Five Steps to Motivation with Universal Design for Learning

Written by Karen Narvol

One of the biggest issues facing teachers in classrooms across the country is the unmotivated student. Teachers have to address two challenges: changing the studentís thinking so that he believes that he can be successful with instructional tasks and determining what motivates the student and fosters his interest.

An unmotivated student may not see the value in the academic content or understand the learning goals. The student may believe that the academic expectations are not attainable or his efforts will not result in progress. He may not be receiving appropriate supports, study strategies, or feedback. Distractions may be interfering with learning. The student may not be motivated by the rewards if they are unclear, inconsistent, or ineffectively communicated.

Within the context of learning, the more students feel competent and in control of their own learning, the more motivated and engaged they will be with the curriculum. Along the same line, educators should be committed to creating learning environments in which all students can thrive.

Motivate Students with UDL

In order to ensure that all students have access to the curriculum and are actively engaged in learning, many schools have adopted "Universal Design" principles. Universal Design recognizes that there is a broad spectrum of human abilities and that many things can be created in ways that are easier for all people to use. Universal Design has been applied to learning. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for guiding educational practice. It involves a design of instructional materials and activities that allows learning goals to be attainable by students with a wide range of abilities.1

The essential features of UDL are included in three principles:

  1. Multiple means of representation: Curricular content can be presented in alternate modes, including visual and auditory, and different levels of complexity.
  2. Multiple means of expression: The curriculum offers students different ways to respond to academic tasks.
  3. Multiple means of engagement: The curriculum matches studentís interests with presentation modes and preferred means of expression. This principle emphasizes motivation, engagement, and active learning.

UDLís framework highlights the importance of providing choices and alternatives in materials, content tools, contexts, and technology supports. It enables teachers to adjust instruction for both individual students, small groups, and the whole class.2

Provide Multiple Means of Engagement

Kurzweil 3000 can support all three principles of UDL. Today, I will focus on how Kurzweil 3000 supports the third principle: Multiple Means of Engagement. Students differ considerably in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. There is not one means of engagement that will be optimal for all learners in all contexts; it is essential to provide multiple options for engagement.

There are a number of guidelines that correspond with this principle:
1. Provide options for recruiting interest
2. Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
3. Provide options for self-regulation

UDL Guideline 1: Options for recruiting interest

Students are often more likely to put forth effort if they have choices: in assignments, in the mode(s) of presentation, in how the learning objectives can be reached, in the contexts for achieving the objectives, and in the tools and supports available.

Kurzweil Education provides students with choices of tools, including the Kurzweil 3000 software program, firefly web app, and firefly iPad app. Each of these has excellent features that promote choices and engagement with curricular content.

Using Kurzweil 3000, students can explore and interact with text; choose the tools that best support their reading, study, and writing skills; and select preferences that match their learning styles. These include:

  • Choose whether or not to hear the text read aloud
  • Choose among voices and languages
  • Change the rate of speech, reading mode, and reading unit
  • Choose how to navigate through the document
  • Determine the size of text and images within the document area
  • Reread the content from any location in the text
  • Use a choice of highlighters
  • Choose how to extract selected text (to outlines, column notes, and vocabulary study guides)
  • Use a variety of note tools (sticky notes, text notes, voice notes, footnotes)
  • Select from various dictionaries
  • Select from a variety of brainstorm, outline, and draft templates
  • Choose from numerous fonts, styles, and sizes
  • Select alignment and spacing options
  • Utilize a variety of word lists
  • Choose to use word prediction and spell checking

UDL Guideline 2: Options for sustaining effort and persistence

Students differ markedly in their ability to sustain effort and concentration that learning requires. They display differences in susceptibility to distractions, what sustains their attention and engages their interest, understanding the value of what they are learning, and so forth.

Todayís students encounter many distractions that take their focus away from instructional activities. Examples of distractions that learners often encounter include: ambient classroom noise, personal technologies, multitasking, interruptions, inadequate study environment, the amount and complexity of assignments, and the inability to cope with a large number of items presented at one time. These types of distractions can cause frustration or discouragement, which can result in a loss of interest and motivation in learning.

Students and teachers can customize Kurzweil 3000 to minimize distractions within the program that may interfere with studentsí use of the learning tool. These include:

  • Use headphones if reading with text-to-speech
  • Hide toolbars when not needed
  • Select a toolbar set for a specific task
  • Minimize the number of icons on toolbars
  • Create new toolbar sets for individual learning needs
  • Set a default zoom value
  • Disable potential distracting elements
  • Use Block Masking or Word Masking to reduce amount of visible text

Educators can use Kurzweil 3000 to engage and motivate students by providing appropriate challenges and supports, giving appropriate feedback, and fostering collaboration.

  1. Use interactive whiteboards to collaborate on learning projects.
  2. Differentiate instruction and provide opportunities for students to learn to work effectively with their peers using Kurzweil 3000.
  3. Teach students to use specific supports and strategies.
  4. Use Kurzweil 3000 tools to create prompts and supports and provide feedback to students. Well-designed prompts, supports, strategies, and frequent, ongoing, relevant feedback are critical for sustaining student engagement and motivation.
    • Insert annotations (text, sticky, and voice notes and bubble notes) to set a purpose for reading, check for understanding, clarify information, and comment on student work
    • Create hyperlinks
    • Bookmark important information
    • Scaffold assignments
    • Prepare documents for optimal reading (e.g., zone editing)

Students can only be engaged and motivated if their learning goals are clearly described. Articulated learning goals play a key role in motivating students by showing them the value they will acquire from a unit of study or instructional activity. It is important to provide clear choices to students in how goals and objectives can be reached, what levels of support they need to achieve instructional goals, and how they will be assessed on their efforts.

UDL Guideline 3: Options for self-regulation

Finally, the last guideline related to Multiple Means of Engagement describes options for student self-regulation. Many learners donít recognize that they are making progress. This causes them to lose interest and motivation and become less engaged with learning. It is important that learners monitor their learning. Students should have multiple models of self-assessment techniques and activities that encourage self-reflection. Both teachers and students can use Kurzweil 3000 to document progress using templates, charts, guides, or checklists. Student self-assessment documents can be created within the technology itself or virtually printed to k3000. In this way, a student can use tools such as text notes to enter reflections on learning experiences.

In conclusion, Kurzweil 3000 fosters motivation through multiple means of engagement in a number of ways:

  • Promotes engaged learning and increases motivation
  • Offers choices and encourages student autonomy
  • Uses a multisensory approach for interacting with content
  • Incorporates many dynamic features designed to adapt to each studentís learning style
  • Provides teachers with tools to provide support and feedback

1 UDL Defined and CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
2 Patins Project:

Are you ready to take it for a spin?

Sign-up for a 30-day free trial or contact us for a guided tour.