Differentiating Instruction for Children With Learning Disabilities
There are a number of instructional interventions that will help children with learning disabilities learn social studies content and master social studies processes (Lewis & Doorlag, 2006; Sheehan & Sibit, 2005; Steele, 2005; Tomlinson, 2001; 2003; Turnbull, Turnbull, & Wehmeyer, 2007). Children with learning disabilities have difficulty in basic psychological processes as evidenced by problems with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and mathematical calculations. The primary manifestations of a learning disability are problems with reading and any of a number of other characteristics that may include memory deficits or difficulty with fine motor coordination (Sheehan & Sibit, 2005). Our discussion is limited to children with mild disabilities who are able to function in a “general education” classroom along with children who do not have disabilities. As noted previously, differentiated instruction for children with learning disabilities involves three categories of modifications in how we teach: (a) content, (b) instructional processes, or (c) work products.
Modifications in Curricular Content
One option for teachers working with children with learning disabilities is to make changes in the content such students are expected to learn. Caution is in order here. We are not talking about “watering down” the curriculum, our goal is to have children with learning disabilities meet the same standards as other students. Two interventions will help. These are as follows:
Divide material into small, manageable units
Teachers can look at what we expect students to learn and consider presenting it in smaller units or “chunks.” In this section, all instructional examples come from a fifth-grade unit on the American Revolution of 1775. In such a unit, a single lesson could cover the three causes of the Revolution (results of the Seven Years’ War, oppressive taxation, and colonial unity). This topic could be broken into small units, and for children with learning disabilities, the teacher could plan additional, separate “mini-lessons” on each cause.
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