🗓️ Save the date! 🗓️
⛰️ 2024 VIRTUAL MTSS SUMMIT | Get notified when registration opens >>

    MTSS Practice Tier 1 - Core Instruction

    As a middle school teacher, I tapped into every creative avenue for presenting information to my students. My students were diverse, not only culturally but also with different interests, strengths, and challenges. Hooking them on a concept was hard work! I was competing with their phones and social lives. Even so, I wanted to ensure the skills and concepts covered in my English class stuck in their brains for a long time. 

    For my classroom, this meant using media, music, group work, projects, interactive activities, and competitions to engage and include my students. I provided audio for books we read, created different ways to show what they knew, and used every tool in my toolbox to make our learning interesting and relevant. 

    This work of providing access to learning for every student is the basis for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and is also foundational to a Multi-Tiered System of Supports. Every learner has potential, and the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS) framework support this belief. Each is designed with the purpose of ensuring that all learners have access to learning. MTSS provides students with the support to make the growth they should have each year, removing barriers they might have to learn and supporting the whole child, not just within academics. UDL principles provide ways to remove those barriers and make the support more impactful and accessible in every area.

    What Is Universal Design for Learning? 

    Universal Design for Learning is a teaching approach developed by a team of researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), a nonprofit organization that emphasizes providing multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement to increase access and reduce barriers to learning. The framework is based on scientific insights into how humans learn and was developed in response to the need for a more flexible approach to education to accommodate all learners' diverse needs at every level.

    The framework is based on three core principles:

    • The Why of Learning: Engagement 

    Educators apply this principle by offering a variety of activities that appeal to different interests and preferences and by providing opportunities for collaboration and discussion. 

    • The What of Learning: Representation

    Educators offer information in a variety of formats, such as visuals, audio recordings, and written text, to ensure that students can access information in a way that best meets their needs. 

    • The How of Learning: Action and Expression

    Educators offer a range of ways for students to interact with and demonstrate their understanding of content through writing, speaking, drawing, or creating multimedia projects. This principle is also meant to address the physical needs of students in the classroom with assistive technologies and executive functioning supports.

    When applying these instructional principles, educators can create a more inclusive and flexible learning environment that meets the needs of all learners. Learn more about specific guidelines here. 

    An application of UDL Principles in Lesson Planning: Introducing Figurative Language




    Action and Expression

    Introducing Figurative Language- Upper Elementary or Middle School

    Relevancy: Use music students are interested in to hook them on learning.

    Promote Understanding Across Languages: Use common phrases from multiple languages or cultures to illustrate the ideal of figurative language.

    Illustrate through multi-media: Use a video clip, poem, or even a meme to show figurative language in different forms.

    Use multiple tools for construction and composition: Have students illustrate or create examples of figurative language phrases with provided sentence stems. Then by drawing or creating a visual representation using tools such as animation, drawing, or other web-based tools. (Options would depend on needs within a class.)

    How Does UDL Intersect With MTSS?

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) are both frameworks designed to support the learning needs of students. Much of UDL applies to the MTSS interventions and strategies used across subject areas and tiers of support. UDL is about teaching, whereas MTSS relates to a system structure that ensures students’ needs are addressed. 

    UDL can help the MTSS process by creating inclusive learning environments that meet the needs of all students, regardless of their learning differences or disabilities. The principles of UDL provide a way to differentiate instruction and create multiple pathways for students to access and engage with the curriculum. 

    By incorporating UDL into the design of the core curriculum, educators can proactively address the learning needs of a wide range of students and reduce the need for interventions and support later.

    4 Ways the UDL Principles Can Improve MTSS Practices

    Not every lesson every day will incorporate all of the principles. Still, these concepts are important for educators to consider when designing curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of students. Educators should evaluate how these principles can strengthen each Tier level of support. 

    • Addressing the Needs of Diverse Learners: 

    By applying the UDL principles, educators can offer a range of learning options that engage students and cater to their varying needs. Students with diverse learning needs can access the content and participate in activities that align with their requirements by providing multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. The UDL principles address diverse languages, cultures, abilities, and emotional and physical needs. 

    For example, students may need more or less background information, different visual aspects in lessons, and more clarification around language. This can also look like chunking material into smaller sections, modeling and providing examples, and more. (Jung 2021)

    • Enhancing Engagement:

    “When students display high levels of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive engagement, they are more likely to excel academically, form a stronger sense of connection with their school, and have a more positive sense of social-emotional well-being.” (Sutton 2021) 

    The UDL framework emphasizes the importance of student engagement, which is also a key component of MTSS. By providing multiple options for engagement, such as offering hands-on activities or allowing students to collaborate in groups, educators can increase student motivation and participation. This, in turn, can lead to better academic and behavioral outcomes for students.

    Ideas for Engagement:

      • Consider student interests in learning activities 
      • Establish relevancy for learning by starting with the why
      • Offer a high level of opportunities for students to say, do, or write something during instruction
      • Consider ways to motivate students to learn and sustain their efforts
      • Address student needs to support intrinsic motivation such as self-regulation and beliefs about learning
    • Promoting Equity:

    UDL promotes equity by providing opportunities for all learners to access information and demonstrate their learning. By incorporating UDL principles into MTSS practices, educators can help ensure that students with disabilities or other learning challenges receive the same opportunities for academic success as their peers. Every child deserves to experience growth each year, and these principles at any tier level will remove obstacles for students. 

    For example, an instructor may examine the social, cultural, economic, or skills that make up a class when planning instruction to address any barriers to learning students might experience, such as background knowledge, language, or even executive functioning. 

    • Data-Informed Decision-Making: 

    MTSS relies on data to make informed decisions about student progress and areas of need. In utilizing the UDL framework, educators can examine student data to inform instructional decisions. This data can be used to adapt instruction or the system's structure for all learners. Universal screening data, progress monitoring, and student surveys can help inform instructional planning and adjustments. 

    Providing Access in Inclusive Ways

    From the outside, it may have seemed that I was just trying to make my lessons more fun or exciting. However, my core motivation was to ensure my students could grasp concepts and internalize learning. This required flexibility in my approach. For my students learning English as a second language, they might need to access a text through the audio or translated text. For students struggling with handwriting, they were often able to show their learning in alternative ways through text-to-speech or by creating visuals.

    UDL and MTSS can work together to create a more inclusive and responsive learning environment that supports all students' academic, behavioral, and social-emotional needs. By designing curriculum and interventions with the principles of UDL in mind, educators can help ensure that all students have equitable access to high-quality instruction and supports. An MTSS practice built on a solid core curriculum with solid tiered interventions is strengthened by UDL principles that remove barriers for all students to reach their goals.

    💡 Check out these resources:

    Key takeaways from this article:

    • Universal Learning by Design is an instructional framework to increase students’ access to learning through varying modes of engagement, representation, and action and expression.
    • MTSS and UDL connect through the concept of removing or addressing barriers to student learning.
    • UDL can support an MTSS framework by strengthening core curriculum as well as various levels of interventions. 


    BRM-MTSS-PlatformMake MTSS Easy, Efficient, and Effective With the Branching Minds Web Platform 

    Transform your district's MTSS solution with personalized intervention plans, powerful collaboration tools, and easy-to-understand reporting. We are more than just a platform, we are a system-level partner

    Request a demo



    CAST. (2018). The UDL Guidelines: UDL. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://udlguidelines.cast.org/

    Jung, L. A. (2021, July 1). Lesson Planning with Universal Design for Learning. ASCD. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/lesson-planning-with-universal-design-for-learning

    Sutton, E. (2021, March 3). Student Engagement: Why It's Important and How To Promote It. Branching Minds. Retrieved March 13, 2023, from https://www.branchingminds.com/blog/student-engagement-remote-in-person


    Related Posts

    Tagged: MTSS Practice, Tier 1 - Core Instruction

    March 21, 2023

    Comments (0)

    Newer Post Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, & Behavioral Needs: Moving From Referrals to an Interconnected Systems Framework
    Older Post 6 Daily Engagement Practices for Every MTSS Tier