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Special Article 5

How to Universally Design for Learning for Multilingual Learners and Students with Disabilities

(With Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures)

Hay Mar Aung, Natasha Bellande, and Casey Siagian, Stamford American International School

To cite this article: Aung, H. M., Bellande, N. & Siagian, C. How to Universally Design for Learning for Multilingual Learners and Students with Disabilities. Kagan Online Magazine, Issue #63. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. www.KaganOnline.com

About Our School and Us

Stamford American International School (SAIS) is an IB school with 3,000 students, 350 staff, and a leadership team coming from more than 100 countries. Teachers Hay Mar Aung, Natasha Bellande, and Casey Siagian work together in the Middle School English as an Additional Language (EAL) department.

Our UDL Curriculum Initiative Journey

It all started with our school-wide initiative of implementing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in all classes and grade levels from K-12. One professional learning development opportunity our school adopted was the Universally Design for Learning (UDL) framework as we partnered with Dr. Katie Novak back in June 2021. UDL, in short, is an approach to teaching and learning that gives ALL students equal opportunity to succeed. Starting with the first UDL principle, Engagement, we instantly thought of Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures and how they promote an inclusive classroom setting with varied levels of English as Additional Language (EAL) learners and students with a range of dis/abilities. Kagan Cooperative Learning ensures that EVERY student is actively involved. They are instructional strategies designed to promote cooperation and communication in the classroom, boost students' confidence, and retain their interest in classroom interaction. From there, our passion for DEI and UDL skyrocketed and has been an ongoing teaching and learning journey since.

How We Incorporate Kagan Structures in the UDL Framework

photo of two Asian students watching a slideshow of Kagan's Rally Robin

It is undeniable that learner variability exists in every classroom. There is a range of learners with different backgrounds, learning approaches, and level of motivation and engagement in any classroom. UDL is a framework that promotes creating environments where learners have access to what they need to flexibly meet their learning goals. An important first step is to identify barriers, such as language proficiency levels and individual students’ specific learning disabilities. Barriers in language proficiency levels can be lifted by providing visual representations, translation, and vocabulary study. These strategies will not only support multilingual learners but also students with various learning dis/abilities, making the way for everyone.

UDL Framework is developed based on the three main principles: Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression. Being aware of the existence of the learner variability, it is crucial that the barriers are identified and addressed in order to provide multiple means of engagement and representation in the classroom. Giving choices and voices to the learners through survey questions and creating learning goals that are relevant to learners are some of those strategies to encourage engagement in the classroom. In a recent survey, 97% of multilingual learners reported they felt more engaged when a Kagan Structure was used to review new content. One student said, “I like these (Kagan) Structures because they are easy to understand. Everyone has a chance to share their opinions and ideas with different teammates.” Teachers have also promoted engagement through Kagan Structures. One teacher said, “I really love our teambuilding activities because they create a sense of camaraderie in the classroom. They also develop communication skills of all sorts, like verbal and non-verbal. A fun way to get a brain break.”

photo of two Asian students watching a slideshow of Kagan's Rally Robin

Since learner variability is a norm, but systematic and predictable in the classroom, it is no harm to vary how the content is conveyed in multiple means of Representation. The use of visuals, audio, and hands-on activities promotes perception, whereas activating background knowledge and highlighting patterns and big ideas foster comprehension. The Kagan Structure Jot Thoughts is an ideal structure to activate background knowledge—especially for our multilingual learners and students of all abilities—where they take time to process thinking, share with their teammates, and write ideas on slips of paper in the allotted time.

For example, the I&S teacher names a topic to activate background knowledge: what do you know about the Spanish Invasion? Jot Thoughts! Student A: They attacked the Aztec empire. Student B: Hernan Cortes was the leader of the invasion. Student C: The Spanish were looking for 金子 (gold), I think. Student D: Yes, gold. The Aztecs were nomadic.

The third UDL principle, Action and Expression, is when learners show what they have learned. Tools can be used to optimize the learners’ outcome in which, for example, they are given the options to either record or give a live presentation rather than be limited to a standard format of expression such as a handwritten summative assessment. Students could have the option to choose their form of expression from a choice board that has one clearly defined goal. One way to facilitate student choice and voice is through the Kagan Structure RallyRobin. This popular structure fosters an opportunity to express their output with multiple possible responses or solutions.

photo of two Asian students watching a slideshow of Kagan's Rally Robin photo of two Asian students watching a slideshow of Kagan's Rally Robin

Teacher-to-Teacher Tips

Some tips on promoting the three UDL principles with Kagan Cooperative Learning Structures:


  • Fun before content always! Before you ask students to RallyRobin the effects of the French Revolution, start with something fun and personal to introduce the structure! Instead try: What are your favorite foods?
  • Your classroom will be noisy, and it’s okay. Use an attention getter such as, “Signal, please,” to get students’ attention.


  • Post visuals of the structures and refer to them when introducing a new/old structure.
  • Post sentence starters for initial responses and for responding to partners. Provide options.

Action & Expression

  • It’s simple but so important for our language learners and students with dis/abilities: Always provide, “think time!”
  • Post positive gambits and make it part of your routine to encourage student voice (“Thank you for sharing!”).
  • Promote translanguaging by allowing students to write or respond in their home languages.

Teacher Biographies

Casey Siagian is an experienced, award-winning educator originally from the United States. She is the Head of Middle School English as an Additional Language (EAL), and this is her fifth year at SAIS. She has 13 years of experience in the TESOL field, including teaching multilingual language learners and teacher training in China, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States. Prior to Singapore, Mrs. Siagian was an English Language Fellow with the U.S. Department of State and Georgetown University. Casey stays current with the latest trends of English language instruction, translanguaging, cooperative learning, and inclusion. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, trying local cuisine, and gardening.

Hay Mar is a passionate English as an Additional Language teacher, and this is her third year at SAIS. She has taught Business English and English as a Second Language at International Schools in Myanmar and Thailand, prior to coming to Singapore. With 11 years of teaching experience, she believes that it is essential to provide engaging and challenging activities which allow students to develop skills and knowledge. When she is not teaching, she loves spending time with family and friends, reading a good book, and doing Pilates.

Ms. Natasha Bellande is currently an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher in the Grade 8 English as an Additional Language program and the Grade 6-7-8 Individuals and Societies teacher at Stamford American International School. She has over 24 years of teaching experience ranging from primary school through adult education. She has taught in the United States as well as the United Arab Emirates before coming to Singapore and SAIS where she has been teaching for the past five years. She has enjoyed teaching adults French World Language and TOEFL. In her free time, she enjoys nature photography, salsa dancing, SCUBA diving, and dragon boat paddling.


Torres, Caroline, and Kavita Rao. UDL for Language Learners. CAST, Inc., 2019.

Kagan, Spencer, and Miguel Kagan. Kagan Cooperative Learning. Kagan Cooperative Learning, 2015.