s a sample of ideas to get you thinking about what you do already and what you could do differently.

Explore the strategies by viewing the videos and reading the descriptions. When you find a strategy that will work in the {{ other || plan }} you are planning, click to add it to your inclusive plan.

There are a number of ways to improve student choice:

  1. Allow students to lead and contribute to the routines of the classroom.
  2. Let students choose the tools and resources they will use, what tasks they will complete, and in what order they will do the work. Include students in designing timelines, learning intentions, and success criteria so they have a clear understanding of what is required of them to succeed.
  3. Take simple polls and surveys of your class regularly, to find out what is working and what is not. Technology provides us an easy way to collaborate, communicate, and check in with students. Use polling tools to get students to vote on what they want to do. Try to make it anonymous, so students are safe and secure, and use a messaging app to communicate and share ideas.
  4. Use an online space to share what is expected of them so students can access what is required of them, at any time in any space and at their pace.
  5. Allow for flexible groupings so that students can work together or independently in a variety of ways, depending on the learning outcomes and task. Students can group and regroup according to specific goals, strengths, and individual needs.

Ka Hikitia: Accelerating Success 2013–2017 outlines principles for Māori to enjoy educational success as Māori. These principles provide a useful approach for incorporating all students’ contexts into the classroom. The principles include:

Ako is a dynamic way of learning where the educator and the student learn from each other in an interactive way. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity.

Students are more likely to achieve when they see themselves and their experiences and knowledge reflected in teaching and learning. Reflect students’ languages, cultures, and identities in the sights and sounds of the classroom and daily routines. Ask for students to be leaders in this as you learn.

A productive partnership starts by understanding that students are connected to whānau and should not be viewed or treated as separate. Parents and whānau must be involved in conversations about their children and their learning.

Build productive partnerships with students’ whānau, using a regular, positive communication system. Look for opportunities to incorporate diverse knowledge, histories, and experiences in the curriculum – but be flexible about what this might look like, ensuring that power and decision-making are shared with whānau.

Activity-oriented learning involves hands-on activities that keep students focused on a task and its purpose.

Examples of activity-oriented learning include:

  • using demonstrations instead of explanations
  • providing hands-on experiences to teach big ideas (for example, by using manipulatives)
  • moving outside the classroom to explore content and concepts in other learning environments.

Activity-oriented learning can also ignite students’ ideas and generate richer oral and written language. For example, the free Game of Awesome is an active prop that can be used to start a writing lesson. It sparks talk between students and leads to more diverse ideas of what to write about.

Connecting knowledge to authentic, real-life contexts increases curiosity and the development of life-long learners. Working in experiential settings also lends itself to cooperative learning, ako, and tuakana-teina relationships, all of which are conducive to a successful inclusive classroom.

Some innovative schools are shifting entirely towards a project-based, real-life approach. Listen to Gever Tulley (from 6:51) explain how Brightworks school in San Francisco has abandoned the subject-by-subject approach in favour of cross-curricular project-based arcs. As you watch, consider what lessons you could take from this approach for your context.

Have a look at how one teacher has used reciprocal teaching to inform a Science lesson on cell structure:

In reciprocal teaching, students become the teacher after having the process modelled to them. Reciprocal teaching involves four ‘thinking skills’:

  • formulating questions to stimulate thoughtful discussion
  • clarifying ideas
  • predicting what might follow, using prior knowledge and available information
  • summarising information.

Reciprocal teaching supports the concept of ako, as within it the student can assume the role of ‘expert’.

Cooperative learning is a type of peer-mediated learning in which students work together in small groups to achieve a shared task.

An important aspect of cooperative learning is that students have a dual responsibility, for both completing the task and supporting the others in the group. This develops teamwork skills through positive interdependence and accountability between students in the group.

Setting up cooperative learning groups creates an opportunity for students to work in mixed-ability groupings. This can be particularly successful in supporting students with additional learning needs.

Tuakana–teina relationships are when an older or more expert tuakana helps and guides a younger or less expert teina. This approach provides a model for buddy systems and peer tutoring.

Tuakana-teina can happen formally and informally. When there is a less formal arrangement, students learn to step into the tutor role with peers when they have knowledge and skills to share, and they understand that these roles may be reversed at any time.