Effective Instructional Practices

Effective instructional practices are student-centered, keeping the student's strengths and preferences in mind, while at the same time advancing the student's engagement, knowledge and understanding of new content. Three instructional methods are highlighted here that promote student access to and success in the general curriculum.

  • Universal Design for Learning
  • Educational technology
  • Backward Design
  • Culturally Responsive Practice

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution, but flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted to meet individual needs (CAST, 2012). There are three main universal design strategies for preparing accessible instruction and learning: (1) present information and content in different ways, (2) differentiate the ways in which students can express what they know, and (3) stimulate interest and motivation for learning.

The CAST website offers additional information and examples.

The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability/ Youth offers "Using Universal Design for Learning: Successful Transition Models for Educators Working with Youth with Learning Disabilities".

Educational Technology

Middle and high school age students are drawn to 21st century technologies more than any other age group (Rideout, et al, 2010). The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-18 year olds, a large-scale, nationally representative study, that 8-18 year olds in this country spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) in a typical day using their cell phone, smart phone, or iPod and because they spend so much of their time “ media multitasking” (using more than one medium at a time), they actually pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.  These digital natives expect more from their teachers, and learn best through trial and error, process information quickly, connect with graphics before text and relevance in their learning (Deubel, 2006; Glasser, 1998; Prensky, 2001). They have grown accustomed to high-definition graphics, multitasking, and gaming. When they want to acquire a new skill, they watch a YouTube video to learn it. Students also use Google search features to find answers to questions, and ‘hang-out’ with dozens of friends through Facebook, texting and online games. They also like to make their own videos for YouTube and explore music (Ito, et al, 2009). Students’ spontaneous learning with technology in many ways reflects the 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity (Trespalacios, Chamberlin, & Gallagher, 2011).


Downes, J. M. & Bishop, P.  (2012).  Educators engage digital natives and learn from their experiences with technology.  Middle School Journal, 43(5), 6-15.

Backward Design

Backward Design is a method of designing curriculum by setting goals before choosing activities or content to teach. The idea is to teach towards those goals, which ensures that the content taught remains focused and organized, promoting students' understanding. Grant Wiggins coined the term "Backward Design" in his book Understanding by Design (1999, 1st ed.).

The model requires instructors to: (1) think what the ultimate learning outcomes are for students (What should students know, understand, and be able to to? What is worthy of understanding? What enduring understandings are desired?), (2) determine what is acceptable evidence that the student does understand, and (3) plan learning experiences and instruction that will lead to the learning outcomes.

For more information: Understanding By Design, Chapter 1

Culturally Responsive Practice

Culturally responsive practice recognizes the unique perspectives, background, and culture that each student brings to the classroom. The Education Alliance at Brown University lists the following characteristics of culturally responsive teaching:

  1. Positive perspectives on parents and families
  2. Communication of high expectations
  3. Learning within the context of culture
  4. Student-centered instruction
  5. Culturally mediated instruction
  6. Reshaping the curriculum
  7. Teacher as facilitator

For more information on culturally responsive practices:
Brown University's The Education Alliance
Georgetown University's National Center for Cultural Competence