March 2021 TIC Tip of the Month

Universal Design for Learning & A Trauma-Informed Approach 

Students who have experienced trauma may feel like their world is out of control.  Giving students adult-approved choices, not only helps students practice problem solving and decision making skills, it helps students feel a sense of control of their educational destiny.   Giving students choices also sends a message that the adult believes the student is capable of making good choices and is a valued/respected member of the school community.  

Giving students choices is aligned with Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  UDL is a proactive approach to creating learning experiences that are accessible to ALL students, in the same manner that using a Trauma-Informed approach is universally beneficial.  Within UDL, there are ways to provide choice for engagement, representation, and action & expression. 

Providing multiple means of engagement are aligned with the principles of Trauma-Informed Care (i.e., choice, safety, relationship building, and coping skills).  Engagement is broken down into 3 parts: 1) Recruiting Interest, 2) Sustaining Effort and Persistence, and 3) Self-Regulation. 

1) Recruiting Interest

Optimize Choice and Autonomy:  

  • Provide learners with as much autonomy as possible by providing choices in such things as:
    • The level of perceived challenge
    • The type of rewards or recognition available
    • The context or content used for practicing and assessing skills
    • The order of or timing for completion of subcomponents of tasks
  • Allow students to participate in the design of classroom activities 
  • Involve students in setting their own personal, academic and behavioral goals

Minimize Threats and Distractions: 

One of the most important things a trauma-informed educator can do is to create a safe space for students. To do this, teachers need to reduce potential threats and distractions in the learning environment. When students are focused on having basic needs met, or avoiding a negative experience, or perceive that they are not safe, they cannot concentrate on learning.  Some students might find that there is too much sensory stimulation to focus on learning. 

  • Create an accepting and supportive classroom climate
  • Consistent class routines
  • Vary the level of risk
    • Charts, calendars, schedules, visible timers, cues, etc. that can increase the predictability of daily activities and transitions
    • Alerts and previews that can help students anticipate and prepare for changes in activities, schedules, and events
  • Vary the level of sensory stimulation
    • Background noise or visual stimulation, noise buffers
    • Number of items presented at a time
    • Pace of work, length of work sessions, availability of breaks or time-outs, or timing or sequence of activities
  • Vary the social demands required for learning or performance, the perceived level of support and protection and the requirements for public display and evaluation
  • Involve all participants in whole class discussions

Number 2 (Sustaining Effort and Persistence), Number 3 (Self-Regulation), Representation, and Action & Expression will be covered in future Tips of the Month.

The information above was modified from the following site: