Principal Marschner’s commitment to student-centered learning inspired her to introduce the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework during the 2019-20 school year. As called for by La Reina’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan, Her Future, Our Focus, our teachers are facilitators of the content in their classroom, supporting students as they grapple and grow in their capacity to tackle complex tasks and higher-level thinking. As the girls become experts of their own learning style, their ability to take on challenges and be resilient is strengthened. This symbiotic relationship between teacher and student that happens in a La Reina classroom is only possible because of the relationships built day-to-day.

La Reina Today staff sat down with Principal Maggie Marschner and Dr. Matthew Love, an expert in UDL and adjunct professor at California State University, San Jose, who has been partnering with La Reina, to learn more about how UDL has impacted instruction and the education of our students.

What benefits does UDL offer La Reina’s students?

Principal Marschner: For 56 years, La Reina educators have been providing a transformational 
educational experience for their students steeped in the Educational Principles of the Sisters of Notre Dame (SND). These Educational Principles provide the foundational vision behind each students' experience both in and outside of the classroom at La Reina. These principles give our teacher the WHY behind their instructional practices. Universal Design for Learning answers the HOW teaching and learning is occurring at La Reina.

In particular, Universal Design for Learning addresses SND Principles number two: The human dignity of each person as an image of God; and, number four: An integrated education for transformation.  We were drawn to UDL because the research behind this framework is foundationally in line with the mission and vision of the Sisters.  A universally designed lesson and classroom works to reduce barriers to learning, providing an inclusive environment and experience for all students including those that are exceptionally gifted and those who learn differently.

Dr. Matthew Love: What UDL helps teachers do is to view students more holistically and strive to support them in developing as expert lifelong learners who have the skills to succeed in a variety of school and career settings. As we see the requirements of post-school life change for our students, we want to ensure that our systems of education and classrooms are preparing them for their future.  Recognizing that the world will be driven by multiple solutions to the modern issues we face, our education should model these skills and be offered in a way that develops these critical ways of thinking in our students.  It is not enough to teach students content, but also to offer them choice in how they engage with, consume, and apply their knowledge.

This shift is exemplified by postsecondary institutions.  Adopting UDL as guiding framework to help guide faculty across all disciplines in meeting the needs of contemporary student populations and the demands of a modern workforce. In the last year alone, I have worked within my own university and with colleagues at other universities across the US to expand the use of UDL in college courses.  

In the two years that La Reina has embraced and implemented UDL, have you seen results?

Principal Marschner:  Yes, and this is demonstrated through our achievement data including standardized tests of writing and vocabulary wherein our sixth graders achieved results at an 8th grade level and our seventh graders scored at a high school level.  According to our PSAT test results, our 8th through 11th graders scored higher than their statewide peers in all testing areas:  math 11%, reading 24%, writing and language 26%.  Through collaborative conversations and inquiry around data, always keeping student need and wellness in mind, our educators continue to refine their pedagogical practices.  While many schools are concerned about the COVID-slide, La Reina educators are confident that by utilizing proactive lesson design and continuing to build on the innovative practices developed throughout the past two years, they will be able to meet the needs of current and new students. 

How has UDL changed instruction?

Principal Marschner: La Reina educators are professionals who are given the freedom within their classroom to explore a wide range of pedagogical practices to engage their students as shared below by La Reina faculty.  La Reina educators have continued to grow and refine their pedagogy and particularly through this past school year, they looked at it as an opportunity for innovation and improvement in their practice.  This is very important as we look to address students’ current learning needs in an ever changing and shifting technological landscape.  Our teachers stand on a long history of traditional educational practices and experience while also having the confidence to continue exploring and growing in their profession.  Their ever-present goal is to provide a transformative experience where students learn the skills of adaptability, flexibility, resilience, and motivation.  This academic excellence has been the cornerstone of La Reina since its founding and will continue to be the bedrock of our educational principles and vision. 

Dr. Matthew Love: In response to the transition to online learning, the format of instruction definitely changed at La Reina. However, the goal remained the same which was to ensure that all students achieve academically while staying socially and emotionally well. For the teachers, we saw them strongly implement the tenets of UDL in their courses, and we saw students offered choice in how they accessed learning materials and demonstrated their learning. We saw teachers working on the development of their students as expert learners in that beyond just working on academics, we saw teachers guiding students to being driven by goals, resilient and perseverant, and organized around achieving their goals.

From our faculty experts in the classroom:

Hannah Robinson, Science Department Faculty Member and UDL Co-Leader and Trainer:
"When students learn this way, they increase the number of brain centers learning from two to five or more.  I have found that overall student math anxiety decreases, “stick-to-it-ness” increases, and we enjoy our learning together more.  UDL methodology builds connections in brain areas unrelated to the subject being taught, thus skills learned in math or science also help them with music, analyzing, memory, and even dancing."

Kris Chisholm, English Department Faculty Member:
"By setting goals based on where the students are, I can craft creative learning activities for different cognitive modalities. UDL is good teaching.  It reflects intuitive and perceptive aspects of the art of educating. It enables me to be more than a lecturer; I am a mentor to each student on their unique educational path."

Nikki Blake, English Department Faculty Member:
"UDL has given me intentionality when planning my lessons. Through a process of goal development informed by essential question survey and pre-assessment, I am able to design lessons that target individual learning needs.  Part of the process includes students making goals for themselves, and when possible, they are given a variety of options to demonstrate their learning."

Alec Gasca, Social Science Department Faculty Member:
"I have been able to transcend my lesson planning, as UDL leads me to shine a light on each students’ abilities and attributes.  By focusing on what inspires and motivates my students, UDL has created a learning environment that is modern and evolving.  In my classroom, UDL allows students to take an individualized approach in their expression of content mastery."

Kris Chisholm, English Department Faculty Member:
“By setting goals basedon where the students are, I can craft creative learning activities for different cognitive 
modalities. UDL is good teaching. It reflects intuitive and perceptive aspects of the art of educating. It enables me to be more than a lecturer; I am a mentor to each student on  their unique 
educational path.”