Toward More Inclusive Education: An Empirical Test of the Universal Design for Learning Conceptual Model Among Preservice Teacher

May 1, 2021

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume: 72 issue: 3, page(s): 381-395

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examined the UDL conceptual model in an empirical way, including both the teaching philosophy and practices.
It focused on the preservice teacher level by using a sample collected in teacher education institutions.
In short, this study was designed to investigate whether there is any empirical evidence to support the overall application of the recent conceptual model of UDL.
Concretely, the authors aim to develop a multivariate prediction model for UDL actions with growth mindset, self-efficacy, and self-regulation and motivation as main predictors.


Participants and Procedure
The data of the study were collected in October 2017 as part of the “Potential – Power to teach all” project.
In total, the researchers contacted 4,775 preservice teachers preparing for secondary education asking them to participate.
These preservice teachers were enrolled in a 3-year professional bachelor program (180 credits) at eight colleges.
These eight colleges come from a list of all Flemish colleges who provide teacher education (i.e., 14 in total), provided by the Flemish Department of Education (Belgium), and represent those colleges which agreed to participate in the study.
Use was made of web-based electronic surveys as this allows for participation in a self-chosen environment guaranteeing maximum privacy.
The survey was designed to have a response time of about 30 min and involved 127 items.
1,134 preservice teachers with more than 2 weeks of teaching experience provided data for each of the study variables.
The majority of the participants were currently enrolled in the second (39%) or third year (53.4%) of their bachelor’s degree in secondary education.

Growth mindset about learning:
The preservice teachers’ mindset about learning was measured using the “growth mindset” subscale of a validated instrument (Coubergs et al., 2017) aimed at measuring teachers’ perceptions of differentiated instruction (DI).
The total score reflects the extent to which the preservice teacher’s mindset about learning is growth-oriented.
Self-efficacy to implement inclusive practices:
The subscale “Efficacy to use inclusive instructions” of the Teacher Efficacy for Inclusive Practices (TEIP) instrument (Sharma et al., 2012) was used.
Self-regulation and motivation for teaching:
To assess the preservice teachers’ self-regulation and motivation for teaching, the authors used a version adapted for teachers (Soenens et al., 2012) of the Academic Self-Regulation Scale (Ryan & Connell, 1989).
Sociodemographic and contextual information:
Based on previous studies on (preservice) teachers’ attitudes towards inclusive education (Forlin et al., 2009; Kahn et al., 2014; Groenez et al., 2018; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005), sociodemographic and contextual variables assessed in this study are age, gender, language at home, origin of the grandmother on mothers’ side, secondary educational track, bachelor year, higher education institution, higher education diplomas, parental education, and relationship with a person with a disability.

Findings and discussion

Main Research Findings
The present study investigated the empirical validity of the most recent conceptualization of the UDL model (Meyer et al., 2014), which includes both philosophy and praxis of teaching.
Specifically, associations between preservice teachers’ practices based on UDL and a number of conceptual antecedents were examined.
Validity and reliability analyses showed that teaching practices associated with the UDL principles (i.e., engagement, representation, action, and expression) can be assessed as a reliable and unidimensional factor.
This factor correlates positively with the constructs of the UDL habits of mind or teaching philosophy, that is, growth mindset, self-efficacy, and self-regulation.
Self-efficacy for implementing inclusive education appeared as the strongest predictor of the use of UDL.
This is not surprising as research has found that teachers’ self-efficacy is the strongest predictor of their attitudes to inclusion (Soodak et al., 1998) and a necessary ingredient to create inclusive classrooms environments and teaching practices (Sharma et al., 2012).
This study showed that to embrace teaching practices based on UDL, preservice teachers need to feel efficacious when it comes to designing inclusive classrooms where the needs of all students are met.
Growth mindset about learning was found to be the second most important predictor of the UDL implementation.
Preservice teachers with a more growth mindset embraced teaching strategies associated with the UDL model.
The findings are in line with previous studies which found that teachers, who believe that their students’ intelligence is more malleable than fixed, use further teaching strategies associated with students’ differences in learning (i.e., interests, readiness, and learning profile; Coubergs et al., 2017).
Teachers with a growth mindset also adopt more meaningful classroom practices (e.g., cooperative learning) and provide higher support for autonomy (Hattie, 2012; Leroy et al., 2007; Trouilloud et al., 2006), which are all components aligned with the UDL model.
Interestingly, this study showed that growth mindset did not have a linear relationship with UDL practices, but rather it was found that the achievement of a certain threshold of growth mindset is necessary before students start implementing UDL actions.
Before this threshold, we cannot expect any effect on UDL actions, and after this threshold (which is situated somewhere in the middle between having a fixed versus growth mindset), the effect is positive in a linear way.
Self-regulation and motivation for teaching appeared as a positive predictor of UDL implementation, but to a lesser extent than self-efficacy and growth mindset.
More specifically, the more autonomous the regulatory style of preservice teachers’ motivation for teaching, the more they undertake UDL practices.
Importantly, results from this study showed that each of the three philosophical constructs significantly contribute in the regression model of UDL actions, even after adjusting for the control variables.
Results also showed that the philosophical constructs are in fact interrelated, especially self-efficacy and self-regulation.
As shown in previous studies (Bandura, 1993; Schunk & Ertmer, 2000), the nature of these three constructs is intrinsically interrelated (e.g., self-efficacy lies at the heart of the self-regulatory system) and they generate additive self-reinforcement processes to each other.
Regarding the control variables, being female was a strong predictor of the use of UDL.
This is consistent with other studies that found that female teachers tend to personalize and differentiate the instructional process more to meet the students’ needs than male teachers (Abell et al., 2011).
Results from this study also showed an inherent relationship between the three UDL principles (engagement, representation, and action and expression), as they come out as a unidimensional factor in the analysis.
The most recent literature review on UDL (Capp, 2017) found that in the 18 studies, authors tended to employ only one of the UDL principles (i.e., representation, n = 9; action and expression, n = 2; engagement, n = 7) when applying UDL in their classrooms.
Capp (2017) suggested that the reason for this could be because the essence of all the UDL principles is intrinsically related, meaning that applying one principle automatically leads to the rest.
Capp (2017) found that this was especially true for the principle of multiple means of engagement.
This principle was perceived in the majority of studies to be a secondary outcome measure of the implementation of the other two principles.
It is shown in this study that preservice teachers conceived UDL not as three separate principles but interrelated, as they address access to the dynamic processes of teaching and learning, and not the access to the fixed structures of buildings or information.

Theoretical and Educational Implications
This study has implications for teacher-educators involved in developing preservice teaching philosophy and practice based on the UDL model.
First, it is important to tackle preservice teachers’ beliefs in their self-efficacy with regard to implementing inclusive instruction (this refers to using strategies to meet the learning needs of all students), as this was found to be the most important predictor of UDL actions.
Teacher-educators need to be mindful of the emotional state of their preservice teachers and promote self-awareness and reflection among them to regulate their feelings.
Second, is important that teacher-educators think about whether they are promoting a growth mindset in their students, as this was found to be the second most important predictor of UDL actions.
Teacher-educators must be able to visualize the learning through the eyes of their student teachers and support and scaffold them (Hattie, 2012).
Third, it is important to encourage self-regulation and motivation to teach in preservice teachers, as this was also found to be a predictor for UDL actions.
Teacher education programs could include inquiry processes that involve ongoing reflection about the motivations of preservice teachers’ to teach and any perceptions they have of the teaching profession (Chong & Low, 2009).
To conclude, a precondition for the successful development of the three predictors of UDL is a safe and supportive environment for teacher education courses and field experience.
The findings of this study indicate that preservice teachers conceive and implement the principles of UDL together, not separately (i.e., engagement, representation, action, and expression).
Teacher-educators may also wish to embrace and teach the philosophy of UDL as three interrelated principles, as this may be more effective for preservice teachers to implement in their teaching practice.
Ultimately, a focus on both philosophy and practices of UDL in teacher education may prove to be a powerful strategy to enhance inclusive classroom practices of our future teachers.

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Updated: Aug. 22, 2021


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